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Originally published Sunday, May 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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American will charge for all checked luggage

for all checked luggage American Airlines will become the first major U.S. airline to start charging some passengers for checking even...

American Airlines will become the first major U.S. airline to start charging some passengers for checking even one bag.

Beginning June 15, American, the nation's largest carrier, will begin charging domestic economy-class passengers $15 each way for the first checked bag, cut domestic flights and lay off workers as it grapples with record-high fuel prices.

Some airline-watchers say it will be only a matter of time before other major carriers go along, but as of Wednesday, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and American rival Delta said they don't plan to match that fee.

American said it also will raise other fees for services ranging from reservation help to oversized bags.

Survey says nobody likes the airlines

Passengers are more dissatisfied with airlines' customer service than they have been in years at a time when carriers are charging more and more for tickets and services.

An annual survey released last week by the University of Michigan found customers giving airlines the worst grades since 2001, with the industry's overall scores dropping for the third straight year. United Airlines and US Airways Group Inc., which are in talks to potentially combine into a single carrier, finished next-to-last and last, respectively, in the university's American Customer Satisfaction Index.

A familiar bright spot in the results was Southwest Airlines Co., which led the industry in passenger satisfaction for the 15th consecutive year.

Critics say Bush plan

will cloud park air

The Bush administration is on the verge of implementing new air-quality rules that will make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas, according to rank-and-file agency scientists and park managers who oppose the plan.

The new regulations, which are likely to be finalized this summer, rewrite a provision of the Clean Air Act that applies to "Class 1 areas," federal lands that currently have the highest level of protection under the law. Opponents predict the changes will worsen visibility at many of the United States' most prized tourist destinations, including Virginia's Shenandoah, Colorado's Mesa Verde and North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt national parks.

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Nearly a year ago, with little fanfare, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed changing the way the government measures air pollution near Class 1 areas on the grounds that the nation needed a more uniform way of regulating emissions near protected areas. The agency closed the comment period in April and has indicated it is not making significant changes to the draft rule, despite objections by EPA staff members.

U.S. tours will be easier

for Chinese to book

Chinese visitors will gain easier access to the U.S., already the fifth-favorite destination for mainlanders, under an agreement aimed at boosting leisure travel that comes into effect next month.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and China National Tourism Administration Chairman Shao Qiwei said the accord, to take effect June 17, will speed the visa-application process and let Chinese travel agents openly arrange U.S. group trips.

Last year, there were 710,000 mainland visitors to the U.S., as China's total outbound travel rose 18 percent to 41 million visitors. Chinese visiting the U.S. spent $6,000 each on average in 2006, the most of any group of tourists, the statement said.

The accord lets travel agents in nine provinces and municipalities promote group tours to the U.S., which were previously only informally allowed and couldn't be advertised.

Move over, Niagara:

NYC gets its own falls

If you're visiting New York City this summer, don't be surprised to find a waterfall next to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The spectacle will be one of four man-made waterfalls built on the shores of the city's East River by Scandinavian artist Olafur Eliasson. The water will course over scaffolding 90 to 120 feet high from late June to Oct. 15, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and will be illuminated after sunset.

The locations will be the Brooklyn base of the Brooklyn Bridge, Governor's Island, Pier 35 in Lower Manhattan, and between Piers 4 and 5 in Brooklyn. There will be numerous public vantage points, including from the Brooklyn and Manhattan waterfront and from the pedestrian path of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Seattle Times staff and news services

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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