Continental Airines is joining the "pack light or pay up" chorus
By BILL HENSEL JR.
Citing the continued high cost of fuel, Continental is joining most of its rivals in adding a $50 round-trip fee for many passengers checking second bags. Houston-based Continental announced Friday the fee will be tacked on to economy-class tickets, except for those passengers who pay full fare or are elite members of its OnePass frequent-flier program.
That means most leisure travelers who check two bags will be hit. Many business travelers and people buying tickets at the last minute already pay higher prices and won't be dunned further The policy will apply only for destinations within the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Canada for travel on or after May 5. That's also when other major U.S. carriers also will begin their $25-each-way fees for extra bags. United Airlines originated the fee in February.
American Airlines said Friday it has not changed its policy regarding a second checked bag, but experts expect it to fall in line.
"Plan on it," aviation consultant Mike Boyd said. "They are not going to leave money on the table." Southwest Airlines recently started charging $25 for third bags, but second bags remain free for all customers. The airlines, which have made repeated attempts to raise fares and cut costs in recent months, are taking the action in the face of stubbornly high fuel prices.
Northwest Airlines said late Thursday that in addition to its bag fee, it will reduce the number of seats it flies domestically more than it originally planned. Northwest said it will remove an additional 15 to 20 planes from service this year.
Continental has not announced similar moves, but its chairman and chief executive, Larry Kellner, has said the carrier will have to look at the size of its network if high fuel prices persist. Although Continental did not say how much money it expects to generate from the second checked bag fee, Northwest said it anticipates collecting $25 million more annually. From 2000 to 2007, the price of jet fuel more than doubled, according to the Air Transport Association, which represents most major U.S. airlines.
A Continental passenger checking just one bag won't have to pay extra as long as the bag meets weight and size limits already in place. The majority of travelers only check one bag. Continental said its premium travelers in economy class may check two bags at no charge. Those travelers are elite OnePass and SkyTeam members, Continental Airlines Presidential Plus credit card holders and non-elite customers who purchase full-fare tickets.
There is no change in the checked bag policy for passengers traveling in first class and BusinessFirst, Continental said. Boyd said the increase is driven strictly by high fuel costs and is different than charging for items such as pillows or blankets. "It is not opportunistic nickel-and-diming," he said. "It is a case of we are carrying another 35 pounds of weight, and that takes fuel."