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Insta-Cogo: Bag Fees, Mergers and Belly-Ups

Cindy Loose

These three bits of airline news might seem all unrelated, but in fact they share a common theme: Jet fuel prices are shaking the industry, so tighten your seatbelts, lighten your luggage and open your wallets.

* First up: American Airlines announced yesterday that as of May 12, passengers with a domestic economy ticket will pay $25 more each way if they want to check a second bag. And although Jet Blue hasn't said so publicly yet, it too will begin charging extra to check a second bag: $20 as of June 1.

Wait, you say, didn't I hear about all that a couple of months ago? No, you probably heard that United was going to charge $25 extra for a second bag. Then you heard the same thing about US Airways and Continental , Northwest and Delta. American was the last of the Big Six airlines to embrace the fee.

If you were one of the outraged consumers who said they wouldn't fly an airline that imposed such a fee, then let's hope that Southwest can fill all your air travel needs, because Southwest is the only large carrier holding out against the second-bag fee.

Generally, all the airlines exempt extremely frequent fliers and active military, but rules and start dates do vary, so check the Web site of the carrier you're flying.

Funny thing is that the airlines pretty much always limited checked bags to a total of 50 pounds, and you can still check 50 pounds for free, but only if the stuff is in a single bag.

I'm making three bets:
1. Lots of people will run out to get bigger bags. They'd better weigh them when filled, because 51 pounds is over the limit..

2. Lots of people will try to bring a lot more stuff on board with them.

3. Airlines will get wise and start enforcing the rules they already have about carry-on luggage. (Basically, the rule is: a personal item like a laptop or purse, and one carry-on bag. Its dimensions when added together must total no more than 45 inches, and weight is limited to 40 pounds.)

By now, someone is typing the baby question. Generally a child with an economy domestic ticket gets one bag checked free plus either a car seat or stroller.

And by the way, the fee for a second bag applies to international flights on US Airways.You can pay with a credit card at curbside or with cash, credit card or check at check-in.

* In other news, after flirting wildly with United for some time and spurring rumors about a merger, Continental announced it isn't interested in merging with anyone at this time. Within hours, sources were telling the Associated Press that United and US Airways would attempt a merger. Kinda makes you wonder who dumped whom in that Continental/United flirtation. This news is, of course, different from the similar-sounding news of a Delta-Northwest merger. That one is moving along.

We'll follow the mergers and what they mean for consumers in this blog and the Sunday CoGo (Coming and Going) column. For now: Don't hesitate to buy a ticket on any of the merger candidates, and don't worry that a merger could screw up your summer flights. Either merger will take at least six to eight months. The airlines would no doubt like to complete the paperwork before the business-friendly Bush administration goes out of business, but that's a lot further off than it may seem.

* And last, some airline news that affects a relative minority: If you hold a ticket on EOS, which suddenly folded, then Virgin Atlantic may have a deal for you. The airline announced yesterday that it will provide special fares from D.C., New York and Boston to London for passengers who were stiffed by EOS. Details: www.virginatlantic.com.

By Cindy Loose |  April 29, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Cindy Loose , Insta-Q&A
Previous: The Monday Rave: Tax Rebates and Travel | Next: AAA's Sobering Analysis: The Safety Dance

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I'm wondering if the airlines are being "soft" on this new rule for the time being. I recently flew US Airways rountrip from DCA to Phoenix for a week-long business trip followed by five days of personal travel. Since this combined trip required an extensive and varied wardrobe (from business suits to cocktail dresses and a formal gown as well as hiking gear --- and the myriad requisite accessories) I had one gigunda bag that weighed in at 49.5 lbs on the US Airways scale and a second that was 25 lbs. I checked both bags in both directions and wasn't assessed a fee either time. I felt like I'd won the lottery!

Posted by: Karen | April 29, 2008 10:04 AM

No, they're not being soft and you didn't escape a rule---the rules have all been announced but haven't yet gone into effect for the big six. United will be first, on May 5, and so far Jet Blue is last, with rule going into effect June 1.

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