- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

Better have some extra cash handy before checking more than one bag at the airport.

Budget carrier Spirit Airlines and British Airways have announced they will begin charging passengers extra for checking more than one piece of luggage.

The airlines say the fees are necessary to keep airfares down in an increasingly competitive industry.

Some airline analysts predict the practice will become an industry norm in the near future.

Beginning tomorrow, Spirit will charge passengers $10 for checking a second piece of luggage. Checking three bags will cost $100.

Spirit fliers will be permitted to check one piece of luggage weighing up to 50 pounds at no cost.

“The main reason [for the extra fees] is we’re trying to keep our great low fares — we’re trying to increase our sales without sacrificing the low fares,” Spirit spokeswoman Natasha Babulal said.

Spirit’s current policy of allowing passengers to take one bag with them to their seat will remain, provided the luggage fits under a passenger seat or in an overhead bin.

British Airways on Tuesday will begin charging passengers on some long-haul international flights $235 to check a second piece of luggage. Certain short-haul travelers will be charged $118 for a second bag, while those on flights within the United Kingdom will pay $90.

British Airways passengers will be permitted to check one piece of luggage weighing up to 51 pounds at no cost.

The change applies to passengers flying economy class to destinations other than North America, the Caribbean, Nigeria and Brazil.

Even if fliers check two pieces of luggage below the weight allowance on Spirit and British Airways, they still would have to pay for the second bag.

The new baggage restrictions won’t affect most travelers because the vast majority check fewer than two bags, analysts and the airlines say.

British Airways says more than 98 percent of its customers travel within their free luggage allowance, with the majority checking no more than one item of luggage per person.

“This whole thing is about simplifying the excess baggage charge system, which only 2 percent of people paid anyway,” British Airways spokesman Paul Marston said.

Spirit’s Ms. Babulal wouldn’t comment on the average number of bags the airline’s passengers check, although she said the carrier handles more checked bags during holidays.

But Spirit caters significantly to vacation travelers, who typically check more luggage than business travelers.

Charging passengers a fee for more than one piece of luggage isn’t a new idea. The Irish low-cost airline Ryanair, a competitor of British Airways, last year introduced fees for every item of luggage checked.

And former U.S. carriers People Express Airlines and the original Frontier Airlines charged customers for checking extra bags before going out of business in the 1980s.

Airline analysts and experts are split on whether other airlines will follow suit.

Airline industry expert Terry Trippler says he expects most airlines will charge for a second checked piece of luggage by the end of the year.

“I think Spirit and British Airways are just ahead of the curve — this is just the beginning,” he said. “This is a chance to make a nickel, and you find me an airline that isn’t going to jump on an opportunity to make a nickel — particularly since somebody else has already broken the ice.”

Ray Neidl, an airline consultant with Calyon Securities in New York, says passengers in the coming years can expect to be charged for an increasing numbers of items — including checking luggage.

“Airlines are looking to increase revenue any way they can,” he said.

But charging passengers to check extra luggage has been tried before with little success because of the time, effort and money involved in collecting the extra fees, said Mike Boyd, an Evergreen, Colo., airline consultant.

“You’ll get people who will tell you that this is the wave of the future and that airlines will start charging for everything, but I don’t think baggage is one of those things,” he said. “It’s very difficult and very expensive to have all that machinery in place to make all those collections.”

And charging for extra bags would be a marketing nightmare for an airline, Mr. Boyd said.

“It exposes you to competitive ridicule by your competitor,” he said.

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