Booking an overpriced ticket isn’t enough: Airlines now charge extra for everything imaginable. Carry-on bags, snacks, blankets…no amenity, however small, is safe from added fees. Remember when flying was a luxurious affair with free meals and terrific customer service? We don’t…
With all the surprise fees—not to mention interminable delays and overbooking—it’s no surprise that four of the 18 worst companies for customer satisfaction were major airlines last year. So much for it being as much about the journey as the destination.
And the extra fees add up: The global airline industry was predicted to make more than $22 billion in extra fees last year.
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Charging for Check-In
This fall, Spirit Airlines will start charging $5 for printing out your boarding pass at the airport. At a self-service kiosk, you'll still need to pay a $1 printing fee.
Printing out your pass at home remains free…for now.
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Tricking You Into Paying for Expensive Add-Ons
Savvy tech users, beware: United Airlines has figured out a sneaky way to get you to buy expensive add-ons during check-in.
We're all used to pressing the bottom-right button to get to the next screen. United Airlines has taken advantage of this by making the traditional "Next" button the "Purchase" button instead. If you're not careful, you'll purchase an expensive add-on—extra leg room or an upgrade to business class—before you even realize it. And business class doesn't come cheap.
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Charging for Babies on Laps
You're charged for traveling with your baby, even if she's sitting on your lap. While your lap is currently free on U.S. domestic flights, the infant fee for international flights is generally 10% of a full-price ticket. That charge might soon become standard for all flights, predicts George Hobica of AirfareWatchdog.com. Irish airline Ryanair already charges £20 for babies on any flight, domestic or international.
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Charging for Carry-Ons
You're allowed a purse for free—but not much else.
Spirit Airlines will charge you $40 for bringing a larger carry-on (anything bigger than a 16-by-14-by-12-inch bag) to the gate. You can lower this fee to $20 if you know you plan to take a carry-on when you book your ticket online—but there's no way to avoid a carry-on fee at all. If flying Spirit, we suggest wearing clothes with lots of big pockets. (Just kidding…sort of.)
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Earlier this year, American Eagle Airlines bumped more than 6,000 of 3.6 million passengers. Airlines are offering fewer flights to cut costs, but increasing air traffic means a high chance of geting bumped—even if you booked your ticket well in advance.
Starting in August, though, airlines will have to pay travelers anywhere from $650 to $1,300 for involuntary bumping, depending on the length of delay. If you have time to spare, it's not a bad deal. If your delay forces you to miss your connecting flight and you have to spend a night in a Paris hotel…you might still end up short.
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Charging for Snacks
When other airlines began charging for snacks, Continental Airlines bragged about their free meals. Well, they can't brag any longer: Continental is now charging $8 for a snack box that includes jelly beans, salami and goldfish crackers. Delicious options like these are expected to make the airline $35 million this year. We've never tried pairing jelly beans and salami, but for $8, we think we'll pass.
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Mishandled and Lost Luggage
Last year, American Eagle Airlines mishandled bags for 7.18 passengers out of every 1,000 passengers. Incredibly, this is actually better than 2009, when they lost or damaged luggage for 7.55 of every 1,000 passengers. The industry average is only 3.49. Our suggestion: pack light (and in a carry-on only) when flying American Eagle.
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Charging for Blankets and Pillows
Once they started charging for snacks, it was only a matter of time before airlines began charging for another gross thing: airplane blankets. JetBlue charges $7 for a blanket and pillow. At the very least, they say it's "eco-friendly," warding off dust mites, pollen and mold. Which forces the question: Do we need protection from mold on JetBlue?