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Air Travel Fees That Make Me Crabby – Introducing the “CRABBY Scale”

April 29, 2008 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick

UPDATE: More FEES Added!

Before I launch into this semi-rant, I want to make it very clear that I know the current price of fuel is killing the airlines — figuratively and literally. And believe me, I don’t want to start driving from Dallas to Los Angeles or New York any time soon.

That said, I don’t blame the airlines for trying to make a buck or trying to keep their head above water, but — I do have a bone to pick with some of their methods.

And, notice that much of my “crabbiness” stems not from airline fees, but from all the fees imposed by our local airports and the government!

Crabbiness Scale: from 1 Crab (minor grouchiness) to 4 Crabs (utterly outraged).

I now present to you — “Rick’s Crabby List”: click more to see it for yourself.

1) Airlines’ Non-Refundable “Airline Ticket Change Fees”


  • Domestic – typically, $100
  • International – $200+
  • Note: United recently hike this fee to $150 domestic/$250 international; watch for others to follow
  • UPDATE: US Airways bumped up its change fee to $150 as of 4-29-08


  • Savvy air travel shoppers who buy early, but ultimately must make changes to dates or destinations


  • Every airfare includes a rule called “penalties” (and yes, it’s hard to find); it notes the charge you’ll be assessed if you must change your itinerary. Essentially, you pay two penalties: the difference between your old ticket and your new one (and the new one will be higher), plus the “change fee.”


  • Many times, passengers change itineraries due to last minute emergencies, which means the new ticket will cost you the much higher “business rate”. So the change fee is just piling it on. Plus, if you have to call an airline ticket agent to make these changes, you’ll be stuck with an additional telephone agent charge of up to $35!


  • These airlines don’t charge for changes, or charge a modest fee: Southwest (free), JetBlue, AirTran, Spirit, Express Jet and Virgin America.

2) September 11th Security Fee


  • $2.50 per Flight


  • All travelers on most flights


  • For each flight boarded (up to 2 flights per direction, maximum 4 flights per trip) a charge of $2.50 is added to the airline ticket


  • This fee is ostensibly added to make air travel safer from potential terrorism. The money made from this fee is $2 billion a year. Yes, I do feel safer than I did before 9/11 — but I’m not sure I feel $12 billion dollars safer over the past 6 years since the fee was instituted.


3) Federal “Flight Segment” Tax


  • $3.50 per flight


  • All travelers on all domestic U.S. flights


  • For each flight, a fee of $3.50 is assessed to finance the FAA’s capital programs, namely, Facilities & Equipment; Research, Engineering & Development; and the Airport Improvement Program.


4) Airline Roundtrip Minimum Stay Rules


  • Anywhere from $200 to $800


  • Proactive business travelers who shop ahead to save money


  • Airlines impose a rule on roundtrip airfares that require a Saturday night stay or a minimum stay of 2-3 nights on their cheaper airfares (that also require 14 day advance purchase).


  • Small businesses (the backbone of the U.S. economy) suffer most since they tend to be more proactive about purchasing tickets early, including me; these rules prevent that.
  • Business travelers in general subsidize leisure travelers by paying 3-4 times more for their tickets; haven’t these road warriors suffered enough?


  • Lower cost airlines usually have one-way airfares only, so they can’t impose a minimum stay; they can, however, use their inventory system to “impose” minimum stays when 2 one-ways are queried as a roundtrip.
  • TIP: check one-ways separately when you see what appears to be an overly high “roundtrip” quote from airlines that have a one-way airfare structure.

5) Fee for Confirmed Seat Assignment at Purchase


  • Ranges from $5 to $15


  • More and more of us; an increasing number of airlines, both legacy and lower cost carriers, are requiring payment for early assignment (choice seats).


  • When purchasing a ticket online, during the “seat assignment” phase of the process you see many of the best seats designated as “pay for purchase” and sometimes all the seats will be so designated. Your only recourse (if you don’t want to pay) is to wait until 24 hours before departure and make your selection then (and maybe all the “good” seats will be gone).


