Be careful what you pack... and in how many bags

Air Canada to Toronto, Air France via Paris, KLM via Amsterdam, and Alitalia via Rome also let you check in two bags free.

To paraphrase the 1964 hit single from Bob Dylan, the times, they are changing.
Passengers planning on flying to the US this summer need to plan accordingly, as new baggage regulations may severely inhibit their purchasing options. The US dollar may be weak, and those passengers flying from the Middle East or Europe will find their local currencies stretch much further there.
It’s been reported that the global airline revenue in 2010 from charging for checked bags and food reached $22 billion. Consumers flying to or from the United States to the Middle East have benefited for decades from the ability to check in two pieces of luggage on their transatlantic flights. In simpler terms, a family of four is permitted to fly with eight checked pieces of luggage, provided that each bag doesn’t weigh more than 23 kilos. Elite frequent fliers are able to take a suitcase weighing up to 30 kilos.
This generous condition has been scaled back throughout Europe and for domestic flights inside the US. In fact, the majority of airlines charge for the first checked bag when flying within North America.
Twenty-two billion dollars is a huge amount, and airlines flying out of the Middle East are looking at these figures with mouths agape and plotting how they can change the norm that has existed here till now.
The first salvo came last year from British Airways, American Airlines and Iberia, which quietly changed the rule and began charging for the second checked bag.
Recently Lufthansa and Austrian decided they, too, could not resist the lure of extra income and initiated an identical rule. The only saving grace is that they put a grandfather clause into effect: If your tickets were purchased prior to June 1, you’re sanctioned to check in two free bags.
We need to look at some hard figures to see how this will affect which airline you select to fly across the ocean.
First off, a cursory view of the top four US airlines shows Delta No. 1 in revenue for 2010 with over $31b. United Continental Holdings (yes, kind readers, they merged the two airlines) hit $23b. American reached $22b., while Southwest Airlines, the most famous low-cost carrier in the United States, had $12b. in sales last year.
American readers know that of these four airlines, only Southwest touts that it permits not one free checked bag, but two when flying inside the US. Its liberal policy is why the legacy carriers continue to lose a market share to Southwest. Pity the bigger airlines don’t recognize the disadvantage they create when consumers make their flying decisions.
Let’s start on a positive note. Here are the largest airlines that permit two free checked bags when flying to and from Israel and the United States (note that the list includes all three US airlines that fly nonstop from Israel to points in America): El Al, Continental, Delta and US Air.
Air Canada to Toronto, Air France via Paris, KLM via Amsterdam, and Alitalia via Rome also let you check in two bags free. So too does Swiss.
Remember when making your ticket purchase that the following airlines have already decided to lower the boom: American Air, Austrian, British Airways, Iberia and Lufthansa.
As this column is being written, Continental and Air Canada are seriously considering joining the ranks of these turncoats and limiting your free checked bags to one piece.
The vast majority of travelers in the summer are leisure passengers, often going for a lengthy time abroad and thus more likely to come back with an extra piece of luggage.
Wise consumers who are unable to resist a bargain need to know beforehand what that extra piece of luggage will cost.
On British, Iberia or American Airlines, a second piece of luggage will set you back $60 each direction; on Lufthansa or Austrian each direction, it’ll be $70.
Two pieces still not enough? The going rate for a third checked bag is $200 for Continental, Delta, Air France, KLM and US Air; El Al will charge you $230.
So first off, intelligent travel consultants and consumers should strive to reserve flights on airlines with more liberal policies.
These extra fees add up to large amounts.
A quick example: Our family of four flying Lufthansa this summer with six checked bags would have to take into account an extra $280 for their round trip tickets.
In my humble opinion, El Al will be the last airline to change its policy. Already known as the most liberal airline when it comes to overweight baggage, it realized long ago that one of the most pleasant joys of flying is shopping.
Hopefully wiser minds at Continental and Air Canada will prevail, and it will keep its present policy of two free checked bags.
In concluding, when making flight reservations, be it online or with a travel agency, add up all the figures. Too often the hidden fees and extra costs can tip the scale between one airline and another.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.

For questions and comments, e-mail him at [email protected]