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Holiday travel: 6 things to know if you haven't been on a plane since last year


Joining the throngs of travelers boarding a plane this holiday season? If you haven’t been on a plane since last year’s Thanksgiving or Christmas getaway, a mixed bag of airline changes await. Among the bad news: Baggage fees are higher. On the positive side: You’ll find more free in-flight entertainment and instant messaging.

Here are six things infrequent fliers need to know before heading to the airport this holiday season:

1. Baggage fees are higher on most major airlines: JetBlue Airways started the trend in August, boosting fees by $5 to $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second bag. American, Delta, United and others soon followed. There are a few ways to dodge them. Southwest Airlines is the only U.S. airline to allow two free checked bags. 

2. No frills basic economy tickets are now a thing on several airlines, and they come with heavy restrictions: United, for example, doesn’t let basic economy passengers bring a standard carry-on bag.  (American and Delta do.) Show up at the gate with one and you’ll pay a minimum of $55 plus your bag will be checked, not brought on board. Check it at the ticket counter for normal baggage fees. Basic economy fliers on United, Delta and American also board last and get last-minute seat assignments. That means family members will likely be separated. Bottom line: check your ticket before you get to the airport to avoid any nasty surprises.

3. Those in-flight alcoholic beverages will cost you a little more: Southwest raised its drink prices in March, and American Airlines boosted its drink prices in October. And, no, you can’t save money by bringing your own minibottles of booze. That’s against FAA regulations.

4. Airlines are offering more free in-flight entertainment: American Airlines recently added free live TV on more than 100 planes, joining Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, among others. And Southwest Airlines just nixed its $5 charge for movies, joining Delta and American, which have offered free in-flight movies since 2016. The entertainment is offered on seatback screens or travelers’ personal electronic devices, so check with your airline before you go and make sure your devices are charged and your headphones are in your carry-on bag.

5. Staying in touch is cheaper, too: No, Wi-Fi prices haven’t gone down. But some airlines are allowing free instant messaging through apps including iMessage, Facebook Messenger and What’s App. (Options vary by carrier). Southwest eliminated its $2 messaging fee in September, joining Delta and Alaska. United Airlines offers free messaging on some flights.

6. Airline peanuts are becoming an endangered species: Southwest Airlines, which carries more passengers within the U.S. than any airline,  eliminated the salty snack on Aug. 1 due to concerns about passenger peanut allergies. Delta is the only major airline still serving peanuts in economy class.

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