Alaska Airlines adding checked bag fee

SeaTac-based Alaska Airlines will join the flock of airlines imposing a fee for the first checked bag, the airline announced Thursday.

That announcement came as Alaska revealed a $19.2 million loss for the first quarter. The loss, however, was an improvement over the first quarter of 2008, when the airline lost $37.3 million

The new baggage fee of $15 for the first checked bag matches the fee charged by most major airlines, with the notable exception of rival Southwest.

Alaska included a guarantee, however, in return for that new fee: Passengers will receive 2,500 Alaska miles or $25 off their next Alaska flight if their bags don’t appear at the baggage claim within 25 minutes of their plane parking at the gate.

“We’re adapting to a marketplace in which customers increasingly want the lowest fare possible, with the option to pay extra for other services,” said Alaska Chairman Bill Ayer. “We want to continue matching the lowest fare in the market without being at a revenue disadvantage to our competitors.”

Exempt from the bag fees will be MVP and MVP Gold Mileage Plan members, unaccompanied minors, military personnel on active duty and passengers traveling to and from Mexico City or Guadalajara, Mexico. Travelers within the state of Alaska will pay nothing for the first three checked bags.

The new first bag fee will be effective for tickets purchased beginning May 1 for flights beginning July 7 or later.

The airline, meanwhile, decreased the fee for the third checked bag from $100 to $50 and kept the second checked bag at $25.

The fee charges came against a backdrop of first quarter losses.

Even so, those losses were better than last year’s first quarter, in part courtesy of lower fuel costs this year and the airline’s efforts to refine its schedule.

The global recession has taken a bite out of Alaska’s traffic, which was down 7.7 percent in the first quarter. But the airline cut capacity more, 9.3 percent, resulting in its aircraft operating closer to capacity, 75.7 percent, up 1.3 percentage points over the same time last year.

Meanwhile at sister regional carrier Horizon Air, first quarter traffic dropped 20.4 percent on a capacity decrease of 16.5 percent. The airline’s revenue per available passenger mile decreased by 0.7 percent while expenses increased 5.8 percent.