- Last Updated: 4:10 PM, May 18, 2012
- Posted: 11:54 PM, May 17, 2012
Some airlines are making more bucks by keeping their planes on the ground than flying them.
In just three months during last year’s busy holiday season, commercial carriers collected a record $1.36 billion in fees from passengers to handle baggage and make changes in reservations, according to a report yesterday from the US Department of Transportation.
In contrast to sharp losses suffered broadly in the profit-starved US fleet, carriers overall in the fourth quarter of 2011 collected a total $792 million in baggage fees and another $567 million in various “use” and “convenience” fees, such as simply inquiring online about a flight at $25 a pop.
Passenger groups are up in arms over a growing number of phantom fees tacked onto ticket prices — such as $45 just to book a flight on the phone, or $20 every time a plane lands or takes off in connecting flights, both ways.
Two of the worst fee offenders are discount carriers Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Airlines, said George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com, which tracks cheap air travel and fee abuses.
“Some Americans feel they’re getting robbed every time they fly,” Hobica said. “Even with those impressive revenues from fees, United Air Lines and American Airlines lost money and probably would have gone out of business without their the fees.”
Hobica said that some airlines manage to make profits without charging excessive consumer fees.
“Southwest and Jet Blue have far fewer fees than the others, and they’re doing well because of passenger satisfaction,” he said.
Airlines last year suffered razor-thin margins of 1.5 percent due partly to high fuel costs.
“Imagine what would have happened without the fees,” Hobica said.
Consumers are sometimes duped by advertising claims of cheap fares, only to be hit with exorbitant fees. Spirit Airlines’ new $100 fee for a carry-on bag annoyed plenty of passengers.
“It’s only when they check a bag or change their plans that they end up paying extra.”