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Before You Go

For Sunday, March 30, 2014

By McClatchy News Services


Fares found to fall in wake of bag fees

Travelers protested when airlines began charging bag fees in 2008, saying the extra charge was a blatant money grab. But a new study concludes that the nation's airlines quietly lowered airfares slightly to make the bag fees more palatable to those fliers who would get stuck paying the new charge.

Still, the airlines are profiting because the drop in fares was so small it did not totally offset the added cost of checking a bag, the study found.

"The fact that the airlines are doing it must mean they are coming out ahead," said Jan Brueckner, a professor at the University of Cali­for­nia at Irvine who co-wrote the study with other economics experts.

Major U.S. airlines began to adopt checked-bag fees about six years ago when a spike in fuel costs and the country's financial crisis squeezed the airline industry's already thin profit margin. Bag fees started at $15 a bag and grew to about $25 each. In the first nine months of 2013, the nation's airlines collected $2.5 billion in bag fees, according to federal statistics.

When the airlines added the bag fee, they faced resistance from budget-minded fliers, the study said. In response, airlines dropped fares slightly, by about $7 for most lower-priced tickets, according to the study.


The addition of airline bag fees several years ago created another annoyance: people who cram all their travel necessities into carry-on bags to avoid the fees. United Airlines recently began a crackdown.

Nearly half of recent fliers who were questioned said they support United's crackdown, according to an online survey of more than 1,000 adults, conducted by London research firm YouGov: 44 percent of people who have flown in the past year said fliers carry too much onto planes, making others miserable.

But the survey aims some criticism at the airlines as well: Half of recent fliers said huge carry-ons wouldn't be a problem if it didn't cost so much to check bags.

Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

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