  • This fee makes it difficult to compare airfare prices
  • No rational person wants a middle seat, but the airline bean-counters won this battle.


  • Selling a “premium” seat for a little extra is reasonable; preventing travelers from confirming seat assignments, is not.

6) Passenger Facility Charges


  • Typically $4.50 per flight


  • All travelers on most flights


  • For each flight boarded (up to 2 flights per direction, maximum of 4 flights per trip), an airport can get approval to charge a fee from $3.00 to $4.50; funds are to be used for eligible “airport improvement projects”


  • For the life of me, I cannot figure out where $3 billion a year goes for airport improvement. Most of the airports I end up at really need improving; so why aren’t they getting any?

7) Fee for Last Minute Redemption of Frequent Flyer Miles


  • Usually $100 or more


  • Frequent fliers who redeem miles for last-minute business


  • When you redeem frequent flyer miles for “free” tickets 2 weeks or less before departure, the airline charges you an “expedite” fee of up to $100


  • Expedite? What are they talking about? The transaction is done electronically (painless for the airline); no, this fee is basically a surcharge simply to wring more money from those with “last minute” emergencies or business trips.
  • Frequent flyer programs used to be called “loyalty” programs; clearly, the loyalty is no longer anything like a two-way street.

8 ) 2nd Checked Bag Fee


  • Typically $25


  • Travelers who “over-pack” and those who need large items for business meetings (cameras, visuals)


  • If you check a 2nd bag, you’ll pay for it
  • UPDATE: hold-out American Airlines added a $25 2nd checked bag fee as of 4-28-08
  • Some lower cost European airlines charge you for checking every bag


  • This could tempt some travelers to bring the “mother of all carry-on’s” and take up all the bin space (and crowd me out of any space if I’m one of the last to board).
  • Careful in the baggage claim area; watch out for more bags weighing close to the 50-pound limit as people try to cram everything into a single bag. Don’t let one hit you!

9) Curb-Side Check-In Fee


  • Typically $2 per bag


  • Folks who drop off their families at curbside to check (while they seek an inexpensive parking spot).


  • Check a bag at the curb, it’ll cost you about $2 — per bag.


  • My main complaint is that most don’t realize that $2 does not include the tip for the skycap. I, for one, want to stay on their good side so that the tag on my bag matches my destination (you don’t want to be “Bagless in Seattle”).


10) Hidden Fee: 4$ for a Bottle of Water (After Passing Security)


  • $3 TO $4


  • Anyone who wants to carry on a bottle of water to stay semi-hydrated onboard.


  • Only 3 ounces can be carried through security; anyone who wants/needs a big bottle of water on the plane has to pay for it.


  • Airports have turned into movie theaters where you have a captive audience; you can charge $10 for a drink and popcorn. No way to be proactive here; just look for the shop with the cheapest water you can find.

45 Responses to “Air Travel Fees That Make Me Crabby – Introducing the “CRABBY Scale””

  1. Andy says:

    For water, take your preferred water bottle (ex. my Skybus pilot-autographed one), empty it before security and refill it at the water-fountain.

  2. xjet says:

    You didn’t mention ExpressJet. no second bag fees, free seat assignments, no roundtrip minimum stay rules, no Saturday night stay rules, some of the lowest walkup fares, no fee for calling our reservation center, free premium snacks and in some cases onboard meals, $50 change fees, FREE XM Satelite radio (we don’t charge you for the headset), $1 beer & $3 wine/spirits (cheaper than the airport), I could go on… ;-)

  3. Rick Seaney says:

    dually noted xjet

  4. xjet says:

    thanks rick!

  5. FAC says:

    Man, ExpressJet sounds the way to go, sign me up!

  6. CaveatEmpty says:

    “8). 2nd Checked Bag Fee: WHO DOESN’T PAY:” Elites ~ NWA for one…


  7. Nitty Rao says:

    xjet, when do you plan flying to STL ?

  8. Walt Breier says:

    What is going on with some of the searchs that are showing overnight stays when doing what I think is a normal search. How many people are booking and finding that they must stay overnight at the airport. If I wanted an overnight stay option, I would ask for it.
    Your comments?

