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Be prepared to pay to Delta Airlines while checking a bag

Anastasia Dagaeva
December 12, 2017

The transatlantic market has seen lower fares in recent years with the arrival of low-cost carriers like Norwegian and WOW Air, forcing legacy carriers to respond by dropping their fares on international flights. In an effort to compete better with those budget airlines, Delta has quietly changed its baggage policy and will now start charging basic-economy passengers for checking bags on several international routes. The routes where it does not compete directly with discount airlines. 

Yes, fees for checked luggage are finally coming to transatlantic routes, at least for flights on one major airline alliance. After April 10, 2018 Delta Airlines will charge $60 for the first checked bag to customers who buy the airline’s cheapest fares, called Basic Economy, according to an update on its website. The no-frills fares, which Delta had been selling within North America for several years, come without many perks passengers expect, including advanced seat assignments and upgrades for elite frequent flyers, reports Skift

If you purchase a Main Cabin or Delta Comfort + fare your first checked bag will still be free. And while Delta’s main transatlantic partners, Air France and KLM, don’t offer true Basic Economy, they also will soon start charging almost $59 for a first bag on their cheapest fares. 

This is believed to be the first time a legacy US or European airline has charged for checked luggage on transatlantic flights, though other carriers likely will copy the practice. Both United Airlines and American Airlines sell similar no-frills fares in the Americas, and each seems likely to introduce them across the Pacific. 

US airlines collected nearly $4.2 billion in checked baggage fees last year. That sum could rise even more as airlines bring such fees international. European airlines tend not to have Basic Economy fares, but some airlines, including British Airways, have taken perks away from passengers buying the cheapest tickets. 

Although Delta is facing increased pressure to lower its fares on these routes because of low cost carriers, it doesn’t necessarily need to tack on these hefty fees, especially after making $1.72 billion in profits in Q3 alone. Will American, United and other large carriers follow in Delta’s footsteps? If history is any indication, the answer is yes. 

“The success of that product in our minds is not how many people buy it, but how many people don’t buy it and choose another product,” Delta president Glen Hauenstein said in October on the airline’s third-quarter earnings call. Skift contacted representatives for United Airlines and American Airlines but they said little about plans. Both said their carriers had not yet announced plans to implement a Basic Economy fare to Europe. That means, for now, bags still fly free on all fares. But that may change soon.