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American Airlines just raised its checked bag fees, even though hardly anyone is flying right now

Business Insider logo Business Insider 4/22/2020 dslotnick@businessinsider.com (David Slotnick)
a man holding a sign: Getty Images/Rick Gershon © Getty Images/Rick Gershon Getty Images/Rick Gershon

American Airlines increased the fees it charges some passengers for checked bags on certain flights, as the airline sees record-low passenger numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Flyers traveling between the US and Europe or Africa, and flying on a basic economy fare ticketed by American Airlines, will pay $75 each way for a checked bag for tickets sold beginning April 21.

The previous fee was $60 each way. The lower fare will still apply to tickets that were sold before April 21.

The changes were first spotted by the blog AwardWallet.com.

In a statement, the airline said that the new price brought it in line with its transatlantic joint venture partners, which sell checked bags on basic economy fares for $65 each way in advance, or $75 each way at the airport.

"Starting Tuesday, April 21, American changed its checked baggage fees for Basic Economy passengers on transatlantic flights to better align our bag fee structure with our Atlantic Joint Business partners, British Airways, Iberia, and Finnair," a spokesperson said. "These changes only affect passengers who purchase new Basic Economy tickets on transatlantic flights starting on April 21 going forward."

Finnair increased its fees for checked bags in March.

United similarly raised its checked bag fees to $70 for its least expensive fares earlier this year, bringing it in line with Star Alliance partner airlines.

However, the timing of American Airlines' fee change aligned with the most severe crisis in the history of the air travel industry.

Airlines around the world have grounded large parts of their fleets, and suspended numerous flights and routes, leading to a near-complete halt in incoming revenue. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in an interview last week that revenue was down 90% year over year.

It was not immediately clear why American chose this specific timing for the fee increase, nor how many customers were still traveling and would be immediately affected.

American Airlines made just over $1 billion from checked bag fees in the first three quarters of 2019, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Data for the fourth quarter are not yet available.

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