Baggage fees, fuel surchange cloud friendly skies
Airlines, hit hard by escalating jet fuel prices, are adding bag fees and increasing surcharges to make up the revenue.
If Hawaii's visitor industry officials are edgy about the summer tourist season, they have reason to be as airlines hunt desperately for every dollar to offset their soaring fuel costs.
With two Japanese airlines boosting fuel surcharges by 43 percent and the largest U.S. carrier adding another baggage fee, the price of an island vacation grows less attractive to visitors from East and West.
Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have said they will raise surcharges on Hawaii flights from $126 to $180 starting July 1. Meanwhile, American Airlines has announced it will charge many domestic passengers $15 for the first bag they check in, beginning June 15. That will come on top of a $25 charge for checking in a second bag.
Business travelers, most of whom fly with carry-ons and who are more likely to pay full ticket prices, won't be charged the extra fees. But for a family of four on budget fares, round-trip costs for eight pieces of luggage could add as much as $320, a steep price to pay for swimsuits and clean underwear.
Though some airline analysts see American's move as a trial balloon, United Airlines, which carries about 20 percent of passengers to Hawaii and has the most daily flights, is seriously considering following suit.
Delta Airlines, with an 8 percent share, also is weighing the option.
American, which accounts for about 11 percent of passengers to the islands, said it will cut flights and expects to lay off thousands of employees, a clear sign of continued trouble in the industry that has raised ticket prices several times in recent months and tagged on tariffs of $5 to $50 for reservation services, pet carriers and oversized suitcases.
On a brighter note, Alaska Air plans to start up new daily service between Seattle and Kona in November and add another Anchorage-to-Kahului flight, increasing its weekly trips to three from October through next April.
With the demise of Aloha Airlines and ATA, the state lost about 15 percent of passenger seats available annually, but empty space on other airlines made up the difference, stabilizing capacity.
Still, the price of oil, which marks record highs almost every day, continues to shake not only the airline and tourism industries, but the global economy. While a $15 bag charge might not cause travelers to cancel vacations, economic uncertainty chills enthusiasm for lounging on a sunny beach in Waikiki.