Which airline fees anger you the most?

Airlines worldwide are deriving an ever-larger percentage of their total income from so-called ancillary revenue, including charges for what the industry likes to refer to as “à la carte” items ranging from early boarding to checked bags to seat assignments. Some are understandable; others, not so much.

In 2021, the last year for which statistics are available, ancillary revenue jumped to more than $48.4bn, an $18.5 billion dollar drop from the total posted by the airlines in the pre-pandemic 2019 financial period for the 75 airlines that disclose qualifying financial information. It is important to note that the statistics identify nearly 120 airlines that do not disclose detailed financial information.

Garuda Indonesia's only ancillary revenue is from excess bag fees

Not all ancillary revenue comes from the sale of à la carte items. It also comes from retail activities like co-branded credit cards, the sale of frequent flier miles and fees derived from the sale of other travel-related products including items like rental cars and ground tours.

But the most visible and most irritating sources of ancillary revenue are those à la carte items, which most of the fellow travelers with whom I’ve spoken refer to more derisively as "nickel-and-dime” charges.

In my estimation, some à la carte charges are understandable, including charges for food and alcoholic beverages. Passengers have many dining options available in virtually every airport terminal, so it makes sense not to build a fee for “free” food into a ticket price and to let those passenger who choose to purchase food on board.

Excess baggage fees also fall into the “understandable” category. Airlines clearly state the maximum per-bag weight and those who want or need to stuff more into their Samsonite, Tumi or Briggs & Riley suitcases should pay for the privilege. So too are charges for “premium economy” seats, though I believe airlines ought to be required to provide more legroom and seat width in standard economy. But that’s a topic for another day.

Other charges are more divisive. Fees for early boarding, checked bags, carry-on bags, fees for reserving your seat more than 24 hours before your flight and fees to rent blankets and pillows seem to rankle more passengers than other types of fees.

What do you think?

Which of the following do you, the air traveler, find most irritating? Feel free to list more than one, but please put them in order of what angers you the most.
  • Checked bag fees
  • Carry-on bag fees
  • Early boarding fees
  • Seat reservation fees
  • On-board food and beverage charges
  • In-flight Wi-Fi
  • In-flight movies/entertainment
  • Premium seating in economy
  • Itinerary change fees
Email your thoughts to TheTravelPro.us@gmail.com and we’ll see what real travelers actually think.

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Photo by Carl Dombek
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