Fighting back against excess airline fees


I don’t fly the major air carriers very often. An experience with onerous fees during a recent trip makes it even less likely that I’ll choose to fly them again in the future.

At issue is the fact that airlines are seeking new ways to charge passengers more for services that have been included in the standard service for decades.

It’s been a gradual process that slowly removed in-flight meals and other amenities from the standard fare. Now, it’s come down to checked baggage — last summer they were charging for two or more bags. This year, they’re charging for the first checked bag and may have gone too far for my taste.

Charging for the first bag is a major hassle and an inconvenience heaped upon a stack of flying inconveniences that have increased since 2001. Checking a bag is the easiest option if you want to fly without making sure your liquids aren’t carefully rationed out and bagged.

In some ways, checking bags makes it a lot easier for passengers boarding and deplaning. I’m never one of those people you might see taking five minutes trying to cram a steamer trunk into the cramped overhead bin.

Earlier this month, I was traveling to the Midwest for a wedding. Because I was taking an extended trip and anticipated bringing some Michigan goodies back with me, I brought my larger suitcase to the airport.

Facing an early-morning departure and a desire not to park my car for $9/day at Sacramento for more than a week, I opted to fly out of San Francisco International Airport.

Getting there about eight hours before the flight, I hoped to check my bag in before heading into the city for some entertainment. No dice — the agent said rules prohibit checking in baggage that early. Given the post-2001 rules, I acquiesced and ended up lugging this big bag through the streets of San Francisco. I only got a few weird looks at the karaoke bar.

When the ticket counter opened in the morning, I was ready to check my bag and ran into another roadblock. For the convenience of checking a bag, Northwest (which is being absorbed into Delta) wanted to charge me $15.

Prompted to pay this new fee, I was a little testy when I told the agent that I was extremely unhappy. She noted it’s a fee that nearly all the airlines are now charging.

“Southwest is the only airline that doesn’t charge for the first bag,” the agent said.

“Exactly. That’s why I’m going to fly with them from now on,” I replied.

After clearing through security, I was still miffed by the fee. I called Northwest reservations to complain. They helpfully gave me the number of customer relations, but the call center wasn’t going to open for another hour.

For a few minutes, I delighted in thinking about what I was going to tell Northwest. I fantasized telling them that I would rather fly Southwest to Chicago and then take a 10-hour bus ride to my destination rather than giving Northwest/Delta another dollar of my business.

Eventually, I realized it was all a little silly and waited bleary eyed to board my flight.

The incident started to fade my memory after a couple of weeks and a relaxing train trip home without extra fees. I was content to let the matter drop until I read this quote in an article about fees:

“They’re going to keep nudging them up until they
run into market resistance,” said Ed Perkins, a contributing editor at
the Web site Smarter Travel.

If that’s the case, then it’s almost my duty to complain. After all, I wouldn’t like to see airlines continue to nickel and dime the passengers they rely on.

Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for that call center to open.