Baggage fees have produced hundreds of millions of dollars for the nation's airlines since they started charging passengers for checking luggage.
In the first quarter of this year, the airline industry amassed a little more than a half-billion dollars in baggage fees, more than four times what it took in the first three months of last year, according to the latest federal data.
Fees skyrocketed last summer and fall as airlines started charging passengers $15 to $25 to check their first two bags.
By the end of 2008, baggage fees exceeded $1 billion, including charges for overweight and oversized luggage.
For the first quarter of 2009, baggage fees reached $566.3 million. At that rate, fees could beat $2 billion this year.
Southwest Airlines, the dominant carrier in Kansas City, was the only major airline here that saw fees remain flat as it withstood pressure to charge for the first and second pieces of checked luggage.
But just last week, Southwest doubled the fees to $50 for passengers who checked a third bag. The airline collected $5.9 million in fees in the first quarter, federal statistics show.
Some airfare experts think Southwest will go as long as it can before giving in to baggage fees for the first two pieces of checked luggage. Until recently, the airline had built an ad campaign on its decision not to charge those fees.
"Southwest has been the lone holdout for over a year," said Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com. "The question is, can they hold out for another six months until we can get out of the bottom of the recession?"
Some passengers clearly are annoyed with the fees, saying they're a cash grab in disguise. They complain that they often do not know about the baggage fee until they arrive at the airport and have no other choices.
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