Posted by Sheila Shayon on April 7, 2010 08:16 AM
In the true spirit of airline travel today, Spirit Airlines has announced it will charge upwards of $30 for every carry-on bag too large to squeeze under a seat – and that’s each way.
It’s an economic food chain: with airlines charging for more than one bag checked (begun in 2005), travelers are checking fewer bags. One out of every four travelers in 2009 did not check luggage at all. This has resulted in more cargo space left empty, and fewer fees for mishandled bags – so to make up the difference, the in-plane charge-per-bag has begun.
Ben Baldanza, CEO, Spirit Airlines, sums it up thus: “Nobody brings their package to FedEx or UPS and expects them to ship it for free.”
The real rub is that the financial boon to the airlines from baggage fees has set a precedent impossible to ignore. Bag fees skyrocketed from $464 million three years ago to $2 billion in nine months of 2009.
The US airline industry realized a savings of $94 million last year – largely due to luggage, according to SITA, the leading specialist in air transport communications. The general mantra of SITA is that passengers should change the way they pack and spread the positive, residual effect. “There’s less strain on the airline, less handling costs,” said Catherine Mayer, SITA VP.
Ireland’s Ryanair, champion of the cheap fare, is eliminating any and all checked baggage on certain routes at certain times. “People are packing way too much; women bringing four pairs of shoes, hair dryers, that sort of thing,” according to Ryanair’s communications director, Stephen McNamara. “Bringing a big bag and expecting it to travel for free, it’s too much to ask. It’s expensive to ship something heavy in an airplane when fuel prices are very high.”
Another hefty factor in this weight-related economic tug of war – the increasing girth of passengers. These days – everything that flies has to pay for itself. And this will require a change in consumer behavior. What was a precedent and tacit right, has now turned into an imposition with a fee.
The delicate balance between consumer and manufacturer, buyer and seller – the very essence of a capitalistic marketplace – is up for grabs once again, way up – in the skies.