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Insta-CoGo: American Airlines' $15 Stunner

Cindy Loose

Who among us saw this coming: A charge to check even one bag?

When the first airline announced it would charge to check a second bag, CoGo knew it was a matter of seconds before other airlines took the idea and ran, but this?? Right out of left field.

In case you missed it, American Airlines yesterday announced that domestic economy passengers who buy tickets after June 15 will be charged $15 for a first checked bag, $25 for a second. Obviously, airlines will start lining up to copy the idea.

CoGo makes a second prediction: All airlines will begin getting strict about making sure passengers follow the rules about what they can bring on board. Otherwise, overhead bins will be jammed before the flight is half-full, plus the airlines will lose many multiples of that $15 for the first-bag fee they'll quickly copy.

One potential upside: Goodbye to the bin hogs (and you know who you are).

Oh and by the way, the other part of American's plan to respond to increased jet fuel prices:

* Cutting domestic capacity by 11 percent to 12 percent. Let's put it this way: If you have a ticket, make sure the airline knows how to contact you in case you flight is one of those changed.

* Laying off thousands of workers. No exact numbers have been released, but CoGo is guessing that the cuts will represent more than the cuts in capacity, meaning service overall could get worse.

The upside there: Sorry, I'm stumped.

By Cindy Loose |  May 22, 2008; 11:13 AM ET  | Category:  Cindy Loose , Insta-CoGo
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It was one thing when Sprint added fees to check bags, as that was a low-cost airline to start with. But, if you are paying American fare, you aren't exactly expecting Southwest service.

I'll fly them again, I have no choice.

Posted by: RT | May 22, 2008 12:07 PM

It was one thing when Sprint added fees to check bags, as that was a low-cost airline to start with. But, if you are paying American fare, you aren't exactly expecting Southwest service.

I'll fly them again, I have no choice.

Posted by: RT | May 22, 2008 12:07 PM

Probably not. I'm not likely to be flying again in the near future anyway, and American has never had the best fares to begin with. Being treated like a botomless piggy bank who is expected to just take it and like it won't make me any more likely to use them either.

Posted by: EricS | May 22, 2008 12:42 PM

Hey, RT, no fair slamming Southwest's service, which I've always found to be superior to the big guys'.

It's bad enough that you have to worry about your checked bag(s) missing your connection, being damaged, or being lost entirely, or your belongings being stolen -- charging for it just adds insult to injury. I'll bet they won't credit back the $15 when any or all of the above happens.

And what happens when you're one of the last to board and there's no bin space, so they have to check your (reasonably-sized, but not under-seat) carry-on? Are they going to demand cash on the spot? (And don't think you can avoid this by showing up early. I had it happen to me on a flight where United grouped the Economy Plus aisle seats in the last boarding group, I suppose for efficiency of movement through the aisles. By the time I boarded, on one of those large planes with 5-6 seats in the center section and those tiny overhead bins that barely hold coats, there was no space left, even in the closets.)

Posted by: jane | May 22, 2008 12:45 PM

It is going to turn out to be the worst decision they have ever made. First, it will increase check in time, as agents will need to conduct a financial transaction with every passenger that is checking in a bag. Second, it will make people look for alternatives. Third, it will make people angrier at American. Fourth, it will make them beholden to the bags. If the bags are paying, they also better get to their destination. RT is right--American is a legacy carrier not a discount airline. Go back to acting like one!!! Passengers must show their outrage instead of accepting this new, and very outrageous, charge.

Posted by: Bev | May 22, 2008 1:03 PM

May all of the other airlines enjoy their increased bookings.

Any carrier that follows American lead has to be nuts.

Posted by: DC | May 22, 2008 1:04 PM

I travel light or ship luggage, and I'm elite with AA, so I board first and can find space for my carry-on - but still, for the next several months, I'll only fly with AA if I'm booking at the last moment. If I lose my status, oh well - it will just make it that much easier to cut ties entirely with this pathetic excuse of an airline.