  9. Fedup says:

    Charging for the 2nd bag is the last straw. Now if you ski or play golf and take your equipment you can’t take your clothes without paying more…. no more of those vacations unless I drive… tell the airlines to shove it

  10. Ron Tilton says:

    I noticed that when searching United’s website for first class travel(numerous city pairs), the flight options listed include as much as half of the trip in economy. I queried UA as to this deceiving practice and why I have never been presented with first class segments when searching for economy travel. “No Response”
    Most of my travel starts/ends in HNL to numerous east coast destinations. An example of travel options listed by UA would be first class HNL to LAX, economy LAX to MCO.
    I am only referring to flights with a first class cabin and available seats verified, not flights without first class such as United TED.

  11. anne says:

    The airlines have $30 billion to fend off terrorism? Where is that money going? Or are they just sitting on it? The security lines are long, the people at the security checkpoints are underpaid, it’s easy for unauthorized personnel to walk into/thru restricted areas, etc… What are they doing with the $30 billion?

    And $9 billion for airport upgrades??? See above.

    So what is our recourse? Who has the power to eliminate these charges that take our last nickel only to fill the BILLION $$ coffer of the airline industry? Hey, the planes aren’t the only ones being hit by high fuel charges. Everyone who owns a car feels it as well. So to drive to an airport to fly – talk about paying twice.

  12. Nelle says:

    Having to pay for aisle seat assignments, or not being able to choose a seat at all until the last minute: discrimination against claustrophobics… :-|

  13. jerrod kowalski says:

    A list like this is important so that we can gauge how much change is occurring and how fast; even though it makes me mad. I too have no issue with paying a fair price, but the nickel and dime stuff is a joke.

    Often I read that gen-Xers (a term I despise but I fall in the grouping as far as age goes) have no brand loyalty. I read this and I get angry. Its not that we have no brand loyalty but rather that we do not accept lies, deceit or trickery. Everyone should be loyal, but no one should reward tricky deceitful liars; I won’t. So i changed my airline affiliations a few years back.

    Sad thing is that list does not even cover the big issues. The practice of banning spare batteries is forcing us to bring every charger on every trip. We need more gear to entertain us while delayed and so the bags fill up with more junk to help us cope. Don’t get me going on the punitive measures for planning ahead only to read about the woes of the travel industry for not have future booking “visibility” for the coming season.

    Then there is the mother of all displaced attempts to improve security (again, I like real security) with the Real ID / passport thing. Explain to me how it is we have to have a passport to travel within the same state? “Show me your papers!”, come on already. And yes, I fear that writing this could expose me to punitive “no fly” action, but as has been said in many ways “those who would trade liberty for temporary security deserve neither”. I encourage everyone to watch “the Entity” episode from South Park Season 5; that was 7 years ago and before everything on this list!

  14. Ron Gensemer says:

    Things that make me crabby:
    Boarding by “Zone” – If you’re in Zone 7 or 8, forget about an overhead! Speaking of which, if you’re in 9c, the bin above you belongs to you, not the guy in 26b! You paid for the seat after all.
    While we’re at it, how about charging for excess size and weight for carry on luggage. IMO, nothing larger or weighing more than a laptop and it’s case should be allowed as carry on or you pay a $25 surcharge.
    Thanks for letting me vent.

  15. Sam says:

    Just having booked a flight from UK to France on Flybe, seat assignment costs $20 per seat and $40 if you want an exit seat !!! What is next…

  16. Jeanne says:

    Ron, you apparently never traveled with children! As a mom of two littles one, I cram my carry-on and theirs with stuff to keep them from annoying all the business travelers. A bag the size of a laptop would keep them amused about as long as it takes to get through security.
    Peace, my friend.

  17. Marcia says:

    Airline Websites that don’t work! 4 CRABS!!!
    Any airlines that posts a website should be able to make it operational and intuitive if they expect us to use it. And when it does not function correctly, I would expect the people answering the 800 number to at least ACT like they are working for the same airline. Getting double tickets or no seat assignments because the web site doesn’t work correctly is NOT the way to keep customers. And calling to get things straightened out does not sooth the savage beast within me when the first thing I get to hear is how I should … GO TO THE WEB SITE!

