Under a European Union law, all airlines that fly in and out of Europe must either cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from their planes, starting next year, or pay hefty fees and fines.
U.S.-based airlines that began to see steady profits only this year after a steep drop in demand during the recession are fighting the law, saying the European Union has no right to impose such a plan on non-European airlines.
United Continental Holdings Inc., the parent company of United and Continental airlines; AMR Corp., the parent of American Airlines; and the Air Transport Assn., the trade group for the nation's airlines, argued against the law at the European Court of Justice last week. China-based airlines have also protested the plan. A decision is expected later this year or early next year.
The European Commission launched the cap-and-trade emission plan in 2005, and has targeted utilities and manufacturers. Starting next year, greenhouse gas emissions from airlines will be capped at 97% of their average 2004-06 levels and 95% in 2013.
Airlines that don't use all their allowances can sell the excess to those carriers that exceed the limits. The fine for violating the plan is 100 euros, or about $142, for every ton of greenhouse gases that airlines emit above the limit.
Steve Lott, a spokesman for the airline trade group, said the emission cap law "violates international law and is bad policy." He added that the International Civil Aviation Organization has a voluntary plan to reduce emissions by 1.5% per year until 2020.
Lott declined to say whether U.S.-based airlines would raise airfares if the European court upholds the emission plan for U.S. airlines. But he added that "when a business faces higher costs, it must recoup them one way or another."
• Delta launches bag-tracking site
Delta Air Lines, one of the nation's largest air carriers, can't promise not to lose your bags, but it has launched an online service to let you track the movement of your bags at each stage of their journey from baggage check-in to airport arrival. You can even go online while flying 30,000 feet in the air to see whether your bag made it onto your plane.
Several other airlines have already launched online programs to let passengers track the status of a lost luggage claims. But Delta says it is the first U.S. airline to provide an online service to follow the movement of luggage before it is lost.
This is how it works: Baggage handlers attach a tag with a bar code to each piece of luggage. As the luggage is screened, sorted and loaded into the planes, workers scan the bar code at several points in the process. Passengers who go to http://www.delta.com/baggage/BaggageTrackStatus.action can type in the numbers on their luggage tags and see when and where their bags were last scanned.
A Delta spokesman said the airline is working on an application to let passengers track luggage from smartphones and other mobile devices.
• Spirit denies church's plea to waive bag fees
Florida-based Spirit Airlines has earned a reputation as the nation's most fee-happy airline.
After all, Spirit is the only airline to charge passengers up to $45 to bring carry-on bags into the cabin. The airline recently announced that it will charge passengers $5 to print boarding passes.
And now the low-cost airline has drawn the ire of an Illinois church because the airline refused to waive the baggage fees for a group of inner-city teenagers who plan to fly Spirit from Chicago to Los Angeles for a choir tour this month.
The Lighthouse Church of All Nations in Alsip, Ill., hosted fundraisers over the last several months to collect about $25,000 for airline tickets to fly nearly 100 teenagers to Los Angeles for a series of concerts and sightseeing tours.
But when the church's Senior Pastor Dan Willis realized the church would have to come up with an additional $6,000 in baggage fees, he appealed to the airline to waive the charges. Spirit charges up to $38 to check the first bag and $45 for a second bag.
"We begged and pleaded," he said. "They would not budge on it at all."
Most airlines don't have a written policy to waive fees for charitable groups but may grant requests on a case-by-case basis, such as after natural disasters, industry experts say.
Willis called the decision "disappointing and disheartening" and said he didn't know how to come up with the money. Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson defended the decision, saying: "Given our low fares, we did not waive the bag fees."