Free Checked Bags, Other Changes on the Way at AirTran

Ever since Southwest acquired AirTran in 2010, the two airlines have been slowly meshing into one mega discount carrier. There have been some adjustments, including route-map alterations and the demise of AirTran's business class. Now in a squarely consumer-friendly move, AirTran will adopt Southwest's "Bags Fly Free" policy of allowing passengers to check up to two pieces of luggage at no cost. One of these days.

While no exact date has been announced, changes are definitely brewing in the bag-fees department right now. AirTran's more customer-friendly baggage policy has arrived—in part. Starting April 10, the airline's rules regarding overweight, oversized, and excess bags will change to match Southwest, with one big exception. Here's what will be different:

  • Overweight Baggage

Now: AirTran charges $49 for bags weighing 51 to 70 pounds and $79 for bags weighing 71 to 100 pounds.

Starting April 10: AirTran will charge $50 per piece of luggage weighing 51 to 100 pounds, matching Southwest's policy.

  • Oversized Baggage

Now: AirTran charges $49 for bags with dimensions from 62 to 70 linear inches (combining length, width, and height) and $79 for bags with dimensions from 71 to 80 linear inches.

Starting April 10: AirTran will charge $50 for each bag with dimensions from 62 to 80 linear inches, matching Southwest's policy.

  • Excess Baggage

Now: AirTran charges $50 for each additional bag after you've checked two bags.

Starting April 10: AirTran will charge $50 for each additional bag after you've checked two bags and $110 for your 10th bag and each bagthereafter. AirTran's new excess-baggage policy matches Southwest's plan—sort of. Southwest charges $50 for bags three through nine and $110 for the 10th bag and beyond.

But Southwest's celebrated "Bags Fly Free" policy is notably absent from the picture. As of April 10 AirTran will have adopted all of Southwest's baggage fees except for the one that packs the biggest punch for travelers: those two free checked bags (AirTran currently charges $20 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second).

What's the delay? Southwest Airlines Co. (the company that operates both Southwest and AirTran) is milking the revenue until the merger is complete. A spokesperson for Southwest told us, "Once the integration is complete, everything will be under the Southwest Airlines brand with our Bags Fly Free policy. As you know, the integration process could take up to two years to complete."

While Southwest Airlines Co. bides its time, the company continues to rake in millions in baggage fees via AirTran's pricey policies. According to government statistics, AirTran made about $128 million from baggage fees during the first three quarters of 2011, compared to Southwest, which earned just $24 million in revenue.

So it could be a while before you can cart a couple of extra pieces of luggage on an AirTran flight without forking over 45 bucks (each way). But let's look on the bright side: When the merger was first announced, some travelers worried that Southwest would adopt AirTran's fees, annihilating Bags Fly Free altogether. But thankfully, that policy is here to stay.

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(Photo: Shutterstock/linerpics)

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