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Baggage fees applicable to international flights

August 25, 2009

Consider packing light if you are traveling to Europe this fall on American Airlines. The carrier will charge economy-cabin passengers $50 each way for a second piece of checked luggage to destinations there.

American joins others recently adding similar fees, a sign that the charges that have proliferated for domestic travel over the past year are starting to turn up on international flights as carriers search for new ways to make money.

American’s new fees will take effect for travel to Europe, India and the Caribbean purchased on or after Sept. 14. Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines, which it acquired last year, had added luggage fees on tickets booked to Europe on or after May 23.

Meanwhile, US Airways charges $15 for a first bag and $25 for a second piece of luggage on flights to Latin America. Continental Airlines charges passengers $25 for a second checked bag to the region.

The only major U.S. carrier not charging for checked luggage on overseas flights, United Airlines, is studying implementing the fees.

Although passengers have grumbled about the baggage fees on domestic flights, the charges haven’t changed travel patterns. So it’s little wonder U.S. carriers are starting to look at international travel, which has largely remained a fee-free zone. Airlines are moving to an a la carte system, where economy-cabin passengers pay only for the services they want. The charges don’t apply to first- and business-class passengers or elite members of the carriers’ frequent-flier plans.

Most U.S. carriers charge for alcoholic beverages on international flights. United is testing charging passengers for midflight snacks like Toblerone chocolate bars on select trans-Atlantic flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles. The carrier still provides dinner and breakfast for free.

United also has a travel-options page on its Web site that spells out some of the perks that passengers can purchase for their trip.

Customers are finding creative ways to avoid the new international charges. One way is to seek out flights that are marketed by European partners of U.S. carriers. Air France doesn’t charge luggage fees for flights that it code-shares with Delta, its partner in the SkyTeam alliance, even if the flight is operated by Delta.

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