The airline industry seems to love following trends. So, it was refreshing to see five major airlines bucking what could become the latest bandwagon: fees for carry-on bags. Well, at least for now they are saying no.
Spirit Airlines sent the industry — and some lawmakers — into a tail spin when it recently announced that it would begin charging up to $45 for bags carried aboard. It is the first carrier to impose such a fee. Many travelers, especially frequent fliers, consider carry-on bags a necessity, not a luxury. They can also avoid costly check-in fees, which have become the norm. Spirit contends fewer passengers are likely to bring carry-on bags, which will help speed up security lines and empty planes faster. By giving passengers an a-la-carte option to purchase only what they need, the airline says it can keep its base fare low.
It will be worth watching to see if those benefits pan out and passengers come out ahead financially, which seems doubtful. The new fees take effect Aug. 1. Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) has strong-armed pledges from American, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways, and JetBlue not to charge for carry-ons. There was no indication, however, on how long they could live up to that promise. The airlines deserve credit for resisting the chance to ramp up revenues by adding yet another fee for passengers who now pay for meals, pillows, and checked bags — services that not so long ago were free.
As an added measure to discourage other airlines from following Spirit’s lead, lawmakers have introduced legislation to levy a tax on airlines that charge for carry-on bags. Bills are pending in both houses. Rather than legislate the fees, Congress should heed a suggestion from Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza and let consumers decide the market. Meanwhile, let the passenger beware.