First of all, the fees will hurt ALL of us, because inexperienced travelers (especially vacationing families) will try to carry the kitchen sink on board. This means that security lines at AA's terminals will be heinous, and AA flights will be chronically delayed because so many bags will need to be taken from the cabin and gate-checked. Plus, passengers and crew will be chronically stressed and PO-ed. No thanks.

More importantly, 11-12% cuts in capacity mean that AA will be horribly unreliable for the next several months. The husband and I booked an April 2008 flight with AA to the Carribean a few months in advance. AA sent what they called "schedule updates" for that trip three separate times(!), and on a three-day getaway, those "minor" updates made the timing of our new flights with them impossible. After the third "update", we finally cut them loose and flew Continental instead. Continental's price was higher at that point, probably because we weren't booking with as much advance notice, but at least the flights we selected actually flew as scheduled. I'm not going through that again.

Posted by: adub | May 22, 2008 1:29 PM

BTW, even if airlines are strict about the carry-on rules, there is nowhere near enough space in the cabin for everyone to bring the maximum allowable carry-on luggage. Think about it - if even 2/3 of passengers on a 6-across plane bring a roll-aboard, that's four roll-aboards per row. Even if the plane has extra bin space, that luggage will never fit.

Posted by: adub | May 22, 2008 1:53 PM

Please. The people who are complaining the loudest about this are the ones who spend the most time scouring the internet to save $10 on their fare. That's why the airlines are adding these fees and cutting back on amenities and service.

Most people buy airline tickets based on price, so rather than just add $15 to the cost of every ticket, American is adding the fee. A lot of people who are complaining about the bag fee are still going to fly American if their price is $10 lower.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 22, 2008 1:58 PM

Adub makes a great point about there not being enough space in the bins if a larger fraction of people carry on even the allowable amount of stuff. If that in fact becomes the problem it probably will become, here's betting they'll reduce the amount you can bring on board. Meanwhile, don't fly without knowing the carryon rules of your airline.

Jane also raises an interesting issue: If you have the allowable amount but there's no more space and they insist on checking the bag, will they charge. I'd say no way, and if that happens to anyone, let CoGo know. But even without charging, that's a nightmare. I put any essential prescription drugs and any valuables in my carry on, and there's no way I'm letting go of those, esp. the pills. I'm sure others feel the same---as they should, cause replacing meds is either a hassle or impossible. That means that at edge of the jetway unhappy people are going to be delaying the play while they root around the bag they must now check, dragging out the things they absolutely can't do without.

The airlines are in fact responding to a real need for revenue given jet fuel prices, but while I got the "pay for second bag" rule, you guys have pointed out the first bag charge is going to make a big mess.

Posted by: cindy loose | May 22, 2008 2:08 PM

I wasn't thrilled with the second bag fees, but I could understand them. This, I find infuriating. Carried on bags slow security, they slow boarding, and they slow layovers. Almost every time I fly I have to change planes (function of having family in inconvenient locations), and I hate having to schlep a bag around as I try to use the restroom, get something to eat, etc. And then there's the matter of all the TSA restrictions for carry-on luggage.

I really hope this doesn't become the norm.

Posted by: Julia | May 22, 2008 2:56 PM

this makes no sense what so ever. i dont like the idea of paying for a second bag either. i understand raising base prices b/c of fuel, but charging for checked bags just because doesnt make sense--especially since the plane has space for it.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 22, 2008 3:56 PM

This clearly crosses the line between charging for extras (OK in this day and age) and an unacceptable fee.

Just because I don't always check a bag doesn't mean I want to lose the ability to - especially since this is something I sometimes have to do as a practical matter.

I don't always use the bathroom in-flight, but I would be appalled to find a pay toilet. Ditto with luggage locker-style overhead bins.

For that matter, I don't use all of my space in my seat - I better start showing up with a fat suit, lest they start charging for space by the square inch on the theory that "not everyone is using the service" of the full seat.

My question - once you start unbundling all of these services what exactly is the "legacy" left on these so-called "legacy" airlines?

