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Originally published Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 4:01 PM

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Airlines keep boosting baggage fees

Both Delta, Continental and United increase the fees for checked bags; will now cost at least $46 round trip for the first checked bag. Alaska Airlines holds the line for now.

Seattle Times travel writer

Prepare to find space in the overhead bins a little tighter and your wallet a little lighter the next time you fly on Delta, Continental or United Airlines, all of which have hiked their checked-baggage fees on flights within the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Delta, now the world's biggest airline after its acquisition of Northwest Airlines, raised the fee 53 percent, from $15 to $23 each way for the first checked bag, and from $25 to $32 each way for the second bag if paid online in advance. Fees went up to $25 and $35 if paid at the airport ticket counter, kiosk or curbside. United matched those increases on Wednesday.

The fee hikes came after Continental announced similar increases on January 8, going from $18 to $23 ($25 if paid at the airport) for the first bag, and from $27 to $32 for the second ($35 at the airport).

Most carriers now charge at least $20 each way to check a first bag on domestic flights. One exception is Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. Those airlines still charge $15 for the first and $25 for the second bag. A spokeswoman said there are no plans for an increase.

Exempt from checked bag fees are elite frequent fliers, first class passengers and certain other customers, including active military personnel traveling on orders.

The higher fees come at a time when more passengers might be tempted to check baggage rather than deal with the hassles of stepped-up security checks after an attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day.

"This will only drive away more customers," said Joe Brancatelli, publisher of JoeSentMe.com, an online newsletter for business travelers.

"People want convenience. The more you make them spend time in front of a computer trying to figure out how much they have to pay, the more likely they are to defect to another airline."

Airlines such as Southwest, which charges no fees for checked bags, and JetBlue, which allows customers to check one bag at no charge, will benefit, Brancatelli predicted. Those airlines tend to charge for new services such as Wi-Fi, rather than unbundle services that once were included in the airfare. Airlines generated $2 billion in extra fees in the third quarter of 2009, up 36 percent from the year-ago period, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Most of the money came from baggage fees.

U.S. airlines allow passengers to carry on one personal item, such as purse or a laptop, and one piece of luggage as large as 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches for a combined weight of 40 pounds.

No one is talking about changing the rules, but it's likely airlines will do more policing on the size of carry-on luggage as more people try to avoid fees by not checking bags.

An updated chart showing what various airlines charge for checking bags and other services is at www.smartertravel.com.

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Travel from Canada

Travelers coming into the U.S. from Canada, meanwhile, continue to face a temporary ban on carry-on bags.

Passengers on U.S.-bound flights can take aboard only personal items such as purses, cameras, diaper bags and laptop computers. Details are at www.catsa-acsta.gc.ca.

The Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority says the rules will stay in place until further notice to minimize delays at security checkpoints. Officials were unavailable for comment on what changes, if any, might be made to accommodate travelers to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, that run Feb. 12-28.

Alaska/Horizon has temporarily waived checked bag fees on items that passengers normally would take aboard. Delta, too, is waiving such fees. Canada's standard practice is to allow two free checked bags.

Carol Pucci: cpucci@seattletimes.com

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