Checked Bag Fees: Money for Nothing

Heading to the airport this holiday weekend? Well, if you're planning to check bags you'd better bring some extra cash.

American Airlines announced Wednesday that it will start charging passengers $15 next month to check a bag. The airline -- like many others -- had already announced plans to charge $25 to check a second bag.

But just because these airlines are charging you for what was once free, don't expect any improvements in service. Airline experts said there will still be plenty of lost bags.

Ray Neidl, an airline analyst with Calyon Securities, said because of high gas prices the airlines need cash and passengers shouldn't expect any change in how their bags are handled.

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"The systems are still going to be the same," Neidl said.

Basically, he added, fuel prices are forcing the airlines to do something they might have done anyway.

"People want bare-bones ticket prices. They don't want to be subsidizing other passengers checking in bags," Neidl said.

Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com and an ABCNEWS.com columnist, also cast doubt about any improved baggage service.

"Sure they'll charge $15 to check a bag, but if you think this will get your bag to your final destination … in your dreams," Seaney said. "I doubt this new $15 first check bag fee is going to come with a money-back guarantee if/when your bag doesn't make it to your destination."

Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines, said today on "Good Morning America" that the new fee is "a reflection of the desperation of the industry." He noted that baggage "weighs a good deal" and therefore burns a lot of costly fuel.

But he said his former company's move might not have been the best approach.

"I think frankly the industry might be better off if it raised fares and had everybody contribute," Crandall said. But in the past when airlines have raised fares there have been times when one refused to go along with the hike, he said, undermining others.

Crandall also said that more government regulation of the airlines might solve some of the industry's perils.

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It is not clear whether other airlines will follow American's lead.

Delta released a statement Wednesday saying: "Though record-breaking fuel prices are causing us to look at costs in every area of our business, we have no plans at this time to charge for a first checked bag."

Other airlines took a similar wait-and-see approach.

Air Canada, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, US Airways and Virgin America are all charging $25 for that second bag, according to SmarterTravel.com, which tracks such fees.

JetBlue charges $20 and AirTran $10 for that second bag. Southwest charges $25 for a third checked bag.

Spirit charges for all bags checked -- $10 for the first and $20 for the second if paid in advance online. Otherwise, Spirit charges $20 at the airport for both bags. All airlines charge more for additional bags.

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Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst and consultant based in Port Washington, N.Y., said it is highly unlikely that any of these new fees will improve baggage handling.

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