Airlines initiated baggage fees last year as a reaction to spiraling energy costs. At the time, the fees mostly made sense to a public which had seen gasoline prices soar from $2.50 a gallon to $4.
But those costs didn't fall again with gas prices. Instead they've become a major new revenue stream for airlines. Baggage charges raised about $1 billion in 2008 and are expected to generate close to $2 billion this year.
With airlines struggling, the fees appear to be here to stay. In fact, expect more fees. Airlines are now offering a baggage "discount" for those who check in online, that really amounts to an additional baggage fee. Others are charging for choosing a seat online, or even buying a ticket online. And some are adding tricky fees through their airport kiosks.
But the baggage fees are the biggest, and least avoidable, extra charge. It's a policy that amounts to a hidden cost to an air ticket, and adds to the discomfort of flying. Passengers try to avoid the extra fees by hauling everything onto the plane with them.
That puts overhead storage space at a premium and greatly slows entry and exit from the planes. For those who enjoy watching others try to stuff too-large bags into too small spaces, the new luggage policy might count as in-flight entertainment. For everyone else, the shoving in and pulling out takes time nobody has to spare.
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