The Wall Street Journal

February 7, 2003

TAKEOFFS AND LANDINGS
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United Joins Carriers
Charging for Baggage

By PAUL GLADER
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
February 7, 2003

Another day, another airline rule change.

United Airlines has started charging $25 for each piece of checked baggage that weighs 50 pounds or more on domestic flights, replacing its policy of $80 for baggage heavier than 70 pounds. Items over 100 pounds will be turned away, though the carrier's cargo arm will accept them from known shippers.

That follows similar moves by American and Northwest. "Over a third of our on-the-job lower-back injuries were attributable to lifting bags," says a spokeswoman for Northwest, which in December started charging $25 each way for every bag weighing more than 50 pounds and $50 each way for every bag over 70 pounds. (Bags over 100 pounds don't fly at all.)

Most major carriers are likely to follow, considering some have already started charging for meals. "Baggage is just the latest area," says Bill Cippolla, president of Virtual Bellhop, a Chicago luggage-delivery company. In the past month, its business has been up 20% as more passengers worry about the weight limits as well as delays caused by new checked-luggage screening rules.

Bad News, In-Flight

For nervous fliers, the rise of live television onboard planes may mean seeing some disturbing images.

Passengers on JetBlue flights last weekend saw live TV broadcasts covering the space shuttle Columbia disaster, including video of the craft breaking up. Though airlines have long screened movie and video footage to edit out potentially distressing images -- especially aircraft explosions -- that's not the case on the low-cost upstart, which has a no-censorship policy and had previously shown live coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to passengers on 10 planes. "Customers want to be treated like grown-ups," says spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones.

JetBlue's live TV is still an industry exception. Though United Airlines, for example, shows features from NBC during flights, they're canned reports updated once a month. Frontier Airlines, which is installing satellite-TV similar to JetBlue, hasn't yet decided whether they'll screen broadcasts. "We have the ability to turn the TVs off," says spokeswoman Tracey Kelly.

Exploring, From the Bus

Don't pack your coonskin cap.

For the next three years, history buffs will have plenty of options to celebrate the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's westward trek. But with travel entrepreneurs already lining up on riverbanks and mountain paths, plans for anniversary "adventures" don't exactly have the same level of derring-do.

That includes "legendary safari-style" five-day interpretive river trips in Montana and Idaho that promise sun showers and six-course meals, from Rivers Odyssey West in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. For $2,300, an eight-day bus tour from Missoula is offering passengers inspections of the site where Sacajawea, the original party's interpreter, was abducted. Montana Rockies Rail Tours, a high-end line, offers a $1,799 three-day trip that follows the explorers' water route. Back on board? There's Pacific Dungeness crab quiche with Bearnaise sauce for breakfast.

Doesn't all of this defeat the purpose of honoring the trailblazers? "Folks can come out here and see what Lewis and Clark saw," says Gia Fairchild, co-owner of Lewis and Clark Trail Adventures in Missoula.

Odds & Ends

Pop-Up Pirates: Why are Orbitz (orbitz.com) fares popping up when you're searching Expedia (expedia.com) and Travelocity (travelocity.com)? The online travel company has an agreement with Comet Systems, of New York, for the service, which has been downloaded, sometimes unknowingly, about 145 million times. While the pop-up ads turn off some consumers, Orbitz says it hopes the attempts to steal customers come across as a public service.

Write to Paul Glader at paul.glader@wsj.com

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