Southwest fliers can board early – for a $40 fee




Southwest Airlines, known for open seating and boarding passengers in bunches, announced this week that fliers can buy a priority spot in boarding group “A” for $40 per flight.

Southwest will put unsold slots in the A1-15 boarding group up for sale, when available, at the gate beginning 45 minutes before departure. Passengers will then be able to use a credit card to buy an early boarding spot. The airline tested the program in San Diego in December and received positive feedback.

“We have continued to look for ways to increase revenues in challenging economic times by offering optional services for which there are optional service charges,” said Southwest spokesperson Brad Hawkins. “These are not punitive against other customers.”

Southwest “has arrived late to the airline industry’s ancillary revenue gouge-fest” with the $40 per-segment access “to its otherwise signature ‘cattle car’ boarding process,” said airline industry analyst Bob Mann of R.W. Mann & Company.

The boarding option may not be a good fit for some passengers. “In many markets a customer would be better off buying up in the fare structure to Business Select, which also conveys in-flight amenities and extra Rapid Rewards frequent flier credit,” Mann said.

“This just confirms my decision to avoid Southwest,” said author and education technology consultant Susan Brooks-Young, who logs more than 150,000 miles in the air each year. She said she’s never been thrilled with Southwest’s policy of unassigned seating, but chose to fly with the airline when it was the best price and because they don’t charge for checked luggage. “Now that they are tacking on fees just like everyone else, there’s no reason for me to ever book with them,” she said.

Southwest passengers already have a few options for ensuring they’re among the first on the plane. They can pay $10 each way for EarlyBird Check-In and get a boarding group assignment 24 hours before other passengers, or they may purchase a Business Select fare which guarantees a spot in the A1-15 boarding group and some additional perks.

While “monetizing” the boarding process has become an airline-industry standard, Southwest’s new  option may serve to “dramatically increase the amount of gaming that takes place among travelers,” especially those who might have purchased the higher cost Business Select fares anyway, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Hudson Crossing.

It also may be a sign that what Hawkins refers to as Southwest’s “crusade against nickel and diming our customers” may be waning.

In order to generate new revenue, Southwest “has limited options and is stuck with what they can do,” said Harteveldt.

He thinks the airline might next explore charging passengers for checking a second bag and securing an assigned seat in certain rows.

“Southwest’s days of advertising itself as a fee–free airline are over.”

(My story: Southwest fliers can board early – for a $40 fee first appeared on NBC News Travel)


New airline fees for the new year


While a winter storm caused many airlines to issue travel change fee waivers this week, there are several new fees scheduled to take place in the new year. Here’s a sampling:

*United Airlines is raising the membership rates for the United Club. According to a notice on the United website:

“Effective January 1, 2013, United Club annual membership rates will increase by $25 and membership-with-spouse rates will increase by up to $100. Additionally, the three-year membership options will be discontinued. Current three-year memberships will be honored through their existing membership period.”

Beginning on January 15, 2013:

Alaska Airlines will no longer check bags through to a final destination when separate tickets are presented at check-in. This policy change affects passengers who start travel on Alaska Airlines, but continue on a separately purchased ticket on another airline. Alaska will continue to check bags for passengers traveling on a single ticket and connecting to one of our 59 interline airline partners.

Southwest Airlines has also rolled out some new fees for the new year:

The airline plans to begin charging a “no-show” fee to passengers who fail to cancel restricted ticket reservations and it has already raised baggage fees:

“Effective for tickets purchased on or after December 15, 2012, for travel on or after February 13, 2013, the 3rd checked bag and any bag thereafter is $75 per piece and the overweight and oversize baggage fee is $75 per piece. Large media camera equipment is $75 per item, and sporting equipment is $0-$75 per item.”

Before the change, the first and second checked bags were free and charge for the third (through the ninth) checked bag was $50. The overweight bag charge was also $50 and there was no charge for large media camera equipment. The fee for sporting equipment was $0-$50 per item.

Bag fees on Southwest subsidiary Air Tran have also gone up:

“1st and 2nd Checked Bag Fee
Effective for tickets purchased on or after December 15, 2012, for travel on or after February 13, 2013, first checked bag fee is $25 and second checked bag fee is $35 when bag fees apply.

Excess Baggage Fee
Effective for tickets purchased on or after December 15, 2012, for travel on or after February 13, 2013, the 3rd checked bag and any bag thereafter is $75 per piece.

Oversize and Overweight Baggage Fee
Effective for tickets purchased on or after December 15, 2012, for travel on or after February 13, 2013, overweight and oversize baggage fee is $75.”

No doubt there’s more to come….so start saving your pennies.

Spirit Airlines ups the ante: will charge $100 for carry-on bags

Spirit Airlines is being really mean-spirited now.

