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Airlines may start charging more during peak demand periods

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Posted at 10:30 AM, Dec 08, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-08 22:39:19-05

The next frontier in airline fees — those pesky payments for baggage checks and seat upgrades — may be higher charges during peak demand periods.

In other words, the $25 you now pay to check a bag may go to $30 if you insist on flying during busy travel periods such as Christmas or Labor Day.

The prediction that airlines will start to adjust fees based on demand comes from Jay Sorensen, a noted consultant for the industry on what air carriers like to call "ancillary fees."

He has also forecast that ancillary fees will generate nearly $50 billion for the airline industry worldwide in 2014. And now carriers are looking for ways to push that higher.

"The industry is slowly moving to the dynamic pricing method that has been used with huge success for airfare pricing," he said in a report released last week.

Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation's airlines, declined to comment on Sorensen's report but added that "the marketplace, and more specifically customers, decide every day what they are willing to pay."

Sorensen said Spirit Airlines has already started the practice by raising checked bag prices by $2 during the holiday travel period. The higher fees kick in on flights from Dec. 18 to Jan. 5.

On its website, the Florida airline said the fee increase is intended to "encourage customers to pack a bit lighter" to make room for more bags during the crowded holiday season.

Over the next two years or so, Sorensen said, he expects airlines to raise fees during peak travel periods on extras such as early boarding, seat upgrades and checked bags.

But he warned that government regulators may clamp down if airlines fail to clearly post the fee changes with ample warning.

As for passengers, Sorensen predicts many will be upset but will eventually accept the moneymaking tactic.

"In my experience, over the passage of time, these will generally be accepted," he said.

SLIMMER AIRLINE SEATS

One of the nation's oldest airlines is jumping on a trend already embraced by its younger competitors: installing slimmer seats to cram more passengers into its planes.

Hawaiian Airlines, in business for 85 years, will replace its traditional seats with so-called slim-line seats on its Boeing 717s — the smaller jets that fly between the islands. By adding the seats with thinner cushions, Hawaiian can squeeze up to 10 extra seats per plane, fitting up to 128 passengers in each jet.

"That will allow us to maintain the amount of personal space that our guests have in the main cabin while at the same time doing that with a slightly denser configuration," Peter Ingram, chief commercial officer for the airline, said during an investor presentation last week.

United, Alaska, Southwest and Spirit have already added slim-line seats. An online survey taken this year found that 83 percent of passengers who have tried such seats say they are less comfortable than traditional seats.

The added seats may be one reason why Hawaiian executives are predicting higher profit margins next year."We are getting strong and better in all aspects of our business," said Scott Topping, the airline's chief financial officer.

LAX'S FINE FOOD FARE

Don't mourn for Los Angeles International Airport.

The nation's third-busiest airport has taken its lumps recently. It was ranked the sixth most frustrating airport in the country to use and the fourth most difficult to get to in a Bloomberg study that relied in part on an online survey of more than 3,000 travelers.

In addition, LAX was snubbed last year by the annual Skytrax World Airport Awards. LAX ranked 109th among 395 airports worldwide. The ranking was based on a survey of 12.1 million travelers around the world.

But now comes good news for the beleaguered airport: LAX ranked third in the nation in a new study on healthful food offerings.

The Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reported last week that LAX jumped from fourth place last year thanks to eateries that offer healthful dishes such as raw kale salads, lentil mushroom burgers, kimchi and brown rice.

Last year LAX became the home of the nation's first all-vegan airport restaurant, Real Food Daily.

But if you're not into kale salads and vegan sandwiches, LAX also has traditional fast-food joints, including Carl's Jr., Burger King and Panda Express.

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