Airline Checked Bag Fees & Policies Listed

Airline bag check and pet travel fees compared. What about kids traveling alone?

Checked bag fees soar. Passengers sore. (Consumerist photo)

Of all the add-on fees that US airlines have contrived, the checked-baggage fees are arguably the most irritating. They have changed the way we travel, elevated the total cost of a trip even the best fares snared during a sale and come to punch us in the nose when our  credit card bills arrive. There are all sorts of figures from various sources quoted airline revenues from services that used to be free. They all measure differently over different time periods, but they are all quoted in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars annually.

Checked bags are the biggest portion of these revenues — mainly because everyone except high-mileage frequent fliers, full-fare front-cabin passengers and active duty military pays them. We can say no thanks to priority boarding, extra legroom, food and a pillow-and-blanky set, but we often have no choice except to check at least one bag.

To add the proverbial insult to injury, late last year American began testing a procedure requiring passengers to tag their own bags using a self-service tag printer of some sort. I’ll bet that a watchful airline employee or contractor still checked the scale to make sure not an extra ounce slipped past without incurring the overweight bag fee. It started as a test at Boston’s Logan Airport in November (and in Canada as well), butI don’t know whether it was made permanent. Anybody know? 

A website called Caribbean Vacations has published a list of domestic carriers, comparing their charges for first, second, additional and overweight bags and also for pet travel, plus additional comments. Click here to see the list. There is no indication when it was updated, but it’s good a good start for the curious.  The most generous airline? Southwest which permits two free bags and charges $75 for a pet flight. The worst?   United, which charges $20-$25 for the first bag, $30-$35 for the second and a whopping $125-$250 for Fido or Fluffy to fly.

A site called AirFareWatchdog also has a chart with a little less information but showing what fees have increased and how much. It was updated last month.

One add-on that the chart did not address is the extra cost for unaccompanied minors to fly. When my now-grown son was a child, the fee was $35-$50, depending on whether a flight connection was involved. I’m sure that it’s much higher now, and I don’t know whether any airlines still give out little plastic wings, coloring books and other gizmos. Probably not, because these youngsters probably all have video game players in their backpacks. And parents probably send the kids off with plenty of snacks too. More savings to the airlines, right?