Those annoying fees charged by America’s airlines hit their highest levels on record

Image: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
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Fliers seem to have become inured to the hefty fees America’s sullied airlines now charge for checked bags and changed flights. All the better for US airlines, which in the first quarter of this year raked in more than $1.6 billion in revenue from those fees, the highest level since airlines began charging for checked bags, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The $864 million in baggage fees and $768 million in reservation change fees airlines made in the first quarter is a 7.4% increase from the same period of time in 2014. The chart below shows the rise in yearly revenue of this sort from 2008 to 2014, the latest yearly data available. Judging by this year’s first quarter, 2015 could end up even higher.

There is some hope that the trend could reverse, as more passengers haul more of their luggage onto the aircraft, clogging overhead bins and adding to delays.

Fees for checked bags and cancellations still only represent a small fraction of US airlines’ overall earnings (roughly 2.2% of net profit for checked bags and another 2% for cancellations), according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics).

Meanwhile, charging for checked bags is less lucrative than what airlines can make off carrying cargo. Perhaps to address this, Boeing has redesigned its new 737s to accommodate 50% more overhead baggage, with several US airlines already on board.