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New airline fees just keep coming

March 03, 2013|By Hugo Martin
  • Even budget carriers have added various fees to maintain slim profit margins.
Even budget carriers have added various fees to maintain slim profit margins. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated…)

If you think air carriers have run out of ideas for new fees to charge passengers, think again.

Among the fees airlines have announced in the past few weeks are a charge to zip through airport screening gates and board early, a fee to watch streaming movies and a fee to have your bags delivered in  36 cities around the country.

It should be no surprise that airlines keep coming up with new fees: Combined, such charges generated an estimated $36 billion in 2012 for the world’s largest airlines.

A trade group that represents the U.S.’s biggest airlines says such fees helped many carriers maintain a slim profit margin in 2012.

“U.S. airlines eked out another year of meager profitability as expenses grew faster than revenues with record-setting fuel prices serving as a primary driver,” said John Heimlich, chief economist for the trade group Airlines for America.

Among the latest fees, United Airlines now allows economy passengers to board with the first group of passengers and to speed through “exclusive” security gates with shorter lines. The airline says the “Premier Access” fee starts at $9, but the real price is closer to $50 to $100 per flight, said Amy Lee, a senior analyst at, an online review site of travel products.

“So, you will pay $50 to $100 to save about 30 minutes on your flight,” she said.

United has also expanded a service to deliver your checked luggage to your home, office or hotel within 100 miles of the airport. The fee, starting at $29.95, has been expanded from six cities to 36, including San Francisco, San Diego and Palm Springs.

Southwest Airlines now lets passengers with laptop computers or electronic tablets watch streaming movies on most of its planes for $5 per movie, per device. Southwest already charges $8 per day to connect to the onboard wireless Internet, but you don’t need to pay for Wi-Fi access to watch the streaming movies.

“Everyone in the industry is starting to dabble with fees,” Lee said. “Even the budget carriers are getting into the game.”


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