Information for Holiday Travelers

Every year, millions of Americans fly during the holiday season, and every year travelers experience delays, cancellations and other mishaps during their travel. This year will not be any different; it actually may be worse. With the high oil prices and the current economic crisis, the airline industry is in serious financial trouble, and they are hoping to see an increase in revenue this holiday season. To achieve their goal, many U.S. airlines are cutting flights all over the country. Continental is grounding 70 planes, American is grounding 80 planes, and United is grounding more than 100 planes. The cut in air capacity will inevitably raise airline prices, as well as require airlines to find more creative ways to earn a profit. Experts warn travelers to expect airfare prices about 30 percent higher than they were during last year’s holiday travel season. Travelers also need to be aware of recent fee increases to avoid potential charges while flying. Without knowing what types of charges may incur, travelers could find themselves unknowingly paying twice as much for air travel.

Typically, listed airfares include any fees imposed by the airlines, including any fuel surcharges; however, the prices generally do not include any government-imposed fees. These government-imposed fees usually include a 7.5 percent federal excise tax; a $3.50 federal segment fee for each takeoff; and a $2.50 September 11 fee for each takeoff from a U.S. airport, with a $10 roundtrip maximum. There are also Passenger Facility Charges (aka airport fees) that may be up to $4.50 for each takeoff. The exact amount of airport charges varies with each airport. Flights that begin or end in Hawaii or Alaska will be subjected to additional fees per roundtrip ticket under the Travel Facilities Tax. There are also a number of additional fees that accompany an international airline ticket.

In a move to generate revenues aside from ticket sales, many U.S. airlines are charging passengers for items and services that were once included in the price of airfare, like complimentary beverages and snacks during flight. This practice of breaking down services is known as “unbundling” and is commonly used by cable and phone companies. Airlines argue that by unbundling their prices, they are able to offer low cost airfare to people who do not want or need the additional services when traveling.

Many of the major U.S. airlines charge $10 to $25 to book flights through call centers or airport reservation desks, and they also charge a fee to issue paper tickets if e-tickets are available. Travelers who want to select seats will be charged around $5 for that privilege, and the price of an overweight/oversized bag has doubled on some airlines. Other examples of airline fees include, headphones, snacks, non-alcoholic drinks, curbside check-in, and traveling with pets. Additionally, JetBlue offers their travelers a pillow and blanket for $7, which passengers are able to keep.

Perhaps the newest and most widely renounced fee being charged to travelers is the fee to check one piece of luggage. Currently American, Continental, Northwest, United, U.S. Airways, Frontier, and Allegiant all charge travelers a minimum $15 each way for checking one piece of baggage.

Passengers who check a bag need to be aware of any weight or size restrictions to avoid any additional fees. Most airlines allow 50 pounds per piece of luggage, but it is a good idea to check with individual airlines. With the exception of Southwest, airlines also charge a $10-$50 fee for additional checked luggage. Exact fees vary by airline.

Before travelers decide to forgo any checked luggage, they need to be aware of what is prohibited from being carried onboard airplanes. The TSA’s strict policy concerning liquids and gels in carry-on baggage restricts travelers from bringing more than 3oz of one liquid, gel, or aerosol. All liquids and gels that are packed in carry-on luggage must be in individual 3oz or less containers, and all containers need to be placed in a clear zip-top quart sized bag. When going through security, travelers need to place the zip-top bag in a bin, making it easier for TSA officials to screen the materials.

All containers holding liquids must be 3 ounces or less; used or half empty containers that are larger than 3 ounces will not be allowed through security. TSA officials are not able to determine the exact amount of liquid left in larger containers, and they will make travelers dispose containers at the security checkpoint. This restriction is for carry-on bags only. There is no restriction on the size of liquid, gel, or aerosol containers passengers are allowed to pack in any bags that are checked with the airline.

It is important to remember that not all liquids, gels, and aerosols are permitted on board the aircraft. All flammable liquids are prohibited, including gasoline and lighter fluid.

Most lighters are permitted to be carried onboard airplanes, with the exception of torch lighters, which are commonly used to light pipes and cigars. Matches can be brought aboard airplanes and checked in luggage.

Once passengers pass through the security checkpoint, any liquids purchased in the secured terminal, regardless of size, are allowed on the aircraft.

If travelers have any questions as to what is allowed on an aircraft or is unclear about the rules, the TSA recommends packing all liquids, gels, and aerosols in checked luggage.

While the TSA does not recommend any specific type of clothing, they do caution that certain accessories, specifically metal objects, can set off the alarm and slow travelers down. If travelers are wearing metal objects, like belt buckles, body jewelry, or watches with metal, the TSA recommends placing them in the bins provided at all security checkpoints. The TSA requires that all coats and jackets be removed and placed in a bin.

Some other tips before travelers go through a security checkpoint: laptops must be removed from carry-on bags and placed in a bin, gifts should not be wrapped because a TSA official may have to unwrap it to determine its contents, and all cameras and undeveloped film must be placed in carry-on bags and not in checked luggage.

All carry-on and checked bags need to be marked with your name and contact information to easily identify it on the baggage carousel or if the airline misplaces it. Luggage that is checked should be left unlocked. If a bag is locked and officials need to inspect it for security reasons, they will break the lock. If travelers choose to lock their bags, a TSA-approved lock is recommended.

Amanda Knowles

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