In Praise Of Baggage Fees

I’ve only flown Spirit Airlines once and hated everything about it. I didn’t know too much about the ala carte airline so I was surprised to be charged for my carry-on and then see the beverage “service” be anything but. Had to take a red eye back home, too. The only good thing I can say is that someone else paid for my ticket.

So it did seem like divine retribution when Spirit hit the headlines twice last week – once for its new $100 charge to bring a carry-on past the gate – rather than pay $35 online or $50 at the counter – and again for its bone-headed decision not to refund the ticket of a dying veteran. What part of "dying" and "veteran" are we not supposed to understand?

After a good pillorying in the press and a “Boycott Spirit Airlines” Facebook page earned more than 30,000 “likes,” the airline did give the man his money back.

Great news on the second count, but what’s this? Charging passengers extra for checked baggage is a good deal for both consumers and airlines.

That’s the verdict of a report by IdeaWorks Co., a Wisconsin aviation consulting firm. The report argues that services consumers pay for are often better than services they get for free.

Ever since baggage fees were introduced “baggage service has improved considerably,” the report says. “By charging fees, once neglected baggage service departments have become star revenue performers for airlines that generate millions in revenue.”

We doubt that for two reasons: 1) Airlines have added (“padded”?) to the time it takes them to fly the same routes. 2) There’s less checked baggage to deliver since everyone is shoving as much as they can into a carry-on. You can read the full report here. (Ironically, it's free.)

This brings us back to Spirit and a more spirited defense of baggage fees over at this post. Author Jordan Weissman suggests that we need more not less baggage fees since a traveler who brings a small item that can fit under the seat is “subsidizing the jerk four rows up who packed a bowling ball in his duffel bag.”

I think I know that guy.

Of course, the main problem with most of these fees is what another one of my favorite aviation bloggers sums up as the “to-be-sure paragraph.” More on that here.

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