$100 for a suitcase?!?: It's time to bag airline baggage fees
"A hundred bucks?"
Jim Terilli, eyes bulging, looks at the digital readout on the scale outside Terminal C at Newark Liberty Airport, then at the shrugging Skycap on the other side of the podium. Terilli is hoping his faulty hearing, the honking horns, barking traffic cops and other curbside bustle have conspired to confuse him.
"No, really, a hundred dollars? Just for this bag?"
The Skycap nods. After a few seconds of venting, Terilli, still incredulous, pulls out his wallet and waves a white flag. Well, actually, he waves his Visa card. The Skycap accepts his surrender and begins the transaction.
Terilli has kissed his daughter Monica and his three grandkids and sent them to the gate. Christmas visit over, they're headed home, but the gifts they're taking back to Raleigh, N.C., are costing Grandpa even more.
He's checking four bags. Three go for $15 each; because there is no airline ticket for the youngest child -- a newborn who will sit on Mom's lap -- the charge for the fourth bag is $25. But it's also six pounds over the 50-pound limit, and that means another 75 bucks. And with takeoff looming, Terilli doesn't have time to shift contents into another bag.
"What a racket," he says. "I'll bet the scale is rigged, too."
All day long, passengers grumble over baggage fees at the Continental Airlines check in. Some sort their laundry on the sidewalk to redistribute weight; golfers steam over the extra charge for their clubs. But they're paying up -- those who can't cram everything into a carry-on bag, that is.
The baggage fees, implemented by the airlines earlier in the year when fuel prices skyrocketed, have remained in place even as fuel costs have plummeted. The airlines, desperate for new revenue streams, now justify the fees by pointing to the recession and a drop in the demand for air travel. Travelers roll their eyes.
"The airlines just don't want to give up the money," passenger Jim Rivers says. "When the recession ends, they'll find another reason to keep charging us for bags."
And blankets. And pillows. And soft drinks. And meals.
In a recent poll, frequent travelers said they prefer a la carte pricing for in-flight items. But 82 percent called baggage fees a "rip-off." Passengers also bristle because airlines waive them for elite status frequent fliers and business-class passengers.
The airlines, which will lose $4 billion in 2008, need the money, but they need to be truthful, too. Baggage fees are another way of nickel-and-diming consumers, of baiting them with lower ticket prices, then whacking them for necessities.
Airlines say the price of the bag would be folded into the price of a ticket anyway. So, then, do it.
Some things should be included in the ticket price. If a Diet Coke and a blanket aren't, the basics should be. Like a suitcase, not too heavy, packed with clean clothes and toiletries. What's next, charging per flush for the use of the on-board toilet?
Terilli, while waiting for his credit card to be approved, has a solution to keep the family luggage under the limit next Christmas: "Gift cards," he says.