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A questionable way to avoid airline baggage-check fees

In the first six months of 2012, the nation’s largest airlines collected more than $1.7 billion in fees to check baggage.

One way to avoid such fees is to use an airline such as Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t charge for the first two bags. Another way is more questionable.

Eric Rose, a business consultant who travels frequently, came across the second method on a recent flight on Virgin America. He saw several passengers drag bags that were too big for overhead bins to the gate, only to have the gate attendant send the bags to the cargo hold without charging a baggage-check fee. The move saved the passengers $25 per bag.

Rose pointed out the loophole in an email to Virgin America’s chief executive, David Cush.

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Cush responded that the company had wrestled with the problem “quite a bit.”

In the email, he said the airline tries to spot passengers with too many bags at the security checkpoint. If a passenger reaches the gate with extra bags, he said, the gate attendants check the luggage without charging a fee so there is no delay in loading the plane.

Cush admitted it might not be the best solution. “Needless to say, people have figured out the drill,” he said.

The airline said later that Cush stands by the statements he made in the email.

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Follow Hugo Martin on Twitter at @hugomartin


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