Your guide to navigating confusing airline fees
Published: May 21, 2014 05:53PM
Updated: May 21, 2014 05:53PM

New York • The Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed a new set of rules aimed at protecting airline passengers by requiring more disclosure of airline fees. Here are some common questions regarding the plethora of fees that fliers face today:

Q: When was the first checked bag fee?

American Airlines in May 2008 became the first major U.S. carrier to charge a fee for checking a suitcase. (Discount airlines like Allegiant and Spirit already had such a fee.) The other large airlines quickly followed.

Q: Why did they do it?

In 2004, U.S. airlines were paying an average of $1.15 a gallon for jet fuel. By May of 2008, the cost had nearly tripled to $3.23 a gallon. Airlines that year burned through nearly 18 billion gallons of fuel. Passengers make decisions whether to fly based on price, and the bag fees were a way for airlines to collect more money without jacking up ticket prices and scaring away customers.

Q: How much money does that bring in for the airlines?

The typical bag fee is $25 for the first checked suitcase, $35 for the second. That added up to $3.4 billion last year. Airlines collected another $2.8 billion from flight change fees, typically $200.

Q: Are there other fees?

Yes, too many to easily count. Most airlines offer early boarding, priority security screening and extra legroom for a fee. Some airlines charge for any advance seat assignment. Others charge to place a bag in the overhead bin. Some charge extra for water or soda.

Q: Don’t consumers know about these fees prior to booking?

Most fliers now know that airlines charge some type of fee for checking luggage. The other fees are often a surprise. Airlines are required to post charts with all their fees on their websites, but they can often be hard to find, and confusing. For instance, United Airlines charges $9 to $299 for extra legroom, the price fluctuating depending on length of the trip and demand for that flight.