Airlines' Baggage Fees Add Up

Sep. 22 -- Those airline baggage fees aren't chump change, as figures released Monday by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show.

Since the second quarter of 2008, U.S. airlines have pocketed nearly $2.3 billion from customers paying for checked bags, including $670 million in the second quarter of 2009 alone, the bureau reported.

In the three months that ended June 30, American Airlines Inc. collected $118.44 million from baggage fees, just ahead of Delta Air Lines Inc. with $118.36 million.

However, the combination of Delta and Northwest Airlines Inc. -- acquired by Delta in October 2008 -- brought in $185.54 million in baggage fees together.

United Airlines Inc. kicked off the rush toward bag fees in February 2008 when it announced a fee for a second checked bag. American upped the ante in May 2008 when it announced that it would begin charging for the first bag as well.

Most carriers have imposed fees, with Southwest Airlines Co. the only exception among major carriers.

The carriers generally charge $15 to $20 for the first bag, and $25 to $30 for the second checked bag. Initially, airlines charged only on domestic flights, but several carriers this year have begun imposing fees for bags on international flights as well.

The fees originally were justified on the grounds that the carriers had to overcome enormous increase in jet fuel bills last year. This year, jet fuel prices have returned to lower levels, but airlines are struggling with a drop in demand, lower fares and a sharp decrease in revenues.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics said passenger revenue per seat mile flown in the second quarter of 2009 dropped an average of 18.6 percent over the same period a year earlier for 21 U.S. carriers.

As airlines have gotten less from passenger fares, they've focused more on ancillary revenues such as fees for checked bags, ticket purchases by phone, ticket changes and overweight or odd-sized bags.