Airlines set record charging $7.1 billion fees for bags and flight changes last year


Airlines set record charging $7.1 billion fees for bags and flight changes last year

Airlines set record charging $7.1 billion fees for bags and flight changes last year:-Airlines collected a record $7 billion last year in fees on baggage and flight changes, reflecting a steady rise in those fees since 2010, according to a government report Wednesday.

The $7.1 billion compares to $6.3 billion in 2010, in dollars adjusted for inflation, according to the Government Accountability Office. Consumer advocates complain that the growing fees make it tougher to compare prices, even as airlines say the fees cover choices are part the competition between carriers.

The 54-page GAO report found:

♦ On average, customers who paid for at least one checked bag ended up paying more for combined airfare and fees than they did when prices were bundled and included baggage.

♦ Consumer groups say optional fees can’t always be paid when buying a ticket, leaving surprises for travelers at the airport.

♦ Department rules have made optional fees more transparent, but consumer groups say it can still be difficult for travelers to know what fees they face when buying tickets through online travel agents.

“Going to an airline check-in counter should not result in a last-minute shakedown,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who requested the study. “It’s time for the airlines to stop run-away fees.”

William McGee, an aviation adviser to Consumer Reports, said travelers searching for an airline ticket should be told the full price up front including all the fees, whether the airline or a travel agent is selling the ticket.

“Consumers should be able to shop for airline seats without being nickel-and-dimed, and without getting hit with post-purchase sticker shock,” McGee said.

But the trade group Airlines for America, which represents most of the largest carriers, said the GAO report underscored that travelers have more choices among carriers and among amenities than ever before.

“U.S. carriers offer both all-inclusive and a la carte products, as well as price points that range from first-class to budget-friendly travel ensuring that flying is affordable and accessible to all,” the group said.

The rising fees coincided with a profitable airline industry each year since 2010. Airlines reported $15.6 billion in net income last year, after a record under deregulation of $26.4 billion in 2015, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

“These fees are shrouded in secrecy and clouded in confusion, making it nearly impossible for passengers to price compare and make informed choices,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “And these fees are rooted in the pursuit of greater profits – not in offsetting travel costs to airlines. This shell game in the skies must end.”

Lower fuel prices helped. Fuel, which is traditionally one of the larger expenses for airlines, cost the carriers $24.7 billion last year, down from $50.2 billion in 2012, according to the bureau.

Airlines say they are plowing profits back into their product by buying new planes and improving labor contracts. The profits followed a decade of losses, including a $23.8 billion loss in 2008, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Nicholas Calio, CEO of the group, wrote Wednesday in Roll Call newspaper on Capitol Hill, that airlines opposed a move to regulate pricing and services again, after Congress deregulated the industry in 1978. He said the result “would drive up the price of airline tickets while eliminating customers’ ability to choose which services they do and do not want.”