Air Canada to charge for checked bags on international flights

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Air Canada to charge for checked bags on international flights

OTTAWA — New checked baggage fees announced Friday by Air Canada are a "money grab," says the head of a Canadian consumer group.

Anyone flying Air Canada between Canada and the United States will soon have to pay a $25 fee for their first bag of checked luggage and a second-bag fee of $70. Previously, there was only a $35 second-bag fee charged to passengers flying to the U.S. Photograph by: Tim Wimborne, Reuters

Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of Canada, said the addition of a $25 first-bag fee is an unwelcome burden on passengers flying to the U.S.

"It's another one of their schemes to drag a little more money out of us," Cran said. "It would be nice to see our major airline sometimes use a little bit of common sense and maybe lead in something that benefited consumers instead of attempting to wring the last dollar from us."

The airline announced the change in its checked baggage policies in a statement on its website this week.

Beginning with tickets purchased on Sept. 7, the change will affect those flying economy class and travelling on Oct. 11 or later.

The $25 fee for travellers flying from Canada to the U.S. is in addition to the $35 second-bag levy Air Canada has been charging since 2008.

International travellers departing from Canada or the U.S., and flying to Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Asia, South America and Australia will not pay a first-bag fee, but the second-bag fee already in place will rise to $70. The second-bag fee for Air Canada passengers travelling to Europe and India rose to $70 earlier this year.

First bags will remain free on flights within Canada.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said most airlines that operate internationally already charge passengers for the first bag.

"This new policy puts us in line with the majority of airlines flying in the transborder market, who have been charging for first bags for a long time," he said. "The reason we are adjusting fares is to help ensure the financial sustainability of the airline and keep us competitive on (a) revenue basis in the market."

Cran said the Air Canada missed an opportunity to set itself apart from other airlines that do charge a first-bag fee. "I would have thought that this would have kept them a little ahead of the competition and now instead of taking advantage of something like that they're joining them."

He said there is also a possibility of a consumer revolt against the new fees from Air Canada. "I think if they see a backlash coming that they will get rid of this charge," he said.

In 2008 Air Canada imposed, then withdrew and then reinstated a second-bag fee for its U.S. and international flights. It initially withdrew the fee because of a public outcry.

Fitzpatrick, however, isn't worried about a negative public response this time. "We believe most customers are aware that our industry faces tremendous cost pressures and will understand we need to take steps to ensure our financial sustainability."

Other Canadian airlines say they won't be following Air Canada's lead.

"We do not plan to match Air Canada's new fee," Brad Cicero, spokesman for Toronto-based Porter Airlines, said in an email. "Every fare-paying passenger for all destinations is allowed one free checked bag." A second bag costs $20 and $50 is charged for each additional bag.

Canada's other major air carrier, WestJet Inc., currently charges $20 to check in a second bag on flights that leave Canada, plus $50 for each additional bag, but has no plans for a first-bag fee, according to spokesman Robert Palmer.

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