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Baggage Check: More on United's New Rules

Christian Pelusi

I've delved a bit deeper into United's domestic policy changes and have discovered some hidden items that may wind up costing inattentive travelers even more than the $25 the airline will charge for a second piece of checked luggage (and remember, that's $25 each way, so we're talking $50 round trip). When you go to the airline's Web site and click on "New domestic checked baggage policy," you'll find the fee details. But click on the "domestic baggage questions" link to find these nuggets:

"Are any other baggage fees changing?
"United is simplifying the policy for bags that require special handing because they are large, overweight or fragile. Oversize bags or those that weigh more than 50 lbs. will cost $100.00 per bag. Items that are large, fragile and/or require special handling will also have new prices of either $100.00 or $200.00, depending on the item. Visit oversized and excess baggage to view the current charges."

My analysis: "Simplifying" means increasing the fee from $50 fee to $100 for any piece of luggage weighing more than 50 pounds. I can just see wide-eyed travelers at the check-in counter being told, "Your bag weighs 53 pounds, and that will be $100." Look for lots of wild last-moment transferring of items. Could be a mess. As for those traveling with large items, such as surfboards, diving gear and bicycles, you'll be paying about $15 more than you had been. Don't worry golfers: Clubs will continue to be considered as a piece of luggage, so if your golf bag is your only piece of checked luggage (and it weighs less than 50 lbs.), it's free. Parents, some good news: Checking car seats or strollers will continue to be free.

"How much will it cost to check more than two bags?
"For all customers for travel on or after May 5, 2008, the cost to check up to four excess bags will be $100.00 per bag. Previous charges ranged from $85.00 to $125.00 per bag. The cost for checking more than four excess bags continues to be $200.00 per bag."

My analysis: Makes it sound as if they're just turning this $85 to $125 charge into a flat $100 fee. But that's a bit misleading. The first two pieces of excess luggage had been assessed at $85 and the next two pieces at $125. Most travelers show up with just one or two extra bags, so I'm guessing an increase in revenues for United.

One final note:
This domestic baggage policy change doesn't just apply to the 50 states. It will also affect those traveling to Canada, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

By Christian Pelusi |  February 5, 2008; 2:04 PM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Carol Sottili
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So, if they lose your bag, do they refund your money? I've never taken a United flight where all our luggage made it to our destination on time.

Posted by: no longer a United customer | February 5, 2008 2:51 PM

Yikes. Yes, all of this would tilt the balance away from United, if I were taking any trip requiring more baggage than usual.

Posted by: h3 | February 5, 2008 2:54 PM

United's been aggressively enforcing the 50lb rule since at least last summer. Including having an attendant and scale before entry to the check-in area. Last summer, my family and I had to do some juggling between our three bags to have them all under the 50lb limit (one was at like 53 lbs).

Posted by: Kim | February 5, 2008 3:10 PM

I can't think of any other industry that is worst than the airlines. So while we deal with continued ticket price increases, lost luggage, and the second worst year of delays on record, they are going to double certain fees?

Posted by: Driving Everywhere | February 5, 2008 3:32 PM

How greedy can United get. The public relations is going to be a nightmare and for those having to rearrange luggage means those who are in line will have to wait. But I guess they don't care as long as they make money off the little people - remember this only applies to those with special, low cost and non refundable fares. Greedy, greedy, greedy - greed sometimes will make you go hungry.

Posted by: Boycott United's Greed | February 5, 2008 3:35 PM

What if you check one bag for free and then try to check another at the gate? What if your bag is gate-checked because the bins are full? I have actually never flown on United and these fees will insure that I never will.

Posted by: Sweetie | February 5, 2008 3:46 PM

Last year on a trip from Dulles to an international location, both of our suitcases were just at the 50 lb. limit. But as we were headed international, they didn't blink an eye. However, on our return home (we stopped in Hawaii for a few days), we did run into the person with the scales. Thank goodness we thought enough ahead to purchase another inexpensive piece of luggage for the excess. But I guess on our next trip, we will have to be sure to pack light ... and not buy too many souvenirs.

Posted by: peapod | February 5, 2008 4:42 PM

I don't fly United much since I live near the Twin Cities (where NWA takes up about 85% of the airport), so this doesn't have a huge impact on me at the moment.

