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Originally published Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Delta doubles luggage fee

Delta Air Lines doubled the fee for checking a second bag on domestic flights to $50 each way, the most of any of the six biggest U.S. carriers, to defray record spending...

Bloomberg News and The Associated Press

Delta Air Lines doubled the fee for checking a second bag on domestic flights to $50 each way, the most of any of the six biggest U.S. carriers, to defray record spending on jet fuel.

Tuesday's move raises the bar again for baggage charges as the industry struggles with losses.

United Airlines led its large peers in adopting a $25 second-bag fee Feb. 4. American Airlines went a step further in May by announcing a $15 charge for the first piece of luggage.

Delta, the third-biggest U.S. airline, said the first checked bag on U.S. flights will still be free, and international travelers can still check two bags without charge.

First class, BusinessElite and Medallion customers will still be able to check up to three bags at no charge.

"They're trying to have the second-bag charge subsidize keeping the first bag free," said Jay Sorensen, a former marketing director at Midwest Air who now runs Ideaworks, an aviation consulting firm.

Delta's second-bag fee tops the $25 at American, United, Continental Airlines and Northwest Airlines, which round out the five biggest full-fare carriers. Southwest Airlines, the largest discounter and No. 5 overall by traffic, doesn't charge for the first two bags.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines this month began charging $25 for the second bag. The first is free.

United and Northwest are among the airlines that joined American in charging $15 for the first checked bag.

Fewer than 20 percent of all Delta passengers check a second bag, spokeswoman Betsy Talton said. She declined to say how much additional revenue the new fees will generate.

Jet-fuel prices have jumped 66 percent in the past year, to about $3.60 a gallon today, and closed at a record $4.36 a gallon July 3. Fuel has surpassed labor as the biggest cost for most carriers and has sent all the full-fare airlines including Delta to second-quarter losses.

Delta's charge for checking a third piece of baggage in the U.S., the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico is increasing to $125, from $80 previously. Four bags or more will cost $200 each.

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On international flights, the third bag will cost $200, up from $150 previously. The fourth and fifth bag will be $350, with any additional bags costing $600.

"People are going to become much more aware of what they pack," Sorensen said.

"Delta is trying to create a distinction from the other carriers by keeping the first bag free."

The higher fees apply to tickets bought on or after this Thursday, for travel on or after Aug. 5, Delta said.

Delta warned on its Web site that if a customer has an extra piece of baggage that goes over the weight limit and the size limit, the passenger will be charged three times — once for the extra bag, once for going over the size limit and once for going over the weight limit.

Delta announced April 14 that it will acquire Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines in a stock-swap deal that would create the world's largest carrier in terms of traffic.

The deal is subject to shareholder and regulatory approval.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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