Website "Mad as Hell" Over Airline Fees

Airlines see profits go up, but passenger backlash

By Scott Gordon
|  Wednesday, Sep 22, 2010  |  Updated 12:22 PM CDT
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A website is encouraging travelers to organize protests of the fees on Thursday.

Scott Gordon, NBCDFW.com

A website is encouraging travelers to organize protests of the fees on Thursday.

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Just as U.S. airlines report second-quarter profits of $3 billion, some consumer groups are fighting back against the baggage and other fees that account for much of the profit.

A website called MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com encourages travelers to organize a day of protest on Thursday.

Rick Seaney, who operates the travel website FareCompare.com, said he doubts the protest will change anything.

"The fees aren't going anywhere,” he said. “We’'re talking about $8 billion last year, probably close to $9 billion this year. There is no way an airline is going to get rid of that revenue."

Organizers of the “Mad as Hell” day said they will present their online petitions to the U.S. Department of Transportation and push for airlines to be more transparent about the fees they charge.

But Seaney said government regulation is unlikely.

"There's a lot of buzz in Congress about fees,” Seaney said. “A lot of politicians are using it as a buzz thing to get some cycles on TV -- whether they're going to tax fees or try to get rid of the fees.”

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines' marketing campaign is all about how bags fly free, but Southwest still received $201 million in "ancillary revenue" in the second quarter -- the fourth-largest in the industry, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said most of that figure came from commissions paid by credit card, hotel, and rental car companies -- and not fees charged to passengers.

In the second quarter, Southwest collected $13 million in fees from pets, excessive bags, and unaccompanied minors, he said. The airline collected $23 million from its "early bird" program, which allows passengers to check in early and get better seats.

Seaney said the extra revenue along with strong ticket sales are helping airline profits soar.

"In general, it's been a very strong summer for travel -- a lot of pent-up demand,” he said. “People didn't take their trips last year, so the bottom line is, it's looking better, especially for international travel."

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