Feb. 23--American Airlines is adding San Antonio International Airport to a growing list of places where its curbside check-in will come at a cost.
By mid-March the airline will start charging $2 per bag to check travelers outside the terminal. It might not seem a big change for passengers used to tipping the skycaps. But skycaps are worried those tips will start drying up.
American's San Antonio skycaps work for Nashville, Tenn.-based PrimeFlight Aviation Services. None at the airport wanted to be quoted by name, but several said they are unhappy with the upcoming change.
They said they expect passengers who typically check in curbside to move indoors once signs go up announcing the fees.
"This is a different way of doing things, and people get nervous when things change," said Tim Smith, a spokesman for Fort Worth-based American Airlines, which has 19 daily flights from San Antonio and will add a flight to Dallas Love Field next month.
American started charging fees for curbside check-in at some places last March. Now it charges $2 a bag at about 35 airports, including Dallas/Fort Worth International and Austin-Bergstrom International.
Smith said the airline is looking for places where it can charge customers for services that only a few people use. He said it's similar to charging passengers for box lunches -- the ones who want the lunch or the service will pay for it.
"We're spending close to eight figures a year paying third-party companies to do this service," Smith said.
Charging allows American to recoup some of that cost.
Officials with PrimeFlight referred questions to American, but the company did issue a statement saying it has 128 employees at the San Antonio airport, including 31 skycaps serving American, America West, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Mexicana, Midwest, Northwest and United.
"Curbside baggage fees are a recent initiative of American Airlines, and due to contract discussions in process, PrimeFlight is unable to comment on the program at this time," the company said.
Several other airlines don't charge for the service, and representatives for Continental and Southwest said they don't plan to join American.
Skycaps usually make less than the minimum wage, and most of their compensation comes from tips.
Smith said contractors such as PrimeFlight typically raise the skycaps' salaries to compensate for any drop-off in business.
"Almost all of our third-party vendors have bumped the hourly salary rate to offset the potential loss of tips," he said. "They bump that pretty good." There is no word on what kind of bump American's San Antonio skycaps might get.
Passengers who were checking bags at curbside Wednesday morning showed little concern for the pending charge. Several said curbside check-in is more convenient than waiting in line inside the terminal.
"I usually tip (skycaps) a dollar a bag, so it's not a big difference," said Cynthia DuBois of San Antonio. "Checking curbside is better than lugging a big bag around." Jim McGee of Long Island, N.Y., said he and his wife, Joan, would still check bags curbside even if it cost a few more bucks.
"If you look at the lines inside, there's usually close to 100 people," McGee said before flying home.
Smith said fewer than one-fourth of American's passengers check in curbside in San Antonio. Also, he said customers tend to go back to using curbside check-in after an initial drop-off once the fees start.
"We have seen the business return in approximately three to four weeks," he said. "When the business comes back, so do the tips for the skycaps."
American plans to add D/FW to its growing list of airports with a $2 fee per bag for checking luggage outside the terminal buildings, which has been free.
Bankrupt United, searching for ways to make more money, intends this week to start charging Chicago travelers $2 a bag for skycap services.
Airline officials say they're trying to offset high fuel costs and low fares by charging for services that passengers want.
About 15 percent of Northwest passengers use the skycap baggage-check service where it is available; it handles some 4 million bags a year. That service may soon cost $2 a bag.