Among the seven biggest recipients of bag fees, only three — US Airways, Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air — raised more in 2013 than the year before. Spirit and Allegiant charge for many extras that other airlines put in the ticket price — including carry-on bags — but say that this lets them offer lower fares.
As bag-fee revenue levels off, airlines are already looking for new sources of money. Delta said recently that what it calls "merchandising" — other fees such as charging extra for priority boarding, economy seats with more legroom, and upselling to first-class — grew to $165 million in the first quarter of 2014, a 20 percent increase in one year.
Delta President Ed Bastian said the airline believes it can boost that figure to $500 million a year in the next three years.
At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, some passengers game the bag-fee system by rolling their bag through security to the gate, then checking it there, where there is usually no fee. Others no longer fight back.
Lou Guyton of Mansfield, Texas, who works for a national animal-protection group and was returning from a trip to New Mexico, said she always checks her bag — on her last flight, she checked two.
"I really don't like to go through security, where you have to take out all your stuff," she said, "and then you have to try to find overhead bin space."
Jim Weck, a telecommunications company program manager from Atlanta, thinks it's time for the now-prosperous airline industry to give passengers a break from all kinds of fees, which took off when the carriers were losing billions of dollars during a period of recession and rising fuel prices.
"We helped you in your hour of need; now it's time to give back," Weck said, sitting next to a baggage carousel at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. "No matter what industry you're in, people don't like being nickel-and-dimed."
Contact David Koenig at http://www.twitter.com/airlinewriter