Hate those airline fees? A plan is hatched to curb them

WASHINGTON — Airline passengers hate those fees that can jack up the price of flying by hundreds of dollars. The airlines defend them, saying it’s better to charge people for things not everybody uses than increase ticket prices for everyone.

Now, two Democratic U.S. senators are entering the fray by suggesting that airlines need to be a bit more reasonable. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts on Wednesday introduced a bill that would prohibit airlines from charging fees that “are unreasonable or disproportional” to what the service cost them to provide.

In other words, how much does it cost to fly a piece of luggage from point A to point B? How much does it cost an airline to cancel a ticket or change a ticket from one flight to another?

The bill would empower the secretary of transportation to determine what’s reasonable.

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“In recent years, fees and ticket prices have gone up despite the fact that gas prices and airline choices have gone down,” said Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Airlines should not be allowed to overcharge captive passengers just because they need to change their flight or have to check a couple of bags.”

Under the proposal, airlines would be authorized to charge fees to cover the cost of the baggage handlers, ticket agents and baggage processing. But, Markey and Blumenthal said, airlines charge more money for the second checked bag than the first, even though it appears there is little additional cost for processing the second bag. When it comes to ticket change and cancellations fees, they said, airlines ought to be able to levy fees that cover the cost of new tickets and any lost revenue due to the cancelation, but they noted that that cost may be minimal if the airline can resell the seat for a potentially higher fare.

“With all the frills of flying already gone, airlines are increasingly resorting to nickel and diming consumers with outrageous fees,” Blumenthal said.

Airlines collected an estimated $3 billion in fees to cancel or change a ticket last year, triple what they collected in 2007. Ticket change and baggage fees now amount to about a quarter of their overall revenues. In some cases, fees for ticket changes (up to $200) and checked baggage cost more than the ticket.