But, this sentence grabbed me:

"I can just see wide-eyed travelers at the check-in counter being told, 'Your bag weighs 53 pounds, and that will be $100.' Look for lots of wild last-moment transferring of items."

How hard is it to buy a luggage scale? You can get a simple one for about $10 at Target.

It takes all of 10 seconds to hang a suitcase from one of these gadgets to figure out if your bag is going to be under 50 lbs. If it is, then you can redistribute stuff before you ever leave the house...whether you fly United or not. And this one is analog - no worries about dead batteries.

Seems a genuine bargain to me, considering the fees associated with over-weight bags.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | February 5, 2008 5:30 PM


Will you consider it a bargain when they reduce the 50lbs limit weight even further, will start charging even for one checked baggage etc.

At this rate, unless you enter the plane naked, they will find something to charge you for. Or maybe if you are over 150lbs?

Why should I buy a luggage scale because United got greedy? it used to be fun and exciting to fly. Now it is just scary and unpleasant.

I hate flying USA based airlines. Terrible service with attitude, they pay little to their workers so the workers do not care, CEO's make tons of money and we end up paying for things that were free.

I dislike flying United so much that I paid more to fly other airlines. I fly about 20 times a year so chew on the lost revenue United.

Posted by: jason | February 5, 2008 7:07 PM

Most airlines used to allow each passenger two bags weighing 75 pounds each, and then, in unison, all airlines took the weight limit down to 50 pounds per bag. If this is not a proof of a monopoly than I don't know what is.

Posted by: Jim | February 5, 2008 8:21 PM

Most airlines used to allow each passenger two bags weighing 75 pounds each, and then, in unison, all airlines took the weight limit down to 50 pounds per bag. If this is not a proof of a monopoly than I don't know what is.

Posted by: Jim | February 5, 2008 8:21 PM

I won't fly United or USAirways.

Posted by: RL | February 5, 2008 8:41 PM

to jason:

No matter the airline, your checked luggage is generally supposed to weigh no more than 50 lbs. You've always been subject to an overage charge - it's been that way for years. (Well, okay, as Jim pointed out, it used to be 75 lbs, but the point is, there is a built-in limit.)

It's so people don't overload/overweight the plane, and it's called a Free Baggage Allowance.

United simply upped the overweight charge significantly, as well as reducing their Free Baggage Allowance to one bag. Crappy, for sure.

Now I didn't say I liked it or that it's a good trend - I said it didn't impact me much right now. I'm sure all the other airlines will follow suit. But for the most part, I'm an efficient packer - I've rarely had to pack more than one large bag weighing more than 50 lbs anyway. If something heavy needs to get somewhere, I ship it on ahead of time, 'cause I certainly don't trust baggage handlers not to lose things!

The basic charge overweight has always been there. Hence...get yourself a luggage scale.

I tried to print URL's to the major airlines luggage policies (including BA's and Air Canada), but the board won't seem to let me. Trust me - there's an overage fee for luggage over 50 lbs on just about every airline.

Again - didn't say I liked it, but it's part of the cr*ptastic process of flying these days.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | February 5, 2008 9:29 PM

It is not only United, but BA and Virgin as well, so forget about overseas travel. Look, I am a not-so-young lady who has enjoyed travelling independently. Because I can no longer lift the larger bags, I have been using two smaller bags which hook together for wheeling about and each of which I can lift separately if I have to. I checked both of them through to leave me with only a small tote for the cabin. Much easier on the back, the shoulders,the knees, the shins...Now what do I do? How are the airlines allowed to get away with this? I would think what with security and the already crowded and chaotic overhead bins that they would be trying to encourage people to check their luggage.
I am not given to hyperbole, but I have honestly never in my entire life felt so disrespected by any company. If it was just United, I could avoid them, but BA and Virgin make it kind of difficult to fly overseas, too.

Posted by: nan m | February 6, 2008 8:54 AM

You folks are blaming airlines. They're a business. You want a $350 coast to coast roundtrip price, the same price it has been for the last 15 years or so. Labor costs are up, but that's the airlines' and employees fault, blame them for that. But the huge factor is fuel cost...which has gone up just as much as auto gasoline (actually a bit higher). The weight of an aircraft determines the amount of fuel it must take on to get to where it's going.

If you want to pay $600 round trip, you can take 2 bags for free. Or you can pay the current price but take one less bag.

