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One way to get around airline baggage fees

Lawrence Lewitinn
Lawrence Lewitinn

The cutthroat competition for cheap airfares had led airlines to come up with different ways to get money out of customers. And some carriers are now even charging passengers for carry-on bags.

“Back in 2008, the airlines devised policies that involved charging us to check our luggage,” explained lifestyle attorney Shari Olefson, CEO of The Carnegie Group. “At the same time, we saw a lot of airlines consolidating, a lot of flights consolidating, and of course airlines adding more seats to their airplanes."

Airlines like Southwest (LUV) and JetBlue (JBLU) let passengers check in their first bag for free while any others like American (AAL) and United (UAL) charge $25. In most cases, carriers ration scarce cargo space by charging more for each additional piece of luggage, according to the website TripAdvisor.com.

To skirt fees, customers have been carrying on their bags. But that has led to new problems – crowded overhead bins and the inconvenience of waiting for other passengers to get their carry-on bags into and out of planes.

"What we’re stuck with now are planes carrying 180 people but will only accommodate 125 pieces of [carry-on] luggage," Olefson said.

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“The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is talking about reducing the size of carry on luggage we’re allowed to bring,” Olefson added. “Airlines like Delta (DAL) are trying systems where their staff actually put our carry on luggage on the plane for us thinking that will be quicker and there’ll be able to fit more luggage in. And Boeing (BA) is looking at ways to retrofit their luggage compartments but also to build bigger luggage compartments on future flights.”

Spirit Airlines (SAVE) may be paving the way for other airlines to keep carry-on bags under control by charging $50 more for each additional piece, with the fee going up to $100 at the gate for flyers who forget to pay in advance.

In the meantime, Olefson suggests other ways for passengers to squeeze in their carry-on bags.

“The most underutilized space in an airplane is actually that space underneath the seat directly in front of you,” she said. “That would accommodate a bag of about 20% smaller than the overhead compartment. But it’s yours so maybe you can pack a bag that will fit under there.”

“Electing to upgrade your ticket so that you can board early will also help guarantee you that luggage space overhead,” Olefson recommended. “And many airlines are allowing you now to check your luggage at the gate free of charge when they have a full flight.“


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