On Monday the airline announced that, beginning on November 6, passengers who wait until they get to the boarding gate to pay the airline’s fee for checking a piece of luggage or carrying it onto the airplane will pay $100 per bag.

Passengers can pay lower luggage fees by paying earlier in the process, such as online , on the phone or at an airline kiosk. but there’s no way around paying something to carry-on or check a piece of luggage.

Spirit is the airline that advertises really low fares but often surprises unsuspecting customers with hefty added fees for everything from seat assignments to onb0ard drinks.  Beginning October 31, 2012, the airline will also begin charging a $2 fee for printing a boarding pass at an airline kiosk. (Since January there’s been a $5 fee to have a boarding pass printed by an agent at the airport.)

Spirit claims that separating out these – and a plethora of other fees – “empowers customers to save money on air travel.” You decide.

Here’s the new chart of fees for baggage

For now passengers flying on a Spirit Airlines flight are not charged a fee for taking aboard one personal item that fits under the seat.

Tidbits for travelers: airfare tax holiday (sort of) & fresh airport art

A little bit of this and that for a summer Monday:

Tax holiday on airline tickets – sort of

The U.S. government’s failure to reauthorize the budget for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), means that domestic airlines can’t charge some federal excise taxes on flights until the issue is worked out.

For a while there over the weekend, it looked like travelers would be getting a holiday from several taxes (the 7.5% tax on domestic transportation, the $3.70 domestic segment tax and the $16.30 international arrival/departure tax), but it turned out only some airlines, including Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines (surprise!) and Virgin America are passing along the savings.


The other airlines? They raised their bases fares so that, in many cases, anyone seeking to buy a ticket would pay what they would have before the FAA shutdown.



If you’re traveling through John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA before September 12, 2011, look for paintings by Steve Metzger on the departure (upper) level near the security screening areas and on the arrival (lower) level near baggage carousels 1 and 4.

Courtesy Steve Metzger

A professor at Fullerton College and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Metzger’s paintings from photos depict “metaphoric icons of the passage of time.” Here’s a link to more images from the Metzger exhibition.

And, on Thursday, July 28, 2011, passengers at Philadelphia International Airport will be able to watch woodworker Roosevelt Bassett turn discarded wood lathe into purses and hats.

Part of the airport’s series of artist demonstrations, Bassett will be at work from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. in the Terminal B-C Food Court.

If you’re not passing through the PHL on Thursday, don’t worry. There’s an exhibition of Bassett’s wood handbags in Terminal B.

Viral video forces Delta to change bag fees for soldiers

It’s already been pulled from YouTube, but a video-gone-viral posted by some soldiers returning from Afghanistan has forced Delta Air Lines to change its checked bag policy and allow active duty soldiers traveling under orders to check four bags for free when flying coach.

Delta changed its policy after being widely criticized for charging the soldiers $2,800 in extra bag fees.

Here’s more of the story that I worked on for msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin blog:

The soldiers’ military orders authorize them to travel with up to four bags. But at the check-in counter at the Baltimore airport on Tuesday, they discovered that while Delta allows active duty military personnel traveling on orders to check up to four bags for free if they are traveling in first/business class, the limit is only three bags for soldiers traveling in coach.

Several of the 34 soldiers who had an extra bag were forced to pay $200 of their own money in fees in order to make their connecting flight to Atlanta. They then posted a video of their experience on YouTube, which was viewed more than 200,000 times before it was removed from the site. One soldier said his fourth bag was a weapons case containing “the tools that I used to protect myself and Afghan citizens while I was deployed.”

The Defense Department usually reimburses such costs, which the soldiers may not have known, the Associated Press reports.

Former Congressman and Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., called Delta’s fee “outrageous.” “Here you have these heroes who have fought for our country overseas … to come home to the $200 charge per soldier? It’s outrageous.”

It’s not unusual for returning soldiers to check weapons on a commercial flight if the weapons have been certified as unloaded, Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Washington office, told the Associated Press.

“A $200 bill for extra baggage by a government-contracted airline is the worst welcome home any soldier could receive,” Davis said. “We know this is a business issue and that the troops will be reimbursed if they are authorized additional baggage in their orders, but the shock of even being charged is enough to make most servicemen and women simply shake their heads and wonder who or what it is they are protecting.”

In response, Delta Air Lines also apologized to the soldiers.

“First and foremost, we want you to know we’re continuing to work with the soldiers individually to make this situation right for each of them,” a company spokeswoman posted on the airline’s blog. “We regret that this experience caused these soldiers to feel anything but welcome on their return home. We honor their service and are grateful for the sacrifices of our military service members and their families.”

Several other airlines have followed Delta’s lead and also changed their checked bag policies for active duty military.