Bag charges and extra fees could leave some grounded

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With some airlines starting to charge passengers for a second checked bag — and even more for extra and overweight bags — analysts say air travel is drifting out of reach for people such as Christina Malins, who recently stood under a tower of baggage at the San Francisco International Airport.

“One bag per person would be really, really hard,” she said, struggling with a cart loaded with eight suitcases and a pile of carry-on bags. “I mean, this bag alone is just car seats,”

Malins, her sister and her sister’s three young children were en route to visit her very ill father in New Zealand. The trip cost them $7,000 — one way — the kind of price tag that analysts say is likely to get higher as airlines continue to “unbundle” their fares.

So far, two major airlines that fly through SFO — United Airlines and U.S. Airways — have announced they will begin charging passengers $25 for a second checked bag in May.

They are also among several airlines that have recently upped their charge for oversized and overweight bags. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways have dropped the number of allowed checked bags from three to two, and Delta Air Lines recently joined the pack that charges for curbside check-in.

Airline officials have explained all of these moves by pointing to the $100-a-barrel price of oil. United officials have said it expects to generate $100 million annually bycharging for second bags — largely due to the fuel savings from lighter cargo holds.

The timing of the announcement is no accident, New York airline analyst Bob Harrell said.

“No one ever wants to pay more, but the customer is more psychologically receptive to these things in what they know is a high fuel-cost environment,” he said.

Colorado-based airline analyst Tim Sieber said other carriers are likely to follow suit.

“It’s the direction of the industry, for better or worse,” he said. “Airlines realize more revenue by charging a la carte for services. If they can figure out how to charge for the air on the airplane, they’ll do it.”

kworth@examiner.com

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