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 The Tactical Traveler

joe A SPECIAL BUSINESS-TRAVEL BRIEFING:
DOMESTIC CHECKED-BAGGAGE RULES


February 15, 2007 -- Slowly, but inevitably, it is clear that the airlines are moving to la carte luggage systems. It probably won't be long before free luggage allowances for coach passengers disappear completely.

They already have on some carriers in Europe. Ryanair, the 800-pound gorilla of European discounters, now charges for every piece of checked luggage it carries. So do several other lesser-known low-fare carriers. And while more traditional European airlines have not begun charging for bags on flights from their U.S. gateways, some have reduced or eliminated their free-luggage allowances for passengers flying within Europe or to non-U.S. international destinations.

Here at home, U.S. and Canadian carriers took the first tentative steps toward la carte luggage pricing several years ago when they slashed many of their free-bag limits to 50 pounds a piece from the former 70-pound allowance. Bags weighing more than 50 pounds now cost as much as $100 to check. And last week, Spirit Airlines cut passengers down to one checked bag per flight. Checking a second bag on Spirit now costs $10.

No carrier has matched the Spirit move--yet. But "you can guarantee that some airline will make its own luggage move this summer," a Big Six executive told me this week. "Coach passengers will get less and they'll have to pay for what we once gave them for free. And we'll tell first-class passengers that we did it to add value to the fare we charge them."

As you can see by the chart below, however, the airlines don't move in lockstep on luggage. Although two 50-pound bags is the current standard for free luggage on domestic flights, there are some notable exceptions. Continental, Northwest, US Airways and Air Canada allow first-class customers to check additional bags at no charge. Continental and Air Canada also have more liberal weight limits for elite members of their frequent flyer programs. And two discount carriers--Southwest and ATA--allow all of their coach passengers to check three bags at no charge.

(Also notable: Some airlines now impose an absolute weight limit of 70 pounds a bag and will not accept heavier luggage at any price. Others cap the maximum allowable weight at 99 or 100 pounds a bag. A similar dichotomy exists for oversize bags. All airlines consider 62 linear inches (length plus width plus height) the standard maximum size for their free baggage allowance. A few will accept bags up to 160 inches for an extra fee. Many more, however, limit the maximum size to 115 inches. And some carriers will not accept a bag that measures more than 80 inches.)

Where do we go from here? Never underestimate the power of the airlines to invent infuriating new charges. And don't think they don't have the incentive: The reduced weight limits--along with overweight, oversize and excess-bag charges--has created a new revenue stream. In fact, several carriers doubled their revenue from luggage fees last year compared to 2005.

Of course, there is an irony here. As the airlines move to rake in new fees from checked luggage, their ability to transport the bags in a reliable and timely manner has deteriorated. Last year, the Transportation Department said the nation's largest carriers racked up more than 4 million reports of "mishandled" bags. And the industry's lost-bag rate of 6.73 per 1,000 passengers was the highest in a decade. -- Joe Brancatelli

BIG SIX: DOMESTIC CHECKED-BAGGAGE RULES

Airline

Free Bag Limit

Max Weight (lbs./bag)

Overweight Fee (lbs./bag)**

Oversize* Fee (per bag)**

Excess Baggage Fees**

American

2

50

$25 (51-70)
$50 (71-100)

$100 up to
115 inches

$80 each (1st-3rd extra bags); $105 each (4th-6th); $180 (7th or more)

Continental

Coach: 2
First: 3

Coach: 50 (a)
First: 70

$25 (51-70)

$80 up to
115 inches

$80 each (1st-3rd extra bags); $105 each (4th-6th); $180 (7th or more)

Delta

2 (b)

50

$25 (51-70)
$100 (71-100)

$100 up to
80 inches

$50 each extra bag

Northwest

Coach: 2
First: 3

Coach: 50 First: 70 (c)

$25 (51-70)
$50 (71-100)

$80 up to
160 inches

$80 each (1st-3rd extra bags); $105 each (4th-6th); $180 (7th or more)

