At United Airlines, another long-held free perk of flying will no longer be complimentary.
The Chicago-based airline said Monday that it plans to charge some domestic passengers $25 to check a second suitcase, bucking the industry standard of two free checked bags of up to 50 pounds each. United's move continues an industry trend of charging customers for products and services, such as in-flight meals, headphones and aisle seats, that were once included in the price of a ticket.
United said it is adding the fee in a bid to keep its fares competitive in the face of sky-high fuel prices. The charge will hit travelers who buy non-refundable tickets unless they have elite status in the airline's frequent-flier program. The carrier estimated the rule change will generate more than $100 million annually in cost savings and new revenues.
Although United is struggling to remain profitable, some passengers are tired of getting nickel-and-dimed to death. Even United frequent fliers who will escape the $25 fee were disappointed.
"That's unbelievable," said Matt Perno, a business traveler out of Chicago who flies more than 100,000 miles a year on United. "It's like charging for a refill on a soda."
Air travel experts expect other domestic carriers to follow suit later this year.
"This is the first but certainly not the last we'll see this year," said Terry Trippler, an air traveler advocate and president of www .tripplertravel.com in Minneapolis.
American Airlines, United's biggest rival at O'Hare International Airport, declined to comment on United's move. Southwest Airlines, the dominant player at Midway Airport, said it has no plans to look at its policy after it began charging customers $25 last month to check a third bag.
If other airlines don't follow United's lead, the carrier may have to consider rescinding the new luggage policy or risk losing bargain-oriented customers who are not frequent fliers, industry observers said. That category includes vacation travelers and senior citizens.
"I'm sure United is hoping others follow," said aviation consultant Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co. "Then it won't be the only guy who is gouging people."
A United spokeswoman responded: "We will keep it as long as customers want low fares."
About one-quarter of United customers check a second bag, the airline said. Besides generating new revenue, the airline predicts the $25 fee will encourage people to pack more efficiently. The cost savings are expected to come from handling fewer bags, which could mean less weight on the plane as well as less time loading luggage. But some of the operational efficiencies could be offset if more passengers carry bags on board, which could slow boarding times.
United said the new luggage policy could mean more carry-on bags but it does not know for sure. Second bags checked at the gate will not incur the $25 fee, the spokeswoman said.
The new fee takes effect for travel starting May 5 and applies to tickets purchased on or after Monday on flights within the US and to Canada, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Exemptions will go to those who have flown at least 25,000 miles on United in the last year, giving them "premier" status or higher in its mileage plan, and people traveling with them on the same reservation. In addition, travelers who purchased more-costly refundable tickets, people traveling in first and business class and on military and government fares will not be affected. Car seats, strollers and wheelchairs don't count as second pieces of luggage.
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United's new baggage fees
United Airlines made other changes to its luggage policy, in addition to charging some domestic passengers $25 to check a second suitcase. Effective May 5:
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...
Airline officials say they're trying to offset high fuel costs and low fares by charging for services that passengers want.
The airline joins others in the industry in adding the charge.