The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

September 30, 2013

Airlines promise a return to civility, for a fee

(Continued)

"That was a very reasonable price to pay," Angress says. "It's making your life easier."

U.S. airlines collect more than $6 billion a year in baggage and reservation change fees. They also collect $9 billion more from selling extras like frequent flier miles, early boarding and seat upgrades. Together, the fees account for 10 percent U.S. airlines' revenue.

Fees provide airlines with another advantage: The Internal Revenue Service has said since they aren't directly related to transporting passengers, they aren't subject to the 7.5 percent excise tax travelers pay on base fares. Taxing fees would give the government an extra $1.1 billion a year to fund the Federal Aviation Administration, runway upgrades and air traffic control improvements.

Without the fees, experts say fares would be 15 percent higher.

"You're either going to go out of business or find a way to cover" your costs, says Robert E. Jordan, Southwest Airlines' executive vice president and chief commercial officer.

Southwest has held off charging for most checked bags. But it sells plenty of other add-ons.

Recently, it introduced a way for people at the back of the boarding line on some flights to cut to the front for $40. It's not a blockbuster seller — one person pays up every two flights — but with 3,600 daily flights, that nets $70,000 in extra daily revenue or $25 million a year.

Airlines now alter fees based on demand. United Airlines used to sell its Economy Plus extra legroom seats for one price per route. Today, aisle seats cost more than middle seats; prices are higher on popular flights.

That change in thinking has helped United increase fee revenue by 13 percent this year to more than $20 per one-way passenger.

Airlines are also starting to bundle items. Passengers purchase items they might not necessarily buy alone; it also simplifies the dizzying array of offers.

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