Baggage fees create higher expectations for airlines

Lost or delayed baggage has always been a major headache for airline travelers, who can find themselves in a strange city without a change of clothes, basic toiletries or their favorite pillow.

But the sting of mishandled luggage can be particularly painful after a traveler has paid a hefty fee, sometimes up to $100, to check those bags that went to Fort Wayne instead of Fort Lauderdale.

"It's awful in any case, but you can see where some passengers would think that since they're paying for it, perhaps the airlines should take better care of their baggage," said travel analyst Terry Trippler of in Minneapolis.

American Airlines, based in Fort Worth, Texas, found itself under scrutiny this week after baggage-sorting equipment malfunctioned at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. Employees had to sort thousands of bags manually, spokesman Tim Wagner said, because a piece of networking equipment, which allows computer software to communicate with baggage conveyers, broke Wednesday morning.

Dozens of flights were delayed, and many passengers had to leave their bags behind.

"This was a unique situation," Wagner said, noting that the baggage-sorting system was relatively new and installed in American’s new JFK terminal, which opened last year. The system was operating normally by early Thursday.

But the breakdown raised some eyebrows, as it came soon after American began charging many passengers $15 each way to check a bag on domestic flights. Earlier this year, American had also implemented a $25 fee each way for a second bag. Previously, passengers could check two bags for free.

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