Spirit Airlines has officially started its policy of charging for carry-on luggage.

Honestly, I don’t really have a problem with it. I mean, I prefer fewer charges to more charges, but if you’re going to charge for checked luggage, it only makes sense to charge for carry-ons. Failing to do so creates inefficient incentives. I was behind a woman at the Alexandria airport that had three carry-ons/personal-items. Now, we’re only allowed to take two on the plane, but that’s not really security’s business. She just checks her third bag at the gate. That is a courtesy that the airlines provide for those that have something they can’t really check, such as a stroller, or accidentally bring on luggage that they can see won’t fit. It’s not meant to sidestep checked-luggage fees. It ads time to security screening, which is always a process of indeterminable length. It ads time to the boarding process as lines get held up by people trying to cram their bags in overhead bins. It ads time to the security line.

Generally speaking, I think things that discourage people from packing more are on the whole a good thing. I say this as someone that typically packs heavy. When I flew down to Delosa, I actually used the fact that I had two checked bags for free on the flight back because off the kind of ticket I ordered to buy some stuff in Delosa and take it back with me on the plane. Taking advantage of a courtesy, just as the lady with the three bags did.

Along those lines, I think that people that limit themselves to a personal item (purse, laptop) ought to get priority through security. That’s another thing they could do do discourage people like me from taking everything under the sun.


Category: Market

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

13 Responses to Baggage Fees

  1. web says:

    The problem with the “fee fee fee” approach is that it’s become so dishonest.

    Carry-on luggage used to be fairly rare. Then the airlines had a bunch of scandals about checked baggage getting stolen from, and to follow up and add injury to insult, the airlines imposed extra fees for checked baggage. The natural consumer response was to resort to carry-on luggage, where you can keep your eye on it and not have to worry that you’re going to see your luggage coming out of the baggage rack with the zipper half-open and your clothing falling out all over the place and you don’t have to pay $50 for the “privilege” of being told “sorry, we don’t know where the fuck we shipped your clean underwear to, just go to Target and buy more” by a rude “customer service representative” who barely speaks english.

    Now, since they caused the carry-on problem with their own conduct, the airline solution is… impose a fee as a “disincentive” to having carry-ons? From a consumer perspective, we’re getting nickeled and dimed to death with hidden (or at the very least “not very well disclosed) fees.

  2. trumwill says:

    I might agree with you on the (undisclosed nature of) fees in general, but I can’t think of a single fee that has been as well-disclosed as the luggage fees.

    The carry-on problem has to be broken down between sources. There’s no excuse for losing luggage*. My biggest complaint, the amount of time it takes to check bags in and then get them at the carousel, is probably unavoidable (without fare or fee hikes to get more people).

    But the charging for checked bags, while annoying, is on the whole not unreasonable, in my view. I objected like hell to it at first, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I probably prefer that then raising everybody’s fares. The same goes for carry-ons. You simply factor that into the price at the outset. Better yet, you can make your flight cheaper by packing less.

    Ordinarily, I prefer simple price models to more expensive ones, and I don’t like the idea that they’re going to start charging for every penny-ante thing (I’m glad that one airline was stopped in its tracks when it wanted to charge for restroom usage!). But luggage I think I can deal with.

    * – I had my luggage lost a few years ago. The airline, Delta I think, was actually pretty good about it. They drove the luggage 400 miles to my final destination as soon as they found it, the next day. My brother had his luggage lost last year. It seems that it takes them about a day to find it. I’ve started keeping a change of clothes (minus jeans, which are re-wearable) in my carry-on. If it gets lost at a time when I don’t have a carry-on because I wanted to save money… well, I am not all that bothered by the prospect as long as it is found within a day or so. I just go to Walmart and pick something else out to tide me over. It would be good if, in addition to getting the luggage to you wherever you are, they had some sort of financial compensation the same way they do if you’re stuck in an airport overnight due to a mechanical failure.

    couple trips back to Delosa. It was during a trip to Genesis across the state. Anyhow, the airline was really good about it and had no problem delivering it several hundred miles when they tracked it down the next d

  3. web says:

    Will,

    Part of the dishonesty about the luggage fees, though is that they are exorbitant. If it were that they were discounting the tickets by $X, and then charging $X for each bag (so the people who flew with none got a discount, the people who flew with one saw no real change, the people who flew with 2 saw a reasonable bump, and so on) that’d be one thing.

    But no. They discounted the tickets by maybe $10, and then they’re charging $40-50 per bag. Fly the same as you used to fly a few years ago when two checked bags and one carry-on was provided for in the ticket price (with an extra charge for a THIRD checked bag), and you just ate a $180 round-trip increase in price. Now they want to add on a carry-on bag fee on top of that? It makes me sick.