United

2

50

$50 (51-100)

$100 up to
115 inches

$85 each (1st & 2nd extra bag); $125 each (3rd & 4th); $200 (5th or more)

US Airways

2

Coach: 50 First: 70

$50 (51-70)
$80 (71-100)

$80 up to
80 inches

$80 each extra bag

ALTERNATE CARRIERS: DOMESTIC CHECKED-BAGGAGE RULES

Airline

Free Bag Limit

Max Weight (lbs./bag)

Overweight Fee (lbs./bag)**

Oversize* Fee (per bag)**

Excess Baggage Fees**

AirTran

2

50

$25 (51-70)
$65 (71-100)

$65 up to
80 inches

$50 each extra bag

Alaska

2

50

$25 (51-70)
$50 (71-100)

$50 up to 80 inches; $75 up to 115 inches

$50 for first extra bag; $75 each (2nd-4th); $150 (5th or more)

Aloha

2

50 (d)

$25 (51-70)

$50 (in HI) or $80 (mainland) up to 80 inches

In HI: $25 (1st-3rd extra bags); $35 (4th or more). To/from mainland: $80 each (1st-3rd); $105 each (4th-6th); $180 (7th or more)

ATA

3

50

$25 (51-70)
$50 (71-100)

$50 up to
80 inches

$50 each (1st-6th extra bags); $110 (7th or more)

Frontier

2

50

$50 (51-100)

$50 up to
80 inches

$50 each (1st & 2nd extra bag); $100 each (3rd-15th); $200 (16th or more)

Hawaiian

2

50

$25 (51-70)

$50 up to
80 inches

In HI: $25 each extra bag; To/from mainland: $80 each (1st-3rd); $105 each (4th-6th); $180 (7th or more)

JetBlue

2

50

$20 (51-70)
$50 (71-99)

$50 up to
80 inches

$80 each extra bag

Midwest

2

50

$25 (51-70)
$50 (71-100)

$80 up to
115 inches

$50 each extra bag

Spirit

1

50

$25 (51-70)
$100 (71-99)

$100 up to 80 inches; $150 up to 160 inches

$10 for 1st bag; $100 for 2nd

Southwest

3

50

$25 (51-70)
$50 (71-100)

$50 up to
80 inches

$50 each (1st-9th extra bags); $110 (10th or more)

CANADIAN CARRIERS: DOMESTIC CHECKED-BAGGAGE RULES

Airline

Free Bag Limit

Max Weight (lbs./bag)

Overweight Fee (lbs./bag)**

Oversize* Fee (per bag)**

Excess Baggage Fees**

Air Canada

Coach: 2
First: 3
Elite: 4

Coach: 50
First: 70 (e)
Elite: 70 (e)

$25 (51-70)

$35 up to
115 inches

$75 each extra bag

WestJet

2

60

$35 (61-100)

$35 up to
80 inches

$65 each extra bag

KEY: "Domestic" flights are generally considered those wholly operated within the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. *The industry standard for bags is 62 linear inches (the total of length plus width plus height). **Overweight, oversize and excess baggage fees are cumulative and all are charged if applicable.
(a) The limit for Continental OnePass elite members flying in coach is 70 pounds per bag.
(b) Delta passengers to Key West, Florida, are limited to one free bag.
(c) Northwest allows first-class customers to check two bags up to 62 linear inches and 70 pounds. The third free bag can weigh 40 pounds and not exceed 42 linear inches.
(d) On Aloha code-shares on Island Air commuter flights, the free baggage limit is a total of 50 pounds.
(e) Air Canada first-class flyers can check a total of 150 pounds in three bags. If the three bags weigh more, a $25 charge applies. Air Canada elite and super elite flyers can check a total of 200 pounds in four bags.
NOTE: These rules apply to luggage only. Separate rules apply for art, sports equipment, musical instruments, audio/visual gear, food items, animals, antlers and firearms and ammunition. All prices listed in US dollars.
Source: Respective airline Web sites on February 14, 2007



Copyright 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.