By Ed Curtis
Air travel to a large segment of the public is far from a leisure activity. The legions of men and women who must fly for business, a fact that keeps them in the air more often than they are on the ground, is far from the rosy picture friends and family often think it may be.
Not all that many years ago flights were reasonably priced. You could check a bag and avoid the hassle of dragging it down a long and narrow aisle. You could relax with a drink, have a snack or a meal and not have the feeling that the airline had just snipped the bottom of your pocket and was grabbing up all of the money falling out.
With the advent of fees for virtually everything except air to breathe, the carriers have sapped the budgets of many corporations while they regularly post ever-growing profits. Some gouge the public more than the oil companies ever did.
The fact of the matter is that they found a fountain of cash and they have no intention of turning the spigot off.
David Letterman had his famous “Top 10” list. Here is a Hall of Shame list of the worst airline fees ever invented.
To help you navigate the complex tangle of costs that now go hand-in-hand with air travel, check out this list of the 10 worst airline fees.
10. Non-Internet Booking Fees
Although it makes sense to charge for changing or canceling tickets, the fees actually start right at the initial booking phase. Most airlines charge extra to customers who prefer to book over the phone or in person rather than online. Charges for the vast majority of major airlines are $25 for phone bookings and $35 for in-person bookings; but, Allegiant deserves a special mention for charging $10 per segment for all methods - on top of a $15 “convenience” fee.
9. Overweight Baggage Fees
What airlines consider overweight or oversize baggage varies greatly with each company. This makes it increasingly important to pore over online FAQs before even starting to pack. American, United and Delta lead the way by charging a whopping $100 for bags between 50 and 70 pounds and $200 for bags between 71 to 100 pounds. There is also a $200 fee for bags larger than 62 inches. Allegiant and Spirit are also noteworthy for considering bags over just 41 pounds to be overweight. Their fees are smaller, coming in at $50-75 and $25-100 respectively. All fliers would be wise to weigh their bags before departure.
8. Carry-on Bag Fees
Most airlines don’t charge for carry-on bags (yet). The three that do are: Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit. Frontier’s fees aren’t too bad at $25-50, depending on booking method. Allegiant isn’t too far behind at $10-35 online and $35-75 elsewhere. But it’s Spirit that stands out (of course) with fees up to $100 for one carry-on bag for non-members. We’d tell you to check your bag instead, but even that can cost up to $100. Yikes!
7. Unaccompanied-Minor Fees
Having a young child escorted through the airport and seated near the cabin crew is certainly a good idea for their parents’ peace of mind, but it comes at a hefty price of $75-125 for most airlines. Southwest’s unaccompanied minor fees are set at a reasonable $50. If the child is flying American, United, or US Airways, get ready to shell out an additional $150. And that goes double for round trips, of course ... and some airlines don’t allow unattended minors at all. Do your research before booking!
6. Seat Selection Fees
Seat selection is an increasingly popular way to nickel and dime passengers by letting them pay a premium for more comfortable seats. These upgraded seats are often located in exit rows or near the bulkhead which offers more legroom and storage space. Depending on the airline, passengers can pay anywhere from $4 to $100 for the luxury of a preferred seat. But beware: The extra legroom sometimes comes at the cost of seat width, seatback entertainment, the ability to recline, or even warmth in the case of exit row seats.
5. Pet Fees
Most pet owners would feel safer with their pooch or kitty sitting with them in the cabin rather than in the dark, cold cargo section reserved for pets. Air Canada charges only $50 for the privilege, but most others will tack on a $100-125 fee to your ticket. Delta’s fee is particularly high at $200 and Hawaiian tops the list with a fee of $225 for having your pet in the cabin during one of their longer flights to or from the continental US. Some airlines don’t allow pets in the cabin, so once again, do your research before booking.
4. Ticket Change Fees
Sometimes changing the day of your flight or canceling it altogether is simply unavoidable. Keep in mind that some serious charges may apply, depending on the airline and the change or cancellation date. Many airlines charge a reasonable $25-75 for same-day changes. Other changes and cancellations may incur some serious fees, particularly when it comes to Delta (up to $450), US Airways (up to $750), and United (up to $1,000).
3. WiFi FeesM
Let’s face it, most airplanes’ in-flight entertainment systems are mediocre enough to make your miss your phone’s Internet connectivity dearly, especially on long transoceanic flights. If you absolutely need WiFi onboard to get some work done or to entertain yourself, you’ll have to factor it into your ticket price: Airlines charge up to $19.95 for mobile devices and up to $49 for computers per leg of your trip. The exception is low-cost carrier JetBlue, whose basic Fly-Fi service is free.
2. Snacks and Drinks
Nowadays you’re increasingly likely to be paying for every pretzel you eat. Most airlines except Spirit and Allegiant still offer water and soft drinks for free, but the same can’t be said for food. You can expect to pay anywhere from $1 to $12 for snacks, unless you’re flying with AirTran, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest or United, who all still offer complimentary snacks.
And to finish off our list, the number one most obnoxious fee is:
1. Checked Bag Fees
With airlines constantly trying to maximize profits, even one checked bag is enough to incur a fee in the vast majority of cases. The standard fee found on most airlines is $25, but some, including Frontier, Hawaiian, and Spirit, charge more or less depending on frequent-flyer membership and booking method. Be careful with Spirit in particular: If you don’t book your flight online, you’ll pay up to $100 for your first checked bag. Meanwhile, Southwest bucks the trend by not charging for checked bags (or carry-on bags, for that matter). JetBlue who was long the industry favorite for its free-checked-bag policy is going the way of the older airlines this year by adding some new fees.