New airline fees may be a positive for fliers

Air carriers are now looking at using optional extras to generate revenue
In this Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, photo, Delta Air Lines passengers, who have purchased an upgrade to board their flight early, take advantage of priority boarding as they make their way to their flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta. Airlines are introducing a new bevy of fees, but this time passengers might actually like them. Unlike the first generation of charges which dinged fliers for once-free services like checking a bag, these new fees promise a taste of the good life, or at least a more civil flight. In the near future, airlines plan to go one step further, using massive amounts of personal data to customize new offers for each flier. (AP Photo/John Amis)AP

NEW YORK — Airlines are introducing a new bevy of fees, but this time passengers might actually like them.

Unlike the first generation of charges which dinged fliers for once-free services like checking a bag, these new fees promise a taste of the good life, or at least a more civil flight.

Extra legroom, early boarding and access to quiet lounges were just the beginning. Airlines are now renting Apple iPads preloaded with movies, selling hot first class meals in coach and letting passengers pay to have an empty seat next to them. Once on the ground, they can skip baggage claim, having their luggage delivered directly to their home or office.

In the near future, airlines plan to go one step further, using massive amounts of personal data to customize new offers for each flier.

"We've moved from takeaways to enhancements," says John F. Thomas of L.E.K. Consulting. "It's all about personalizing the travel experience."

Carriers have struggled to raise airfares enough to cover costs. Fees bring in more than $15 billion a year and are the reason the airlines are profitable. But the amount of money coming in from older charges like baggage and reservation change fees has tapered off. Revenue from bag fees in April, May and June fell 7 percent compared to the same period last year, according to figures released by the government Monday.

So now the airlines are selling new extras and copying marketing methods honed by retailers.

Technological upgrades allow airlines to sell products directly to passengers at booking, in follow-up emails as trips approach, at check-in and on mobile phones minutes before boarding. Delta Air Lines recently gave its flight attendants wireless devices, allowing them to sell passengers last-second upgrades to seats with more legroom.

And just like Amazon.com offers suggested readings based on each buyer's past purchases, airlines soon will be able to use past behavior to target fliers.

"We have massive amounts of data," says Delta CEO Richard Anderson. "We know who you are. We know what your history has been on the airline. We can customize our offerings."

Most fares today don't cover the cost of flying. While the average domestic roundtrip base fare has climbed 3 percent over the past decade to $361.95, when adjusted for inflation, the price of jet fuel has nearly tripled.

In the past three years, airlines have tried to hike fares 48 times, according to FareCompare.com. During 29 of those attempts, bookings fell enough that airlines abandoned the increase.

Travelers like Nadine Angress, of Mansfield, Mass., see the value in the new fee options. Her recent late-night US Airways flight home landed past six-year-old son's bedtime. She had to work early the next morning. So, for $30 she bypassed the baggage carousel and had the suitcase delivered.

"That was a very reasonable price to pay," Angress says. "It's making your life easier."


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