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Published: Saturday, 6/7/2008

Air travelers 'bagged'

FOR the average traveler, it's been a long time since flying was fun. Before taking your shoes off in the airport terminal was mandatory. Before that large bottle of shampoo in your carry-on became illegal.

Now American Airlines, the nation's largest carrier, has turned the aggravation up a notch with a $15 fee for the first checked bag. That's $30 extra per round-trip flight, in effect a 10 percent increase on the $331 average U.S. airfare.

But American's hit won't come only in the wallet. It will make matters worse in the cabin too. To avoid the checked-bag fee, more passengers will lug gargantuan luggage onto the skyway, down the plane's narrow aisle, and up to the overhead compartment.

Things were bad enough when passengers began hauling ever-bigger bags onto the plane just to avoid the post-flight hassle of the luggage carousel. Now there's a financial incentive to do so.

The other effect will be more travelers lining up in the skyway with large bags that airline employees try to divert from the cabin by tagging the pieces and loading them in a cargo hold below the plane. Lovely.

American's checked-bag fee, which will no doubt be emulated by other carriers, may make the airline happy. But for passengers it will slow a flight's loading and unloading, further jam the aisles and the overheads, and make the whole dreary experience more expensive.

Welcome to the increasingly unfriendly skies.

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