Four major domestic airlines increased their checked baggage fees in the past week: Continental, Delta, United, and US Airways. Checking your bags will now cost $25 for the first and $35 for the second (with some minor discounts if you check them online).
One could argue that checked bag fees at least only cost the travelers who want to check bags, rather than raising airfare prices across the board. In that sense, the airlines are only trying to be fair. (I myself haven’t minded having to pay for in flight food; it discourages me from eating it and encourages me to bring a healthier alternative.)
But the obnoxious consequence of these fees is travelers’ ironclad determination to carry on larger and larger bags, only to have to have them gate checked when they don’t fit in the overhead compartment. It slows everything down, from security to boarding, and will result in more incidents like the one I witnessed at O’Hare in December. There, an American Airlines ticket-ripper with a Nazi complex called security on two passengers for daring to question her insistence that they measure their bags in the fitting compartment. The AA employee kept the two passengers off the flight, leading to the underage daughters of one of the passengers boarding alone bawling because they thought their mother was going to be sent to Gitmo. No doubt the travelers in question were obstinate because of the fees, but that certainly didn’t excuse the AA employee’s dictatorial overreaction. (They were eventually allowed to board. Another passenger was attempting to cram his own carry on into the overhead, then tried to hide it from the attendants by putting it in the seat next to him with his son. He finally relented and checked the damn thing.)
I used to prefer checking bags because it allowed unfettered maneuvering at the airports. Now, like everything else, it’s a mitigating factor in the price of an airline ticket. Honestly, I think I would rather have an across-the-board increase than know I’m being nickeled-and-dimed for conveniences that used to be gratis.
If you want to avoid checked bag fees, look at discount airlines like Southwest or JetBlue. If your flight is on a small regional jet, carry on your bags. They are usually gate checked for free anyway due to the small plane size.