Posted by: SWDC | May 22, 2008 4:08 PM

I really don't get all the fuss. I am a Premier Executive on United and check a bag at least 80% of the time to avoid the hassle with TSA, crowded terminals and trying to figure out how to manage a suitcase and briefcase in a small bathroom stall. This fee is really a token amount and I would still fly legacy airlines even if USAirways and United follow suit. The difference, at least for now, between the legacy airlines and the discount carriers (except maybe for SWA) is the depth of schedule and destinations.

We thought about flying Spirit to Cancun, but the $50 savings on airfare over USAirways was not worth the risk if Spirit canceled our connection in FLL. We figured that we might get stuck for a little while if there was a problem in CLT, but not for days as we have heard about happening to passengers on Spirit.

Posted by: More Cowbell | May 22, 2008 4:19 PM

Carol, good idea to remove those items from your bags.

Here is what AA's contract of carriage specifically says AA it will not be liable for:

"American does not accept in or as checked baggage any of the following items: antiques, artifacts, artwork, books and documents, china, computers and other electronic equipment, computer software, fragile items (including child/infant restraint devices such as strollers and car seats), eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses, non-prescription sunglasses and all other eyewear and eye/vision devices whether lenses are glass, plastic, or some other material, furs, heirlooms, items carried in the passenger compartment of the aircraft, liquids, medicines, money, orthotics, surgical supports, perishable items, photographic, video and optical equipment, precious metals, stones or jewelry, securities and negotiable papers, silverware, samples, unique or irreplaceable items or any other similar valuable items. American does not accept these items in or as checked baggage and assumes no responsibility or liability for such items, regardless of whether American knew or should have known of the presence of such items in checked or transferred baggage. If any such items are lost, damaged or delayed, you will not be entitled to any reimbursement under American's standard baggage liability, or under any declared excess valuation. Do not attempt to check these items. Carry them with you in the passenger cabin (subject to carryon baggage limitations)."

So baggage handlers will of course be on the lookout for these types of goodies in gate-checked bags. It will be interesting to see if AA still tries to wiggle out of liability for loss or damage of these items. And in the meantime, the smart people will take the time to grab these things out of their luggage before surrendering their bags - which will further delay boarding.

The more I think about all of the implications of this asinine policy, the angrier I become.

Posted by: adub | May 22, 2008 4:26 PM

I understand that airlines are being hit by fuel prices but they are going to get hammered if all of a sudden they are posting profits. Lets not forget that airlines will likely keep this even if fuelcost restore to the norm.

What I dont understand is why not just raise airfares?

Why dont they just charge based on weight and not the number of bags? Passangers on American will avoid any baggage cost by bringing bags on board.

Why not change their system where passangers state how many bags they will check when they book and then charge a fee if they bring more bags. Then the online bagge fee when booking would be cheaper than the in person costs.

I work for the federal govt where we have contracted carriers so this charge will violate the rules in the contract.


Aside---Why are you leaving Cindy? Is this one of those early retiremnet buy outs?

Posted by: Dan (Seattle) | May 22, 2008 5:17 PM

So this really only covers if you buy your ticket after June 15? We have purchased tickets for an international trip at Thanksgiving and award tickets for domestic flight for Christmas - we can still check bags for free those trips?

Posted by: R | May 22, 2008 5:22 PM

found this on the website:

The following customers will not be charged a service fee to check a bag provided the bag is within the weight allowance:

* For the first checked bag, customers who buy a ticket before June 15, 2008, or who fly before June 15, 2008
* For the second checked bag, customers who purchased a ticket before May 12, 2008
* Customers originating travel in the U.S., U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or Canada and traveling to an international destination beyond the U.S., U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or Canada
* Customers originating travel outside the U.S., U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or Canada and traveling to an international destination
* Customers who purchase full-fare tickets in Economy Class
* Customers who purchase Business or First Class tickets
* Customers flying on AA codeshare flights not operated by American Airlines, American Eagle or AmericanConnection®
* Customers traveling on government or military fares
* Military passengers on active duty
* AAdvantage Executive Platinum®, AAdvantage Platinum® or AAdvantage Gold® members
* oneworld Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby members
* Customers flying on the same reservation as an AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum or AAdvantage Gold member or oneworld Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby member regardless of frequent flier status or fare type (not applicable to group bookings)
* AAnytime® Economy Class AAdvantage award tickets, MileSAAver(SM) or AAnytime First and Business Class AAdvantage award tickets
* First and Business Class upgrades confirmed prior to check in
* AAirpass travel

