Airline fees: Nickel-and-diming or, as Delta says, adding ‘choices’?

Delta Air Lines president Glen Hauenstein at an event on July 20, 2017 at the Delta Flight Museum. Chad Rhym/

Combined ShapeCaption
Delta Air Lines president Glen Hauenstein at an event on July 20, 2017 at the Delta Flight Museum. Chad Rhym/

As two senators push for legislation to limit airline baggage fees, Delta Air Lines says its the fees for extra services offer “choice in pricing.”

After a U.S. Government Accountability Office report this week scrutinizing airline fees, U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, who requested the study, said the report "confirms… that airlines are nickel and diming captive passengers to line their pockets, not to cover the costs of the services provided," according to a written statement.

The GAO report said officials from 10 U.S. airlines reported that key factors they use to determine the amount of a fee is demand and the price customers are willing to pay. Some said the cost of providing the service is not a factor.

Markety and Blumenthal pushed for legislation that would prohibit airlines from imposing fees "that are not reasonable and proportional" to the cost of services.

Atlanta-based Delta president Glen Hauenstein during a talk at an Atlanta Aero Club luncheon Thursday said fees for certain services give passengers "more and more choices."

“Before, you could only buy a ticket… and it was coach or it was first class. And the price for first class was 10 times what it was for coach,” Hauenstein said. But now, airlines provide more choices at different prices.

Delta over the last several years has been offering a bare bones “basic economy” fare that does not include advanced seat selection or the ability to change the reservation.

“If you are only worried about the fare, we have basic economy. You don’t get to chose a seat because we want to save those seats for people who pay us higher business fares later in the booking process,” Hauenstein said. It is “really competitive with what the [low-cost carriers] are offering across the board.”

DOT officials plan to monitor complaints related to Basic Economy fares to determine if consumers are experiencing any issues associated with these tickets, according to the the GAO report.

Separately, Hauenstein said the airline continues to order seat-back screens on its planes, while carriers including United and American have moved away from such screens on new planes because many travelers bring their own devices they can use to stream video.

Hauenstein said at Delta, “We continue to believe that people want to replicate what they do at home” while on the plane, watching TV while surfing the Internet on a device.


AJC Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi keeps you updated on the latest news about Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Delta Air Lines and the airline industry in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on, including these stories:

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