  4. trumwill says:

    There’s no question that the whole thing was an attempt to raise revenue. But… they needed to raise revenue. It was this or simply raise fares for everybody. So while you may have seen a $10 drop, what you really saw is a $10 drop instead of a $20 increase.

    I tend to cut the airlines some slack because, unlike the cable companies and insurance companies, they have to struggle mightily to make a profit and there is a fair amount of competition. So when they say “we have to raise prices”… I tend to believe them. And I prefer that they do so with luggage fees and other things I can opt out of or have some discretion over than simply raising my fares.

  5. web says:

    Will,

    The problem I have with it is the disparity. If I got a $10 “discount” instead of a $20 fare increase, logically, it should be $30 a bag. But it’s not.

    And the carry-on restrictions and fees are coming without any form of a change to the ticket costs at all.

    Sometimes I think the best thing that could be done would be convincing the US government to authorize a reintroduction of between-cities commuter rail. Rail runs between certain “couple hours away by car” urban metroplexes could very well take up much of the burden of the “short hop” airplane flights that are currently so wasteful and cost the airlines a lot of money.

  6. ? says:

    In general, I’m in favor of passing through marginal costs as much as possible. But I’m not sure what giving priority to people with only one personal item would look like. Would we wave them to the front? The guy with the carry-on would NEVER get through! Would we limit carry-ons to a specific line at security? I doubt there are enough people with carry-ons to fill a single security line’s capacity.

  7. trumwill says:

    The problem I have with it is the disparity. If I got a $10 “discount” instead of a $20 fare increase, logically, it should be $30 a bag. But it’s not.

    It’s less than $30 a bag on every airline I have flown on.

    The point here is that they needed to get the revenue somehow. This came at a time when most of the airlines were losing money. They had to cut services, cut routes, increase fares, or increase fees. Choosing between those four options, I’ll take the last (though ultimately they did some of all four). They needed to find some way to return to profitability and this was a part of the package that did.

    And the carry-on restrictions and fees are coming without any form of a change to the ticket costs at all.

    Spirit is the only airline toying with this model, as it stands. They’re a small airline that is probably needing the capital to expand.

    Airline pricing is a pretty competitive game. They can’t really get away with much because then some other airline’s price is lower. That’s why their profit margins are so low and any time anything goes wrong (9/11, gas prices spike, volcano ash) they go into the red very quickly. It’s an industry that spends a whole lot of the time struggling to get by.

    Rail runs between certain “couple hours away by car” urban metroplexes could very well take up much of the burden of the “short hop” airplane flights that are currently so wasteful and cost the airlines a lot of money.

    I think you’re right that they’re wasteful, but I don’t think they cost the airlines a lot of money. The historically most successful airline, Southwest, specializes in short hops. But they really do cause problems because they take up runway space that could be dedicated to flights that aren’t an easy drive away.

  8. logtar says:

    I have travel little this year, but when I have, the number of carryons seems to have been the same as it has been from recent years. I don’t want to pay any fees from bringing my backpack on the plane… I travel very light and for most trips that is my only luggage.

  9. trumwill says:

    I doubt there are enough people with carry-ons to fill a single security line’s capacity.

    If that’s true then there’s no way to. I assume the opposite, that most people have a carry-on. In which case, the priority is given by giving those that don’t have carry-ons a separate line. That would work even if there is parity as it takes less time for people to get through the line, though if most people don’t have carry-ons then that throws a wrench into the whole plan. I’ll have to take a look next time I am at the airport.

  10. trumwill says:

    Logtar, it sure seems to me that I have seen a change. At the very least, checking items at the gate which used to be a rarity is now pretty common. And it seems more difficult to find capacity in the overhead compartments than it used to.

  11. web says:

    Will,

    Almost *EVERYONE* has a carry-on of some sort. Briefcase, backpack, purse, something. To go on a plane flight without something to do – laptop, book, a snack since they took away even the in-flight snack – would be ridiculous.

  12. trumwill says:

    Web, In airline lingo, you’re allowed one carry-on and one personal item. The latter is defined as something that can fit under the seat in front of you, like a purse or a laptop (or a lightly-filled or smaller backpack). The former is any other bag that will fit in the overhead compartment. There’s also a third category, which are items too big for either place, which has to be gate-checked.

    I am referring to giving preference only to those with a personal item.

    For what it’s worth, Spirit Airlines is only charging for carry-ons (and gate-checked items, presumably), but not personal items.

  13. Mike Hunt says:

    Anything that be done to reduce carry-on items is positive in my book. People have really stretched the boundaries and have become a real nuisance about the whole matter.

    @2

    I’m surprised your situation didn’t happen on Psi Airlines…

    @11

    Both David Puddy and Jeff Greene get on airplanes with no personal items. They just stare at the seat in front of them.

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