Anyone who has flown a plane within the past decade knows by now that most airlines charge fees for checked baggage. After decades of not having had to pay to check bags, consumers were in an uproar when the baggage fees were first rolled out. The first fees applied only to a second checked bag, then eventually to all checked baggage. While many consumers responded to the new charges by switching to carry-ons stored in overhead bins, stricter regulations that were introduced in the interim on what passengers could bring in their carry-on luggage have resulted in more and more passengers sucking it up and paying the fees.
Baggage fees aren’t the only fees that airlines have introduced, as many now charge customers for preferred seating towards the front of the airplane, or for talking to a live ticket agent, and they continue to increase fees for changing tickets. While airlines tout these new fees as an unbundling of services that enhances transparency for consumers, the net result is that consumers are paying more money in airline fees than ever.
In 2016, airline passengers paid $7.1 billion in airline fees, up from $6.3 billion in 2010, measured in 2016 constant dollars. Baggage fee income increased during that period from $3.7 billion to $4.2 billion. What has ended up happening is that customers who don’t check baggage have seen some reductions to their airfare, while those who check baggage are paying more than they were before.
That riles customers who have to check baggage, for instance, those going on vacation, who now are forced to pay more for their airfare. The trend of airlines charging more for more desirable seats grates on consumers too, as seats from the overwing exit rows forward are now considered “premium” seating that require extra fees, while seats in the rear of the aircraft continue to be spaced closer and closer together. Will consumer dissatisfaction cause those fees to change anytime soon? Probably not, as long as airlines continue to pull in billions of dollars in extra revenue.