Taking a Cello or a Surfboard on a Plane? American Airlines Just Cut Its Fees

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Effective immediately, American Airlines will no longer charge passengers $150 to check sports equipment like bicycles or surfboards, or musical instruments like a cello. Such items, which were previously considered oversize baggage, will now be covered by the regular $30 fee for checked luggage, as long as the item weighs less than 50 pounds. And come winter, or if you’re heading to the Southern Hemisphere, skiers will be able to include their skis and an equipment bag as a single item if the weight is below that limit.

“American has made it easier for musicians and athletes to travel with their gear, by eliminating certain fees that were previously imposed on oversize equipment,” Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the airline, said in a statement. The changes were based on customer and employee feedback.

American will continue to charge a $150 fee for certain specialty items, like scuba tanks and antlers, which have different handling requirements.

American’s announcement isn’t going to affect a huge portion of its travelers, and it’s unlikely to be a sign of a bigger shift, at least not yet. Airlines still rely heavily on fees as a way to collect revenue while keeping ticket prices lower.

“I’m very surprised by it because these pieces, like a bike or a surfboard, while they don’t weigh much, they are a hassle to handle, so typically what you do is you assign a higher cost to that because they’re nonstandard,” said Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorksCompany, an airline revenue consultancy. “More than anything else it is an early sign that American is shifting their public persona to be more friendly.”

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When it comes to what qualifies as oversize baggage, airlines do not share universal standards. For example, American now lets surfboards fly for free, and so does United Airlines — if your itinerary starts or ends in California — but Delta Air Lines still charges $150 to check one no matter where you’re going.

But the airlines may still be reconsidering some of those fees, Mr. Sorensen said.

“If it’s seen as an unfair price, it just leads to fights at the ticket counter, and arguments, and that is not something that’s helpful for anyone.”



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