As the summer travel season begins, we bring you this important news from the department of duh: Airports are going to be packed. Again.
Forecast after forecast calls for record airline travel between Memorial Day and Labor Day as the economy continues to hum. Airlines for America, an airline trade group, says passenger counts on U.S. airlines will be up 3.4% from a year ago, the 10th consecutive increase. The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 10 million more passengers than last summer and says it will likely set records for the highest number of passengers and crew screened in a single day and single week.
1. Baggage fees are higher. Airlines boosted bag fees as the summer travel season ended last year. Travelers will now pay $30 each wayfor the first checked bag and $40 each wayfor the second checked bag on domestic flights on major carriers except Southwest Airlines. (Southwest allows two free checked bags.) Bag fees are more complicated at discount carriers Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant, and newbies should note they charge for carry-on bags in addition to checked bags.
2. Basic economy tickets, airlines’ cheapest but most heavily restricted fares, are more widespread. In addition to American, Delta and United, Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines have gotten into the game, and JetBlue Airways plans to later this year. The fine print varies by carrier, but in general travelers don’t get an advance assignment and board last. United has the added restrictions of not allowing carry-on bags bigger than a personal item that fits underneath the seat and makes basic economy travelers check in at the airport instead of online to police it. Traveling to Europe on a basic economy ticket? Don’t expect one free checked bag like you get with regular economy tickets on major airlines. Delta, United and American each charge basic economy passengers $60 to check a bag on flights between the U.S. and Europe.
Bottom line: Check your ticket or reservation confirmation ahead of time so there are no surprises at the airport.
3. Want a seat assignment? On an increasing number of airlines, it’ll cost you to reserve ordinary seats. Seat-selection fees, a fixture at discount airlines, are on the rise. American and Delta have had them, and United joined the club in late 2018. The tab on a Chicago-Los Angeles flight on American in mid-July: $31 for a middle seat and $37 for a window or aisle seat, each way. Southwest doesn’t assign seats but sells EarlyBird boarding for travelers who want a shot at a better seat during the airline’s open boarding, and the price rose on most routes at the end of the summer last year.