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Airline fees may obscure best deals

A government watchdog says airline fees for checked bags and other services are complicating things for consumers trying to find the best deal on airfare.

The Government Accountability Office recommended in a report released Wednesday that the government improve the disclosure of airline fees, not only by airlines, but also by travel booking services.

Besides checked bags, airlines have recently been charging for services that were traditionally included in the price of a ticket, such as seat selection, extra leg room, blankets, pillows, beverages and meals.

"Those fees can be an unexpected shock totaling hundreds of dollars," said Charles Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance.

In the last budget year, 10 U.S. airlines collected $7.8 billion in such fees, congressional accountants say.

American, Continental, Delta, US Airways and United all charge $25 for the first checked bag, and $35 for the second, according to the booking website Kayak. JetBlue charges $10 and up for additional legroom. AirTran charges $6 for passengers to get seat assignments in advance, and sells exit row seats for $20 extra. Snacks at most airlines run $2 to $5, meals a bit more.

Spirit Airlines, which which includes a route between Reagan National and Fort Lauderdale among its routes, announced in April thatiit would begin charging for carry-on baggage, too, a rate that could be as much as $45. Those fees begin Aug. 1. .Congress is considering legislation that would ban carry-on fees

The Transportation Department is considering requiring airlines to disclose two ticket prices to passengers: a "full fare" with all mandatory charges like taxes, and "full fare-plus" with the extras.

GAO said that if the 7.5 percent tax on airline tickets were applied to fees as well, the government could have raised $186 million last year just from checked bags.

-- Associated Press and staff reports

Report on airlines fees (PDF)

What do you think? Post a comment below?

By Michael Bolden  | July 15, 2010; 10:18 AM ET
Categories:  Airlines  
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Perhaps the most annoying thing about airline fees for me is that when I travel on business, each fee is one more receipt that I need to track and submit. Instead of paying $300 for airfare and then $25 each way for a bag, I'd much rather just pay $350 for the ticket or what the heck pay $355 for the ticket. It's not my money, but it is my time and effort to track all the receipts. The airlines are just annoying everyone.

Posted by: blankspace | July 15, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

The airlines have us by the you know what's.... Normally people vote against bad customer service with their feet, but because all the airlines (pretty much) are doing this, people have nowhere else to go.

And I wouldn't mind the a-la-carte pricing so much if they would charge them all up-front at the time of booking (that should be done from the airline's perspective...they get a free no-interest loan), which would solve the receipt problem.

I go Southwest whenever I can though.

Posted by: thetan | July 15, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

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