Some Alaska travelers expressed disappointment Thursday when Alaska Airlines announced it will start charging July 7 for a first checked bag, like most other airlines.
Seattle-based Alaska Air Group said customers traveling between Alaska airports won't have to pay the $15 fee. They can still check three bags for free.
"It's a real shame," said June Pinell-Stephens of Fairbanks during a stop at Anchorage's international airport on Thursday afternoon.
Too many people are already trying to squeeze their too-big bags into overhead compartments instead of checking them, she said.
"It's only going to get worse."
Some fliers will be exempted from paying the fee. First-class passengers, unaccompanied minors, elite frequent fliers, military personnel on active duty and passengers traveling to or from Mexico City and Guadalajara, Mexico, won't be charged for their first checked bag. The airline said it is extending its free-bag policy to certain Mexican airports because they also have special circumstances similar to Alaska: a large number of families traveling with many bags.
"Fifteen dollars is the standard that most airlines are charging," said Bobbie Egan, an Alaska Airlines spokeswoman.
"We're adapting to the marketplace," she said.
Some Alaska Air customers said Thursday they don't see much difference between the baggage fee and a ticket price hike. Some said they might prefer the latter because the baggage fee might lead to over-stuffed compartments and boarding delays.
"It's just a different way of increasing the rates," Eagle River resident Kurt Karns said.
Starting July 7, the new fee will be assessed for any tickets purchased on or after May 1, Alaska Air said.
If a trip is booked through multiple carriers, the fee will be charged only for the departing and returning flights, unless a traveler purchases multiple tickets for stops in different hubs, Egan said.
Only a couple of major airlines in the United States don't charge a fee for the first bag: Jet Blue and Southwest. Southwest allows its passengers to check two bags for free.
Alaska Air also said it will pay passengers if their luggage is not at baggage claim 25 minutes after their flight parks at the gate.
If their baggage is late, customers will receive 2,500 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles or $25 off a future flight, Alaska Air said.
"We're the first in the industry to offer a delivery guarantee," Egan said.
Alaska Air already charges $25 for second bags checked for flights outside Alaska. That started last July.
SMALLER LOSS REPORTED
Alaska Air announced it is starting the first-bag fee during its first-quarter report Thursday.
The company said it lost $19.2 million in the first quarter of 2009 compared to a year-ago loss of $37.3 million. The airline company typically loses money in its first quarter.
Revenue came to $742 million, compared with $840 million a year ago.
Alaska Air Group's adjusted first-quarter loss was 70 cents a share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected Alaska Air Group to post a first-quarter loss of 49 cents a share on revenue of $735 million. Analysts generally exclude one-time items from their estimates.
Shares of Alaska Air fell about $2.44, or 12 percent, to $17.38 on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday.
"While our first quarter financial results improved over last year due to a significant decline in fuel cost, we're disappointed to report a loss for the quarter. To minimize the impact of the steep decline in air travel demand, we have reduced our schedules, reallocated capacity and taken fare actions," said Bill Ayer, Alaska Air's chief executive.
Alaska Airlines' mainline passenger traffic in the first quarter declined 8 percent, although the number of seats available compared with the same months of last year dropped 9 percent, meaning more seats were filled on a typical flight.
Alaska Air is the main airline linking Alaska to the Lower 48.
Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317. The Associated Press contributed to this story.
By ELIZABETH BLUEMINK