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American Airlines’ New Baggage Fee No Big Deal

What's a passenger to do now that the airline is charging $15 for the first checked bag? For starters, travel light.

by
Annie Jacobsen

Bio

May 24, 2008 - 12:58 am

Jet fuel is up 90.1% from last year. A Boeing 767 flying from New York to Los Angeles consumes 9,000 gallons of fuel. American Airlines announced this week it will be charging passengers a $15 fee for the first checked bag. The sky is blue.

These are all very simple facts. Why, then, is the nation freaking out on American Airlines? Dare I be so bold as to say that oil hitting $135 a barrel is not their fault?

Nevertheless, newspaper editors from Bangor to Burbank have felt compelled to lash out at the air carrier. Fifty different columnists asked if pay toilets were next. Others put the focus on what they predict will be “consumer backlash.”

On Friday, Time magazine published a piece of journalism thin on jet fuel-related facts and heavy on its predictions of passenger mutiny. “I think you’ll see passengers turning on other passengers,” Time quoted a marketing professor named Vicki Morwitz as saying. Morwitz, Time wrote, believes that passengers will start brawling for space in overhead bins. Time also quoted a consumer airline ticket researcher named Rick Seaney as saying, “Desperate times beget desperate measures.”

What about desperate times beget a little education?

Last year, in May 2007, when oil prices were about to hit $70 a barrel, cutting fuel costs became a top concern for American Airlines. The company began a fuel saving program called Fuel Smart. The goal was to cut fuel consumption by 3% — or 60 and 70 million gallons of fuel-each year.

One way to save jet fuel is to reduce drag, so American Airlines installed “winglets” on all of its 737 aircraft and some of its 757s to reduce wind resistance. Because extra weight burns fuel faster the airline also got to work reducing load. Aircraft retrofits included ripping out unnecessary equipment from the galleys, including antiquated heating equipment and extra service carts. Some American Airline MD-80 flights saw a reduction in the amount of water carried on board.

Shorter flights mean less fuel consumption, so the airline negotiated with air traffic controllers to fly the shorter routes. Business Week reported that this measure alone saved the airline $4 million in fuel costs last year. At last year’s prices, the airline envisioned the Fuel Smart program would save the company upwards of $200 million dollars each year, keeping both customers and investors happy.

But that was then and this is now. Few predicted oil to almost double in price from $70 a barrel to a record-breaking $135 a barrel. As a result, American Airlines has a new checked-bag fee.

So what’s a passenger to do? For starters, travel light. You can bring a 40 lb. carry-on with you for free when you fly American Airlines. More importantly, reduce your oil consumption wherever you can. Complaining about a $15 fee to have a second bag (after your carry-on) accompany you while you fly across the nation is like whistling past the graveyard. Face the facts and do something practical — or its only going to get worse.

Easy for me to say? Yes, it is. Last month, while President Bush was pleading with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to reduce oil prices (to no avail), my husband and I took the matter of soaring oil prices into our own hands. We sold our cherry red, gas-guzzling Land Rover and leased a Toyota Prius Hybrid instead.

Starting now, we’re enjoying our own energy-saving Fuel Smart plan.

Annie Jacobsen writes the "Backstory" blog (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/back-story/) for the Los Angeles Times Magazine.
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