It's official: All the major airlines now charge for bags. But there's a bright side, too


Those of us who were leaning toward Delta Air Lines because of its policy of allowing a free first checked bag can now abandon any favoritism. As of December 5 (just in time for the holidays!), it will start charging $15 for the first check bag. That figure is pretty much what everyone's charging these days. Only upstarts like JetBlue and Southwest don't.

The news, though, brightens in a few quarters. Simultaneously, Delta has decided to halve its fee for a second bag from $50 to a more sensible $25. Not many of us check two bags, though, so the net effect will still be negative for most casual travelers.

The major American airlines, now that they've got you on the hook for your checked bags, are relenting on their fuel surcharges. Delta and Northwest are eliminating their fuel surcharges. It's about time, too, since it's gotten pretty hard to defend them. The price of oil peaked back in the summer but is now less than half what it was at its peak, and in the past month, it has fallen about $30 a barrel.

Holiday Travel = Waiting?

    **FILE** In this Feb. 10, 2006 file photo, tourists relax enjoying the sunset on a beach in the Caribbean city of Cartagena, Colombia. Several carriers have said that advance bookings for the 2008-2009 holiday season, show their planes are expected to be as full as or fuller than a year ago in part because they have taken so many seats out of the air. (AP Photo/Ricardo Maldonado, file)

    AP

    PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 16: Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his wife Cindy McCain are joined by campaign staff while transfering from his airplane to a helicopter at the Philadelphia International Airport October 16, 2008 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Due to airport delays in Newark, McCain had to take a helicopter to Manhattan so to make it to his appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** John McCain;Cindy McCain

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    PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 16: Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his wife Cindy McCain are joined by campaign staff while transfering from his airplane to a helicopter at the Philadelphia International Airport October 16, 2008 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Due to airport delays in Newark, McCain had to take a helicopter to Manhattan so to make it to his appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** John McCain;Cindy McCain

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    A special opera performance is staged in Xian, northern China's Shaanxi province on September 30, 2008 to celebrate China's National Day which falls on October 1. Millions of Chinese are spending their week-long October 1 National Day holidays travelling to various tourist spots and attractions throughout the country. CHINA OUT GETTY OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

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    A special opera performance is staged in Xian, northern China's Shaanxi province on September 30, 2008 to celebrate China's National Day which falls on October 1. Millions of Chinese are spending their week-long October 1 National Day holidays travelling to various tourist spots and attractions throughout the country. CHINA OUT GETTY OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    A special opera performance is staged in Xian, northern China's Shaanxi province on September 30, 2008 to celebrate China's National Day which falls on October 1. Millions of Chinese are spending their week-long October 1 National Day holidays travelling to various tourist spots and attractions throughout the country. CHINA OUT GETTY OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    A special opera performance is staged in Xian, northern China's Shaanxi province on September 30, 2008 to celebrate China's National Day which falls on October 1. Millions of Chinese are spending their week-long October 1 National Day holidays travelling to various tourist spots and attractions throughout the country. CHINA OUT GETTY OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    A special opera performance is staged in Xian, northern China's Shaanxi province on September 30, 2008 to celebrate China's National Day which falls on October 1. Millions of Chinese are spending their week-long October 1 National Day holidays travelling to various tourist spots and attractions throughout the country. CHINA OUT GETTY OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    Visitors admire the miniature figurines on display at an art exhibition in Xian, northern China's Shaanxi province on September 30, 2008. Millions of Chinese are spending their week-long October 1 National Day holidays travelling to various tourist spots and attractions throughout the country. CHINA OUT GETTY OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    A Chinese visitor admires the miniature figurines on display at an art exhibition in Xian, northern China's Shaanxi province on September 30, 2008. Millions of Chinese are spending their week-long October 1 National Day holidays travelling to various tourist spots and attractions throughout the country. CHINA OUT GETTY OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images



Even those passengers who redeem frequent flier miles won't have to spring for the fuel add-on, and the travel blog Gadling reports that many customers who recently booked flights using miles may be able to call and get a refund for the surcharge they paid.

The cruise lines have been way ahead of the game on this one. They started giving up fuel surcharges weeks ago, and now, the only major lines to retain them are Crystal and Disney. All the while, reps at the domestic airlines said they had no intention of reducing theirs, too, even though many international air carriers had done it or had folded the added cost of fuel into their base airfares.

Apparently there has been a change of heart. The airline industry is one spineless game of Follow the Leader, and now that Delta and Northwest (newly married in the corporate courts) have eliminated fuel fees, expect others to follow within a few weeks. Just when you think the airlines are out to bleed us for every penny, and just when their chests puff up in a display of mock rigidity, they cave. Thank goodness for market forces.

So that's where it stands. For now. Because next summer, there's sure to be another gas price hike, and the cash-strapped airlines are sure to be among the first to reach for the surcharge menu and order freely. The bill, of course, will be ours to pay.

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