Travel

United Airlines to start charging $15 for first checked bag

United Airlines, the nation's second-largest carrier, said today that it will begin charging $15 for the first checked baggage, becoming the second major airline to impose a fee for a service that long has been included in the air fare.

The charge for domestic travel follows a similar fee that American Airlines, the nation's largest carrier, will begin imposing for tickets purchased beginning Sunday. The United fee starts for tickets purchased beginning Friday.

Both airlines cited high fuel costs for the new fees, which are expected to generate $275 million in additional revenue for United.

Meanwhile, about 100 United Airlines pilots, flight attendants and machinists protested at the carrier's annual shareholders' meeting in Woodland Hills today, decrying senior executives for the way in which they are managing the airline and causing low worker morale.

United, the second-largest carrier at Los Angeles International Airport, has one of the worst on-time records of any major carrier and often ranks among the lowest in consumer satisfaction surveys.

Several union leaders said airline service has suffered because many employees are upset, particularly at a proposal to set aside stock worth about $130 million to fund a new incentive plan for executives just as the airline announced plans to slash up to 1,600 workers from the payroll. Last week, the airline said it would ground 100 planes to cope with mounting losses from escalating fuel expenses.

"The management's mantra has been 'shared sacrifice, shared rewards.' We've sacrificed, but it seems executives are the only one getting the rewards," said Todd Daniels, an 18-year veteran United pilot and co-chairman of communications for the Air Line Pilots Assn..

The proposed executive compensation program would come on top of the $150 million in stocks and options that executives received in 2006 shortly after the airline emerged from bankruptcy reorganization. A United spokeswoman said the incentives are needed to help the airline "attract, retain and reward exceptional senior leaders."

But Daniels said pay and benefits for pilots have been slashed by half since 2003, just before the airline filed for bankruptcy. United pilots gave up a total of $1.4 billion in compensation during the bankruptcy reorganization to keep the airline from going out of business, he said.

To illustrate their grievance, the protesters inflated a 15-foot-tall black rat holding two large bags of money at a park across the street from the hotel where the meeting was being held.

United workers also held up signs saying "Glenn's gotta go," a reference to top executive Glenn Tilton, at the entrance to the meeting at the Marriott hotel in Warner Center.

Tensions between senior managers and the airline's union have grown in recent weeks, particularly after two top executives of rival Continental Airlines announced last week that they would forgo pay this year because of the workforce cuts that the airline was forced to make amid the rising fuel expenses.

The unions stopped short of calling for Tilton's ouster, saying only that they were "not happy with the leadership." Tilton, who spearheaded the merger of oil giants Texaco and Chevron in 2001 before taking the helm at United, earned $10.3 million in salary and stocks last year.

The pilots' union also questioned United's decision to hold its annual meeting far from its headquarters in Chicago, where protesters disrupted last year's meeting. United spokeswoman Jean Medina said the airline chose a Southern California location because it could not find a place in Chicago.

"One can conjecture as to why they would move a meeting of a Chicago company to Woodland Hills, but one can guess that they didn't want a repeat of last year," Daniels said.

peter.pae@latimes.com

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