Airline Fees Taking Off on Services Formerly Included in Ticket Price

Four and a half years after the events of Sept. 11 changed nearly everything about air travel, airlines have not only eliminated free meals but are charging for dozens of services that once were included in ticket prices.

"I'm getting a lot of flak about overweight bags," Blosch said. "People are used to bringing everything but the kitchen sink on vacation. We tell clients about weight limits, but sometimes they don't believe it."

The major carriers are more flexible for their first-class or business-class passengers, generally allowing a first bag to weigh up to 70 pounds.

Some airlines - but not US Airways - are experimenting with charging $1 or $2 for curbside check-in. American charges $2 per bag at many airports but not Philadelphia's.

Outside the United States, some airlines have stricter limits on the weight of luggage than U.S. carriers do, so make sure to check before getting to the airport.

While you're flying. Free meals have been eliminated on domestic flights, except for Continental Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Blosch said clients complained when airlines cut free meals, but complaints had diminished. "People are resigned to the fact you have to pay for it or bring it on," she said.

US Airways charges $7 for a boxed breakfast or a light, cold lunch or dinner, and $5 for a snack box. Meals are still served on flights to Europe - after all, the trip takes a minimum of six hours each way.

Most carriers still offer special meals, including diabetic, gluten-free, vegan, kosher and Muslim, on long international flights. Policies vary, but it is a good idea to order a special meal 24 hours ahead.

Among major carriers, American charges $3 to $4 for snack boxes and $5 for sandwiches, and United sells $5 snack boxes. US Airways has free pretzels and peanuts, but Northwest Airlines has eliminated snacks, and now charges $1 for trail mix and $3 for other snacks.

Soft drinks and juices are largely still free, but do not count on them for short flights. American Eagle, American's commuter service, is experimenting with charging $1 for beverages on some flights. Alcoholic beverages that once were free on most international flights now cost $5.

Continental still serves free meals, anything from a cold snack on shorter flights to a hot sandwich basket on flights over 31/2 hours. On Midwest Airlines, chocolate-chip cookies are still baked on board after 10:30 a.m. and are free. Other snacks and meals cost $5 to $10.

Southwest Airlines serves no meals but has free peanuts or pretzels on all flights and free snack boxes on flights of two hours or more.

As for other in-flight amenities, pillows and blankets have been removed by some airlines but not by US Airways. Air Canada charges $2 for a packet with an inflatable pillow and small blanket on North American flights.

Finally, Brancatelli said, the days are over when flight attendants had freebies for children, like plastic wings and playing cards. But, he noted, on United's discount Ted service, you can buy a deck of cards.

Philadelphia Inquirer

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