Wall Street Journal article on the cost of taking luggage

The Wall Street Journal has a new article out today called “What It Costs An Airline to Fly Your Luggage,” which concludes that it costs the airlines about $15 to carry your check-in luggage for you.

However, it’s not until you scroll well into the article that you see a couple of whoppers.

First, take a look at their chart.

WSG luggage fee chart
Wall Street Journal’s at-a-glance chart showing current luggage fee charges by major U.S. airlines.

Currently, only Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, and AirTran charge nothing for the first bag (although Delta charges a whopping $50 for the second bag; and that will change on December 5 when Delta starts charging for the first bag, and lowering the price for the second), and Southwest is the only airline that doesn’t charge for a second bag. If you are flying any of the other airlines, checking in two bags can easily set you back $40.

There’s one more whopper in the article, though:

This summer, Delta Air Lines Inc. Chief Executive Richard Anderson said he thought it was fair for the airline to haul one suitcase free for passengers.

But earlier this month, Delta said it, too, would begin charging $15 one-way to haul the first bag, effective Dec. 5. (At most airlines, elite-level frequent fliers, first-class ticket-holders and international passengers are exempt from many of the fees.)

What changed? Customers were paying the fee at other airlines without a backlash. Delta said it wasn’t getting any benefit from not charging the fee. So why not charge it?

Can you believe the gall of these people? How much research did they do? Did they do any market surveys to find out if people were choosing to fly Delta because the first bag was free? That’s not the kind of thing crew members would hear, so I’m really curious how they came up with this cockamamy notion.

And does anyone remember all the big whining excuses the airlines gave earlier this year about why they needed to charge for check-in luggage? Because oil prices were spiraling out of control. When’s the last time you filled up your car in the U.S. for over $3.00? Even in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area, prices are amazingly below $3.00. Has even one single airline used it as a marketing tool to say, “Hey, we want your business back; don’t drive, fly with us for the holidays and you can check in your bags for free!” Nope, no such policy change. We knew they weren’t going to remove those fees, didn’t we? I’m just waiting for airline executives to go begging for relief money from Congress just like the automotive industry CEOs did last week. Let me tell you, they are simply out of touch with the public.

I don’t know about you, but this just raises my hackles.

Of course, the best way to counter this is to travel light! Lift up your fist, stick out your chin, and give those luggage fees the old heave-ho!

…that said, it might be a little tougher if you’re visiting relatives for the holidays and you plan to take gifts with you. As we head into December, you’ll see a lot of these kinds of stories in the media, but here’s a really simply list to remember as you start holiday shopping:

  • Shop online and have the company mail the item to your destination. You can spend a bit extra for gift wrapping, but you can also let your family members know to immediately place the mail under the tree.
  • Buy something that’s flat, small, and lightweight. Small electronics are fine but be mindful that many of them are overpackaged (iPods use minimal packaging). CDs and DVDs come in pretty small boxes now, and they’re also pretty easy to tuck in your carry-on. Silk scarves, fine jewelry… be creative!
  • Remember not to wrap your gifts before you fly. The TSA reserves the right to open everything, including your boxes.
  • Don’t buy any stocking stuffers that are liquid, like hand lotion. All liquids still need to go in your 3-1-1 baggie.
  • If you’re staying in a hotel at your destination, you can ship your packages to the hotel directly, so that you can take your time to do your gift wrapping once you get there. Beware that not all hotels accept packages for guests, so check in advance. Make sure to ship it well in advance so it gets there in time, and make sure you clearly mark your package with your check-in date, as well as confirmation number.
  • For a big splurge, consider buying someone a trip! You can tuck a guidebook to that destination under the tree, be it a weekend getaway to a nice B&B, a trip to Disneyland or the Mediterranean.

One more thing (that most people don’t think about): You have to convince your relatives that you only want small, flat, light items as gifts—because you’ll have to fly home after the holidays, too. This one is the true challenge. Many years ago, a relative gave us a huge tin of popcorn for Christmas. We just opened it immediately and shared it with everyone so we didn’t have to take the tin home. Another year, that same relative gave us a very large kitchen appliance (I think it was a large crock pot) knowing we’d flown thousands of miles to visit. We promptly returned it to the store and exchanged it for something smaller and flatter.

It took a few years, but people finally started to remember. As a result, we got things like calendars and muffin top pans… stuff you can actually pack in your carry-on! Things that will help:

  • If you get any electronics, make sure everything works before you lug it home.
  • Make sure to remove any extra packaging. Do you really need the big case that comes with the watch, or do you just need the warranty card?
  • If you get a lot of stuff, just mail everything home.
  • If you get any food, share it with everyone so you don’t have any left over to lug home.
  • If something is really too cumbersome, go to the store and exchange it before you go home.