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Why Airlines Charge to Check Bags

I have a lot of pet peeves, but one thing that drives me absolutely nuts is the approach many people take to travel. Expectations have spiraled out-of-whack, to the point where an entire secondary industry has popped up so that people can nickel and dime and squeeze every penny out of their air fare.

There's really no reason to be surprised that airlines are charging extra for everything. People shop for fares by comparing the base fare and then buying the cheapest one. Airlines know this. They have to exploit it to get business.

(from Flickr user GHAVA)

In theory, there should be a lot more brand loyalty in the airline industry than there is. Flying is a pretty intimate experience for many people. It can make or break a trip. It can make for a great weekend away or it can ruin a vacation. The airline experience is crucial to many trips. I've written before about the reason why many airlines have poor customer service. It's a rational response to the knowledge that enough customers will return if the price is right.

So when the US Department of Transportation announced that it intends to require airlines to disclose all fees during the booking process, many of these same travelers praised the DOT. But it overlooks important points. Why do airlines oversell flights? Because so many people don't show when they're supposed to, and demand a refund, and it costs airlines money. Why do they charge for bags? Because people demand cheap fares, and airlines have to in order to sell tickets.

Ultimately, it's a race to the bottom. But what the DOT is doing shouldn't be called protecting customers. What DOT is doing changing the system so that customers can make the rational price comparisons that they haven't been able to make on their own. The rational price comparisons that may have avoided the fees and surcharges that people hate so passionately.


PhxDowntowner said…
I actually have brand loyalty and you're right, it seems like we're a dying breed. I won't fly anyone except Southwest (assuming they fly the route i need). They are the only airline that seems to understand business. Such as free bags. Charging for bags actually COSTS the airline more than it makes, b/c they therefore lose more bags (pay for that) and can't fly as many flights each day due to slower turnaround times which result from everyone taking as many carry-ons as possible, which slows boarding, and packing them to the hilt - also resulting in tons of gate checking. Why is Southwest the only airline that understands operations?
Anonymous said…
I know this is an older post, but I thought you might like to know an interesting fact I discovered while I was flying home a couple months ago, sitting next to a pilot who was flying standby. He told me that the reason so many airlines charge for bags is because they currently only have to pay a percentage of the AIRFARE ONLY (not "extra" charges) as a fee to the DOT on each ticket. By charging for bags, they save themselves (and, actually, the consumer) money by circumventing the DOT. It seems as though the DOT has finally caught on.

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