  18. john wharton says:

    After making a booking thru travelocity and getting a confirmation that we would have ticketless e-ticketing, we were again contacted by e-mail and required to accept paper tickets for our flight and to pay a $35.00 fee to have paper tickets that we did not want.
    This was just after attempting to book a ticket thru Expedia, where when we had all details and were ready to book, Expedia came in with a notice of new pricing for our trip that was 2x the previously offered price; take it or leave – “we are sorry”.
    Really tough to book tickets from SE Asia either on line or thru a local agent. John Wharton

  19. Denise says:

    I just flew American Airlines to San Fransico. They were charging 10 dollars for a turkey and swiss sandwich with a bag of chips. I was lucky I brought food on, but the poor tourist from other countries and others had no choice but to pay. If you can fly another airline, at least they will give you food even if it is a snack. AA must be either desprate or just plain greedy for cash.

  20. judy says:

    Item #10 is the easiest to bypass. I carry an empty water bottle through security, and then fill it at the water fountain. Cost: Priceless!

  21. cwrc11 says:

    I dugg this story in the hopes that people will read it and start rebelling or demanding better treatment!

  22. Rich says:

    You forgot the fee airlines charge if you arrive at the airport early and want to switch to an earlier flight to your same destination. They sock you with a change fee even thought you want to fill a seat that will otherwise go empty and you’re giving them more time to try to sell the seat you’ll be vacating on a later flight. Forget the fact that by taking the earlier flight, you’re making their life easier when the later flight is invariably cancelled due to a heavy dew, inebriated pilot, or solar flares in a gallaxy far far away…

  23. Marjorie says:

    What’s next, pay toilets?

    These irritating little nit-picking surcharges should be sent to the scrap-heap. The airlines need money. Let them charge a fair price (meaning: the carriers make a reasonable profit, without having to rape business/last minute/first class passengers in order to do so) for all seats and let market forces determine where the fares should be.

    I for one would be very willing to pay more for a flying experience that wasn’t horrifying from start to finish.

  24. Jerry Chancy says:

    Booked tickets mem to Jackson, wy for sept/oct in march at good price with frontier. They are pulling out of mem June 1. Call them and they said we are rebooked on a 6am flight out of nashville and back to nashville ariving at 10:45pm. We are 3 1/2 hours from Nashville. They said that or refund. Another airline out of mem is now $275 more each. This is outrageous.

  25. Jim says:

    All of these nuisance fees are more reasons to attain elite status on at least one airline alliance so you can avoid the baggage and seat assignment ones. The fees that get me are the ones that you cannot avoid, such as all of these facility fees and government charges. At least when I fly to Detroit I see the facility charge at work with the McNamara Terminal. What a joke to pay for a new parking garage at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield. Parking fees should pay for the parking garage. Your next column can be about these absurd car rental and hotel ‘taxes’ that are levied, such as the $2 per room night that paid to build the new Kansas City convention center. On your next trip to Omaha you will be paying to build a new baseball stadium (not that we need one).

  26. Peter says:

    xjet has to be one of the better-kept secrets – flew them a couple of times last year, highly recommended!

  27. Charlene van Someren says:

    I think the charge for the second bag is totally rediculous! We are scuba divers, and your dive gear ALONE weighs in at about 35 lbs, plus the weight of the bag. Sports equipment never used to be counted as regular luggage in the “good old days”, and was exempt. They need to bring back the free sports equipment rule not only for divers, but skiiers, golfers, boarders, surfers and the likes of us out there.

  28. KC says:

    Ref: Crabby Scale… Rick, your only 4-crabs ? I’m an infrequent traveler and I’m incensed (definitely at the 7-8 crab level on almost all of these items). I’m fed up with “high fuels costs, tax after tax, fee after fee…business-as-usual” attitude by the airlines, aiports, & the government. Clearly no one is watching where these fees are going to and ost are going to prop up poor operations planning & profits. The industry needs a complete overhaul. Truly passengers are seen as just cattle needing to be transported from here to there…only cattle with a vaccum pump attached to their wallet. What’s a cow to do to combat these issues ? We are powerless to change them it seeems.