Posted by: e | May 22, 2008 10:37 PM

found this on the website:

The following customers will not be charged a service fee to check a bag provided the bag is within the weight allowance:

* For the first checked bag, customers who buy a ticket before June 15, 2008, or who fly before June 15, 2008
* For the second checked bag, customers who purchased a ticket before May 12, 2008
* Customers originating travel in the U.S., U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or Canada and traveling to an international destination beyond the U.S., U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or Canada
* Customers originating travel outside the U.S., U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or Canada and traveling to an international destination
* Customers who purchase full-fare tickets in Economy Class
* Customers who purchase Business or First Class tickets
* Customers flying on AA codeshare flights not operated by American Airlines, American Eagle or AmericanConnection®
* Customers traveling on government or military fares
* Military passengers on active duty
* AAdvantage Executive Platinum®, AAdvantage Platinum® or AAdvantage Gold® members
* oneworld Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby members
* Customers flying on the same reservation as an AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum or AAdvantage Gold member or oneworld Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby member regardless of frequent flier status or fare type (not applicable to group bookings)
* AAnytime® Economy Class AAdvantage award tickets, MileSAAver(SM) or AAnytime First and Business Class AAdvantage award tickets
* First and Business Class upgrades confirmed prior to check in
* AAirpass travel

Posted by: e | May 22, 2008 10:38 PM

Sorry Jane, I stand by my assessment of Southwest. I work for the gov't and flew Southwest for years, before FY08 when they didn't get the contracts (or didn't bid on it - not sure what happened). My first flight on American, in Oct 07 (first of FY08) was so wonderful in comparison. Assigned seats, a full can of soda, time to run to the rest room immediatly before boarding, the occasional empty seat next to me, helpful gate agents who will change your seat, reprint a boarding pass if you loose it, even give you your bag claim number for that lost boarding pass. Southwest claims to not be able to look up your bag claim number if you lose it!

I'm sorry, any airline with a boarding process that resembles a cattle stampede does not get points in my book.

Any yes, this fee will rarely, if ever, apply to me because of the gov't contracts, gov't fares, and elite status. But I still think its ridiculous!

Posted by: RT | May 23, 2008 8:57 AM

Well, RT, we can agree to disagree. I don't travel Southwest for business either (I'm in gov't too), but I always use it for personal trips. I'll have to take your word for it that American is better; I take United (for the FF miles), which generally is not.

For what it's worth, it's less cattle-like now. You get a number when you check in online the day before, and now you line up by number, rather than lettered group. So it's a line, rather than a stampede, and you can make that last restroom run without losing your place.

Posted by: jane | May 23, 2008 10:47 AM

Also watch for the airlines to devalue your frequent flier miles even more. I just cashed in 60k and am taking a trip to Laos. Get out while you still can!!

Posted by: Liz | May 23, 2008 12:54 PM

By the way, it would likely be ruled illegal for the airlines to add this fee to without warning those buying the tickets. You basically can't raise a price after you've sold something. The cruise lines found this out via the Florida Attorney General when they tried to impose a new fuel surcharge to passengers who had already bought tickets. So, if you buy before June 15, you should be able to check your first bag for free, although I won't be shocked if an agent here and there will fail to get the memo and give someone a hard time.

Posted by: cindy loose | May 23, 2008 1:20 PM

Good point, Liz. United also shortened the time for miles to expire (to 18 months of inactivity on the account, instead of 3 years). That will disadvantage some infrequent travelers, though you can avoid it by getting one of the United credit cards and charging something small on it from time to time.

Posted by: jane | May 23, 2008 1:55 PM

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