We'll say it out loud: We sympathize with American Airlines. Any company that measures its fuel purchases by the hundreds of millions of gallons deserves a hug.

Still, the carrier seems to have crossed an invisible line by becoming the first A-list airline to charge people for the first checked bag.

In the previous century, the no-frills upstart PeopleExpress made headlines by unbundling baggage service and charging passengers to check a bag. More recently, Europe's Ryanair and other budget airlines have adopted similar practices.

But American is different. This is no niche player trading low frills for low fares. American is the world's largest full-service network carrier. And it has crossed into a new territory.

Some passengers say they don't mind fees for extra services, on the theory that it's OK to charge people only for the services they use.

That's a logic we can live with, except that American is waiving the $15 fee for certain travelers that it especially values. International passengers and high-mileage AAdvantage members are off the hook, as are those booking full-fare tickets.

But senior citizens, parents with children, those of low mileage and numerous others are being told that the bag that used to go into the hold for free now has to go up into the overhead bin, otherwise they owe $15.

What's wrong with this scenario is that the bag weighs the same and uses the same amount of fuel whether it's in the hold or in the cabin. So this fee is only a little bit about fuel. It's a lot about convenience and service and what the market will bear.

In a free market economy, there's nothing wrong with that -- but we're going to take back that hug.



Jetiquette

Jetiquette isn't a word, but it's a pretty good candidate for becoming one.

As reported in our news pages a fortnight ago, an enterprising American Airlines purser, Gailen David, has launched a business called Sky Steward that offers training to airline and travel people who interact with customers.

Jetiquette is his term for being nice to travelers and, more broadly, for fostering some basic civility for all concerned in the travel experience.

It goes without saying that jetiquette should be a job requirement for travel people, including airline check-in agents, gate agents and flight attendants, all hotel employees, motorcoach and shuttle operators, car rental employees, etc.

Perhaps it would help if travel sellers got in on the act, too. It might not be a bad idea to remind customers that the trek to and through the airport, the screening and boarding process, the deplaning, the connection, the transfer -- all of it -- might go more smoothly with jetiquette, too.

By that we mean being civil and cooperative with the baggage screeners and the check-in agents and nice to each other.

We suspect there are times when inconsiderate fellow passengers create as much angst and irritation as officious baggage screeners or surly flight attendants. As we head into another hot and congested travel season, a little jetiquette couldn't hurt.  

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