Five of the six major airlines in the United States plan to start charging coach passengers as much as $25 next month to check a second bag, the latest move in their quest to offset high fuel prices.

But while the airlines, and even some industry specialists, say they expect the fees will primarily affect leisure travelers, business travelers beg to differ.

“For people traveling with samples or trade show materials, they’re going to find their costs are substantially higher,” an airline industry analyst, Robert Mann, said. “It’s really not limited to leisure travelers.”

Pete Mitchell, director of business-to-business sales for the luggage manufacturer Samsonite, said he often traveled with one-of-a-kind items he is reluctant to send via a shipping service. “We’ll bring them prototypes and production samples,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Sometimes we’ll bring things that are handmade. These are things that we can’t just send out another one if we lose it.”

Because many of the samples are quite sizable, Mr. Mitchell said it is not feasible to try to carry them in his own luggage. “I just don’t have any other choice. You’ve got to be able to let the client touch it. I have to bring them with me even if it costs $25.”

Jerry Bower, an entrepreneur who recently started a company, Wine Galaxy, that offers wine-of-the-month memberships for corporations to give to employees or clients, said he, too, often travels with more than one bag. “I have to travel quite a bit in order to build relationships,” he said. “I do carry a lot of different literature and presentation pieces, and sometimes wine samples.”

The new fee of $25 for a second bag is being levied by Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways. The low-fare carrier AirTran has announced that it will charge $10 for a second checked bag. Airlines have long levied fees for checking a third bag. Some carriers have recently increased those as well, and the fees on the major carriers now run as high as $100.

As the airlines struggle to stay in the black, charges for amenities formerly included in the ticket price are on the rise. Depending on the carrier, travelers now can wind up paying extra for everything from food to curbside check-in to bulkhead seats that offer extra legroom.

As for the extra-bag fee, even those who say they pack lightly for their trips foresee problems caused by price-sensitive fliers overfilling their carry-on bags and using large amounts of scarce overhead-bin space.

“The thing that scares me about this is that it’s just going to encourage people to lug more stuff onto the plane,” Mr. Mitchell said. “For those of us that have only one bag, if I don’t board early, there’s no place for my bag.”

Professionals in the travel industry who cater to business travelers say they are seeking ways to reduce the financial and logistical inconveniences.

Paul Lang, manager of travel services at Bayer North America, said the company’s corporate travel policy reimburses employees for laundry services. So even those on extended trips do not have to pack a lot of clothes.

Sue Fern, president of the conference-planning business Event Pro-SSSS, is urging the associations whose conferences she manages to switch from bulky handouts to CDs or small flash drives. Because association members generally have to pay their own way to and from these events, this will keep them from being saddled with an extra baggage fee on their return trips, she said.

“We’re seeing a bigger trend toward electronic transfer of information,” said Paul Kiewiet, management consultant and immediate past chairman of the Promotional Products Association International. “At P.P.A.I.’s expo in Las Vegas, we had several days of education and we went totally paperless.”

Mr. Kiewiet said he also expected that people who give business gifts, awards or knickknacks with logos would turn to pocket- or purse-size items. “From a promotional products standpoint, I think we’re seeing a resurgence in the smaller items such as writing instruments, journals or business card holders,” he said.

Dana Slockbower, director of marketing for Rymax Marketing Services Inc., a company that manages corporate gift and reward programs, said her clients had been asking for physically smaller gifts so travelers would not have to pay extra to send them home. “We’re definitely seeing requests for smaller gifts like iPods or watches,” she said.

Some business travelers say they would express their displeasure with the new regulation by opting for carriers that do not charge a separate fee for checking a second bag. They concede, however, that this may become impossible as more airlines, reeling from the escalating cost of fuel, might look toward imposing similar fees in the future.

“I will switch to another carrier that doesn’t charge the fee,” Mr. Bower of Wine Galaxy said. He conceded, though, that this might become more difficult as more airlines follow suit.

He recently booked a business trip with AirTran to avoid paying the extra baggage charge. On April 11, however, AirTran announced that it, too, would start charging passengers to check a second bag. Although Mr. Bower’s trip is scheduled for a few days before the start of the new fee, he says next time he may just have to carry on two bags.

“I’ll check one, and carry on a duffel bag plus my laptop. Unfortunately, they’re forcing people to do that.”
April 22, 2008
Airlines to Charge for Second Bag