The very first checked baggage fee actually showed up in May 2008, points out FareCompare.com. That was when American Airlines, responding to rising oil prices, decided to stick its neck out and take the risk of being the first major airline to implement the fees. A couple months later, in July, the other airlines decided to follow suit, and that's the anniversary we're "celebrating" this month.
While griping about airline fees is a popular pastime among travelers, FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney says they were born out of desperation, not greed.
"Fees in general saved the airlines, to be honest," he says. "If you asked an airline executive [in 2008] if he could survive long-term at $100-dollar-a-barrel oil, he would have laughed. He would have expected that he couldn't raise ticket prices high enough to recoup [costs]."
The mantra from the consumer is, 'Just put it in the price of the ticket.' And as soon as airlines do that, they quit buying tickets.
"The mantra from the consumer is, 'Just put it in the price of the ticket,'" says Seaney. "And as soon as airlines do that, they quit buying tickets."
That's not to say that we should actually be celebrating baggage fees. While Seaney notes that ticket prices have grown at a relatively slow rate over the last five years, they haven't exactly gone down, either. So it's not as if breaking out fees into a separate charge has appreciably lowered the price of travel for those who know how to pack light.
We can grumble all we want, though: Baggage fees have proven a smashing success for the industry, so don't expect them to go anywhere. And Seaney echoed our prediction from a couple months ago that Southwest Airlines (LUV), one of the last holdouts against the fees, was gearing up to reverse its policy.
In just five short years, baggage fees have become the industry standard. And in another five, it will be hard to remember there was ever a time when you could check your luggage for free.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.