Posted by: Kim | February 6, 2008 9:21 AM

I like the idea of refund if your luggage is lost. These fees penalize those on lengthy trips and those flying with children. Have tried in the past not to take a large carry-on, may be forced to now. Will they change their slogan to the not so friendly skies?

Posted by: edie | February 6, 2008 9:23 AM

Granted, I'm young enough to not remember 75 pound weight limits on bags, but I've always assumed the 50 pound weight limit was as much an OSHA thing as it was anything else. Repetitive lifting is generally limited to 50 pounds. Actually, should be calculated by the NIOSH lift equation which accounts for varying factors such as twisting and frequency, but the base number is 50 pounds. So, it sort of makes sense that a 50 pound requirement is meant to minimize low back injuries to baggage handlers, and that overweight bags are tagged to alert the workers they should use a two-person lift.

Of course, that doesn't really explain charging more, other than to reduce the occurance of over weight bags. And then, they see it as a good money making plan.

As for charging for the second bag - bah! Thats crap. Sometimes life requires more than can be fit in one bag. Be it for work, for kids, or for something else. I'm gov't, so I fly on the cheap fares(although, I guess they are refundable), but I work on military tests and often need to bring as much personal equiptment as Soldiers (kevlar, steel-toes boots, etc). But I don't get the 50 pound limit waived like Soldiers do. Oh wait... I forgot, as someone said I just need to learn to pack lighter *rolls eyes*

Posted by: RT | February 6, 2008 10:04 AM

RT - gov fares are exempt from the new policy (I'm guessing it must violate part of the GSA contract).

nan m - look at Briggs & Riley. They make very nice luggage, and have some models that zip apart into two bags. They are a little more expensive than the dept. store junk, but you get what you pay for.

Passengers want fare prices that remain flat (or even decrease) over time, and are then surprised when amenities are cut to cover costs. Nothing in life is free. If airfare tracked inflation, a $300 ticket in 1995 should cost you ~$414 now. A $300 ticket in 1985 - $591 now. And that doesn't account for the disproportionate impact of increasing fuel costs.

Posted by: cb | February 6, 2008 11:17 AM

CB - I already have Briggs & Riley! I spent a small fortune on a small luggage-style case and then a duffel that slips over the top for wheeling about. However, they are technically 2 pieces - when I check them in I have to take them apart. I have not seen any "zip together" items that could be claimed to be one piece, but I will go back to the store and look.
I know this all sounds like such whining, but there comes a time when all the gd nickel and diming just gets to you. I can't wait til the airlines have pay toilets on board and start charging for carryon hand luggage as well.

Posted by: nan m | February 6, 2008 11:28 AM

nan m - Hum, they used to have one that was shaped kind of like a rolling duffle bag, and that divided into two sections of approx 1/3 and 2/3 the total size. I just looked quickly through their website and can't seem to locate it. Perhaps they stopped selling it. If so, that is too bad because it seemed like a good idea for people in your situation, or for people who may not always need their entire large suitcase.

Posted by: cb | February 6, 2008 12:08 PM

So fuel costs seem to have generated these recent round of petty charges as well as increasing the price of tickets. Yet no one is blaming the greedy oil companies who make obscent billions of dollars in profits.

Posted by: wt | February 6, 2008 12:52 PM

I think it is fair to charge these airlines a $100 fee per piece of baggage anytime checked baggage is delayed.

Posted by: Rulo | February 6, 2008 3:53 PM

I've been traveling since I was 15...and a lot since then. The truth of the matter is United used to be one of if not the best airlines out there. Since restructuring I've flown them on a couple of occasions. They are now what I would term the worst airline out there. This change only reinforces my opinion. I currently drive to Baltimore to avoid United at Dulles...guess I will be doing so more now. I really hate to say it, but Southwest is beginning to eat the "big guys" lunch. Hopefully they won't follow suit on this very wrong-minded idea. My $.02.

Posted by: Zipperhead | February 12, 2008 4:57 PM

Oh, I also forgot my suggestion. I usually pack a small cloth duffel bag in my suitcase (compresses down to almost nothing). That way if I end up overweight on my return trip I can just fill it with clothes or other non-breakables from my suitcase and check it as a second bag or carry it on. Avoids charges easily and easy to do given most airports have a scale sitting around in the check-in areas now.

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