Domestic airline carriers are rolling in the dough—due in a large part to the ancillary fees many of them are charging for checked baggage and reservation changes.
A recent report from the Department of Transportation (DOT) indicated that airlines in the United States made a total of $4.6 billion in ancillary fees in the second quarter of 2016, up from the $3.1 billion earned in the first quarter of the year. Baggage fees alone represent $1.1 billion of that figure, and reservation change fees pulled in a cool $755 million.
Curiously, the 2016 numbers have dropped in comparison to the second quarter of 2015, falling to $4.6 billion from $5.5 billion.
Also in the report, the DOT revealed that, since 2008, airlines have made more than $26.8 billion in baggage fees and more than $21.5 billion in ticket change and cancellation fees. (It’s worth noting that according to a recent article on TravelPulse, these numbers do not account for the additional profits from pet transportation fees, sale of frequent-flyer award miles to airline business partners, and standby passenger fees.)
Finally, the report noted which airlines have earned the greatest amounts of baggage fee revenue in this calendar year. American tops the list ($289 million in the second quarter of 2015), followed by Delta ($232 million), and United ($175 million).
It’s no secret these are high times for U.S. airlines overall. A May article in USA Today spotlighted a different set of DOT stats and indicated that the 25 largest domestic passenger airlines logged a record $25.6 billion in profits in 2015, more than three times the industry’s after-tax earnings of $7.5 billion reported in 2014. A CNN article concerning the same data stated that ticket sales accounted for 75 percent of airlines’ total 2015 operating revenue at $126.9 billion.
The report is a damning demonstration of how our loss, in this case, truly is the airlines’ gain. Flying sure isn’t what it used to be—for any of the parties involved.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.