United Airlines to charge passengers for 2nd checked bag

The airline announced that it will charge $25 to check a second piece of luggage for domestic travel.

Alfredo Sosa/The Christian Science Monitor/FILE
United Airlines passengers wait for their departure time at Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

United Airlines announced Monday that it would begin charging domestic passengers $25 per one-way trip for checking a second bag, a service that has until now been complimentary on major US carriers.

The charge applies only to nonrefundable economy tickets purchased by those who lack "elite" status in the airline's frequent flyer program. In a press release announcing what it called its "simplified checked bag policy," United said that the new fee is "part of its continuing effort to offer customers choice, flexibility, and low fares":

"This change enables us to continue offering customers competitive fares, and it fits with our overall strategy to tailor our products and services around what our customers value most and are willing to pay for, as we have with our popular Economy Plus seating," said John Tague, executive vice president and chief revenue officer. "Our customer research shows that only about one in four customers check a second bag, and with this new policy, customers who check extra bags may continue to do so for a service fee, which enables us to offer competitive fares to everyone."
United estimates that this change will generate more than $100 million annually for the company in cost savings and new revenue.

United's new policy applies to tickets purchased on or after Feb. 4, 2008, for travel on or after May 5, 2008, within the United States, Canada, and some US territories. The airline's website includes an FAQ explaining the policy in detail.

No other major carrier has yet followed United, but US Airways and Northwest told The Wall Street Journal that they are studying United's new fees.

Robin Urbanski, a spokeswoman for United told The San Francisco Chronicle that the fees will keep those who travel light from having to subsidize the 25 percent who check additional luggage.

"Rather than having everyone offset the cost of extra bags, we are passing the fee to the people who check the extra bag," she said. "That way we keep the fares low for everyone."

But not all travelers see this as fair. The Los Angeles Times notes that the fees will hit families particularly hard, because many often check two bags per family member:

Tony Bergman, a Brea resident who was picking up his mother-in-law at Orange County's John Wayne Airport on Monday, said he would have to pay $150 in fees to check two bags each for himself, his wife and his 4-year-old daughter. . .
"People are getting tired of being nickeled and dimed," Bergman said as his mother-in-law, Maureen Notz, who was visiting from Bentonville, Ark., became increasingly upset.
"It's ridiculous," Notz said as she waited to claim her two pieces of luggage from a United flight that connected through Denver. "It's like the airline is saying, 'Let's get the middle-class people.' I hope nobody else does what United is doing."

United's move comes amid a growing trend in airlines toward à la carte pricing, in which the ticket price is 'unbundled' from other services provided by the carrier, such as onboard snacks and meals, pillows, blankets, in-flight entertainment, and reservations by telephone. Given that these services were formerly complimentary, in most cases these new pricing schemes have amounted to a price hike for travelers.

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