  29. Topher says:

    We need a “Customer Fee Schedule”. Under this fee schedule:
    Advance Schedule Change Fees
    1. anytime an airline changes our flight schedule by more than 20 minutes, they have to pay yhe ticket holder a $150 change fee. If the change results in a delay (froom the original itenerary) of more than 1 hour, the change fee is $200 plus any change in fare.
    2. anytime an airline changes equipment which alters the seat assignment, they pay the customer $25.

    Airport Change Fees
    1. Late plane arrivals and departures will cost the airline $25/hour per passenger.
    2. Tarmac waits are $50/hour for the first hour and $100/hour for each additional hour or fraction thereof.

    Miscellaneous Fees
    1. Any fee the airline imposes upon a customer, is also imposed upon the airline.
    2. If a customer has no bags to check they receive $25 for not checking a bag (or whatever an airline charges for a second bag).
    3. Lost or misplaced bags are $100/day. No maximum.
    2. Late plane departures

  30. foxzulu says:

    As to “hidden fee”
    Bring an empty bottle, half gallon if necessary, and refill at the drinking fountains past security. THAT water is safe to bring on board.
    Drink up!

  31. Steve says:

    We need to organize ourselves and get the airline industry re-regulated. When regulation of the industry ended 1n 1979, it was a good thing, as fares dropped and competition increased. However, now that we have no viable interstate passenger rail system (Amtrak? Don’t make me laugh!), the only way to travel long distances is by air. The pendulum has swung all the way back and the airlines now are essentially free to do whatever the hell they want to do. We don’t see all these problems in Europe because long distance train travel in Europe is easy, fast, and relatively economical (in other words, you don’t have to fly if you don’t want to).

    I have already written both my U.S. Senators and my Congressman about this. We should all do the same. Let our legislators know that this runaway monopoly industry needs to be back under FAA regulation. And let’s hope the next administration will do this quickly before the mergers create one giant airline (DeltAmericaNorthUnitedental?) that dictates fares and fees.

  32. mlou says:

    In the days when a gallon of gas was 30 cents, it cost upwards of almost $600 to fly R/T from JFK to SLC. The airline schedules were available on every plane for the taking, and (all O/W) city pairs showed not only the flights, but the fares for F/C and Coach. When half-price student fares were offered in the late 60′s, it still cost us about $300 to fly that route. And the meals were good! With inflation factored in, todays cost to fly would be astronomical.

  33. Charlie says:

    I hate it when you board, and the flight attendants have placed ‘their’ bags in the bin above YOUR seat… and the ones in front of you are all filled up – and you have to go back further to place your bag… and try to fight the traffic getting off – to retrieve your bag.

  34. glenna says:

    Brilliant Topher! When I first started flying things were so simple. you purchased your ticket, you went to the airport,boarded your flight, got a small meal back then,or at least a snack and drink, non alcoholic. I understand that since 9/11 things have had to change, but I think that the airlines and airports have kind of used this as an excuse to take advantage of the public. I realise the gas prices are a contributing factor now, but it effects all of us, I think we need to go to the people responsible for this mess. WASHINGTON!

  35. Kim Hansen says:

    Let us get to the point. We all like to or need to go from point A to point B, and the airlines have facilitated this means of transportation as the better or several evils for most of us. It has, however, now turned into a method to see just how much can I squeeze the flying public without having reasons. I say stop writing about it, but let the agencies prove that the money collected is being used for the stated purpose. If they claim it and have been protected to charge these insane amounts / show that it is being used right and that it is still necessary. If we cannot bring liquids and eateables through the security, why not make cheaper foods available on th eother side ??? Let us face it this has become a licence to screw the public – US$ 7.50 for a hot dog – let’s get real and stop justifying what has become a legitimized robberry

  36. Jen says:

    The airline industry is going to shrink as they make it harder and more expensive for the average person to fly. They are going to deregulate themselves right out of business. At this point, I will do anything to avoid getting on a plane, it has become such an excruciating experience. I understand that their fuel costs are skyrocketing, I would understand an additional fuel charge, but all these extra charges are preposterous!

