NEW YORK — Airlines are introducing a new bevy of fees, but this time passengers might actually go for them.
Unlike the first generation of charges that dinged fliers for once-free services such as checking a bag, these new fees promise a taste of the good life, or at least a more civil flight.
Extra legroom, early boarding and access to quiet lounges were just the beginning. Airlines are now renting Apple iPads preloaded with movies, selling hot first class meals in coach, and letting passengers pay to have an empty seat next to them. Once on the ground, they can skip baggage claim, having their luggage delivered directly to their home or office.
In the near future, airlines plan to go one step further, using massive amounts of personal data to customize new offers for each flier.
“We’ve moved from takeaways to enhancements,” said John F. Thomas of L.E.K. Consulting. “It’s all about personalizing the travel experience.”
Carriers have struggled to raise airfares enough to cover costs. Fees bring in more than $15 billion a year and are the reason the airlines are profitable. But the amount of money coming in from older charges such as baggage and reservation change fees has tapered off. Revenue from bag fees in April, May and June fell 7 percent compared with the same period last year. So now the airlines are selling new extras.
Technological upgrades allow airlines to sell products directly to passengers at booking, in follow-up emails as trips approach, at check-in and on mobile phones minutes before boarding. Delta Air Lines recently gave its flight attendants wireless devices, allowing them to sell passengers last-second upgrades to seats with more legroom.
And just like Amazon.com offers suggested readings based on each buyer’s past purchases, airlines soon will be able to use past behavior to target fliers.
“We have massive amounts of data,” said Delta CEO Richard Anderson. “We know who you are. We know what your history has been on the airline. We can customize our offerings.”
Southwest has held off charging for most checked bags. But it sells plenty of other add-ons.
Recently, it introduced a way for people at the back of the boarding line on some flights to cut to the front for $40. It’s not a blockbuster seller — one person pays up every two flights — but with 3,600 daily flights, that nets $70,000 in extra daily revenue, or $25 million a year.