UPDATED: Billions for airline change, cancellation, other fees

UPDATE: I posted the entry below Thursday evening. USA Today looked deeper into the release of news by a federal agency about change and cancellation fees. Here's a report on how much total revenue, including bag fees et al, airlines collected in the first half of 2009.

The U,S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics released a report today on the revenue U.S. airlines get from fees they charge to change or cancel a ticket. And despite how long I've followed the airline business, the numbers stunned me. The total for the first two quarters of 2009 were almost $1.2 billion. Yes, that's right, billion, and that's just for half a year.

The report -- and I can't remember seeing a breakout before by BTS of this data, although it may have been there all along -- broke out revenue data for most of the nation's scheduled airlines. The only carrier missing from the list ... try to guess now ... is Southwest. Of course. Southwest doesn't charge change fees so it has nothing to report.

Some of the big numbers for major airlines: American, $225 million; Northwest, $206 million; Delta, $187 million; United, $159 million; US Airways, $131 million; and Continental, $119 million. As just one example, American's revenue represents about 4.6 percent of its total revenue for the first six months of 2009.

Forgive me for not thinking much about this before, and thus my great surprise to realize how dependent most carriers are on the flow from each time a traveler has to make a last minute change. That will be $100 for a change in a computer system that costs pennies, and these days, may well free up a seat on a flight for sale at a higher fare. I won't ask again if any airlines might consider doing the consumer-friendly thing and reduce or eliminate some of the fees. They've got us right where they want us. 

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