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Airline Passengers Face Multitude Of Fees

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Airlines say they're getting squeezed tighter than a passenger in a middle seat. They're pinched by high fuel costs on the one hand, and demand for low air fares on the other, and that's why they're charging fees of all kinds to make an extra buck.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on how they make you pay after you've paid for your ticket.

YUKI NOGUCHI: This pretty much says it all. Last week, U.S. Airways started charging $2 for soft drinks.

Ms. ANA ROBLEY(ph) (Airline Customer): My uncle, he's all like here, take all this food with you so you didn't have to pay for it onboard, because then it's ridiculous how much they charge you.

NOGUCHI: Ana Robley said it's getting harder to travel on a budget. Charges for everything are going up: changing a ticket, redeeming frequent-flyer miles. All those fees increased.

Northwest broke new ground when it started charging up to $35 extra for coach seats with a little extra leg room. And of course, there's the new checked-bag fees. American, Northwest, United and U.S. Air all either charge or plan to charge $15 for the first checked bag.

On Delta, your first bag is free, but the second will cost you $50. JetBlue said this week it will charge $7 for pillows and blankets. You do get to keep them. All that pocket change must add up, right? Sure, to the tune of several hundred million dollars annually. But actually, it all goes toward fuel, says Airline Business magazine editor David Field.

Mr. DAVID FIELD (Editor, Airline Business Magazine): If you look at the estimates each airline makes of how much the fees will bring in, it's not that much, and it's not enough to get the airlines out of the very deep hole that they're in now.

NOGUCHI: Now there are still deals. Alaska Air lets you check three bags, free, if you happen to be traveling within that state. Southwest Airlines is the lone holdout among large carriers without such a fee for bags. Southwest isn't shy about playing up this fact. In this ad, a man boards a plane, only to find he needs to feed coin slots to use the overhead compartment, to lean back in his seat and lower his tray table.

(Soundbite of television advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Announcer: Tired of being nickeled and dimed by other airlines?

Unidentified Person: Is this your first flight?

Ms. ASHLEY ROGERS (Spokeswoman, Southwest Airlines): We're not going to charge you for things that we already offer for free.

NOGUCHI: Southwest spokeswoman Ashley Rogers. They still give kids coloring books for free, she says. Her definition of in-flight entertainment is a bit of a stretch.

Ms. ROGERS: We think our flight attendants offer their own entertainment to the customers.

NOGUCHI: Oh, and Midwest Airlines still bakes cookies in the air - for free.

Unidentified Man (Midwest Airlines): You get two. Everyone gets two.

NOGUCHI: Can you get three?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Well, we try to frown upon that, but if people ask, and if there's some sort of compelling reason, I'm sure that we'd probably relent.

NOGUCHI: So that's the deal. You may be paying extra elsewhere, but if you're lucky, you get a free cookie. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.