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Porter to charge baggage fee as carriers hit by rising costs

A Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft is parked on the tarmac at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Porter Airlines Inc. has become the first Canadian airline to bite the bullet and charge travellers on domestic flights a fee for their first checked bag.

The $25 fee will apply to flights starting May 14 that were booked as of April 21, Porter spokesman Brad Cicero said.

The question now is whether Canada's two largest scheduled airlines, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd., will follow suit as all three airlines face rising fuel costs and the drop in the value of the Canadian dollar.

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"This is something that helps us stay competitive on the routes that we enter," Mr. Cicero said. "You have base airfares dropping by as much as 60 per cent and other airlines using other methods to generate revenue and we're looking at opportunities in that area as well."

Porter charges a fee for the first bags travellers check on U.S. flights, so this makes the fees consistent across the board, he added.

WestJet appears further along than Air Canada in considering the fee.

"We're in that stage now of just talking through why that might make sense," WestJet chief executive officer Gregg Saretsky said in a recent interview. "Today about one-quarter of our guests don't even [check] bags, they bring them on board with them and yet there's a cost to carrying bags that is buried in the airfare that everybody pays."

Each one-cent drop in the value of the Canadian dollar costs about $15-million, so the drop of eight cents from par has cost the airline about $120-million, he said.

It's not guaranteed that Air Canada and WestJet will follow suit, said Robert Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc. "I think Air Canada and WestJet will dance with it a little bit," Mr. Kokonis said.

They could hope to gain some Porter passengers who don't want to pay the fee, he noted.

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It's a departure from the day when Porter was established, when the Toronto-based airline offered a lounge to all its passengers at Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport, as well as free wine or beer and free food on flights as well as free bags, he said.

Mr. Cicero said Porter is confident that its customer experience is still superior to that of other airlines.

Fees for bags and other services such as on-board meals and seat selection have become common at all airlines. "Airlines did have to re-invent themselves," Mr. Kokonis said. "The airline model of everything included, one size fits all, wasn't working and this is what's really been driving the whole [fee issue]."

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More

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