  37. Rebecca says:

    I don’t mind paying a little extra to get a good seat, but on my last flight (NW), they CHANGED my seat and I was NOT reimbursed for my choice seat!! I wrote, I called… to no avail… seems to be their right to change you to another “similar” seat as needed. However the similar seat was next to the bathrooms, 15 rows further back and no seat to stow my purse under, so had to put it in the overhead 5 rows up. Seems to me if you pay for it you should get it… not be moved!!

  38. jake lindsay says:

    Here is a curious one. While not a fee per se, it is another limitation on trying to use your air miles on USAir. I have made reservations for my daughter and her fiance (they will be married late in June) to fly to Hawaii in August for their honeymoon as my wedding present to them. When I made the reservations I was told to just call the mileage upgrade line to upgrade these seats to first class.
    Well, I have called at least five times now, and they tell me that I cannot upgrade these seats because they still have a chance to be sold, and the earliest I can get an upgrade is the day before the flight. I believe this is a misrepresentation and leading me into a false impression that I even had a chance to upgrade these seats.
    USAir is the only airline that I have had a problem with in this area. Now I see they want to merge with United, well why not they have ruined American West so far why not ruin United and USAir together now.
    I give this a four crab level!!


  39. Darren says:

    Rick, I had a similar rant about airlines and the proposed charges by US airlines for window and aisle seats. It’s scandalous that airlines are treating consumers this way.

    The only way to stop this stupid charging is for passengers to vote with their feet and not pay for extras. I travelled recently with my backpack as hand luggage and left the suitcase at home.

    I saved money and helped the environment (a little)


  40. Roamin Fred (uk) says:

    You lot over the other side of the pond havnt seen everything yet, we poor europeans pay for nearly everything, and the cheap airlines are some of the worst, they charge you extra to book over the phone, seats are all priced at differant levels, even the emergency door seats they charge a premium for, lugguage weights for the hold, jet2 free up to 17 kg then whopping extras, WE ARE JUST WAITING FOR THE TOILET CHARGE TO COME INTO BEING, you might laugh, but they will eventually charge

  41. anne says:

    I think this page should be sent to the FAA, to every airline, to every congressperson and every senator.

  42. Dawn says:

    I for one am happy that they are charging people for the extras they use. I want my flights as cheap as I can get them and don’t want my fare to go up so so everyone can check two bags. If I want an aisle seat, I’ll pay more for it. Essentially, the airlines are giving a well deserved discount to people who are stuck in middle seats. I look at it like a cafeteria — you pay for what you want.

  43. susan says:

    I am at a 10 crab level!! Had to fly to Greensboro, NC on business….sick with a TERRIBLE cold.
    Now I know why USAIR is rated #1 as the worst in customer service.
    I was late (6 minutes)for check in on my return flight…they wouldn’t let me on the flight…it had just
    started boarding..I could have made it. I’ve been on flights where they have RE-OPENED the plane door to let on someone who was running late.
    BUT…the real kicker was….There was a young black man that they let get on. He arrived at the same time as I did…there were all black agents at the USAIR counter….so tell me…DISCRIMANATION????? Of course. They have lost another customer

  44. john says:

    Clearly the goal in this country is to get us to stop flying. Companies are cutting travel expense forever. My company went from over 10k flights a year to now less than 1k flights a year. We use telecommuting equipment all over the world and our profits are soaring.

  45. paccoman says:

    Talk about out-of-date; the most recent comment is over six months old. I only fly a few times a year and am disappointed the change fee list appears old, but grateful as a few other oldsters have been that we can still fly so inexpensively. Im happy my pilots spend the extra time to getme in the air and then when they get there they spend the extra time to avoid major storms and get me to my destination. If it werent for the TSA bullshit, Id look forward to my trips. great idea on the water bottle !!

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