Travel agents are closely watching the airline industry’s reaction to low-cost Spirit Airlines’ move this week charging fees for carry on bags – a move the airline spins as the latest step in unbundling services to reduce the ticket price.
With the constant seemingly nickel and diming by the airlines, clients might decide that the hassle of traveling is not worth it, one agent said.
The Spirit Airlines press release states: “In order to continue reducing fares even further and offering customers the option of paying only for the services they want and use rather than subsidizing the choices of others, [Spirit] is also progressing to the next phase of unbundling with the introduction of a charge to carry on a bag and be boarded first onto the airplane.”
Effective with reservations on April 5 for travel after Aug. 1, carry on fees are $20 for members of Spirit’s $9 Fare Club who book online, $30 for other online bookers and $45 at the gate.
The carrier said that it has reduced its fees for checked bags.
“In addition to lowering fares even further, this will reduce the number of carry-on bags, which will improve inflight safety and efficiency by speeding up the boarding and deplaning process, all of which ultimately improve the overall customer experience,” said Spirit’s COO Ken McKenzie.
The airline's spokesperson, Misty Pinson, told Travel Market Report,"Early results show that customers love it because sales are up 50% over the same time last week, so we know they see what a great value this is for them."
Business Travel Coalition chairman Kevin Mitchell told Travel Market Report that Spirit’s move “is part solving a carry-on problem caused by checked bag fees and part a revenue play. But it’s the kind of policy that will likely bring a new level of scrutiny to the whole unbundling trend.”
Travel agents on the HBTACommunity.com discussion board echoed Mitchell’s analysis.
"Their excuse on taking too long to board with putting bags in the overhead bin is rubbish," says Les-Lee Roland, travel counsellor with the Package Deal in Sarasota, FL. "All airlines can better patrol the size of bags being brought on board and whether the limit is being exceeded. Also, having a flight attendant assist - that's long gone. They stand around and watch us struggle to find space. Why not make it a marathon run- you have 30 seconds to get onboard and store it- otherwise you lose it."
Roland's advice to customers: "People should just send their luggage Fed Ex to their destination for less."
And she provides this tongue-in-cheek look at future flight: "Soon airlines will force everyone to strip down to underwear, give us a prison issue jump suit, to go through security faster, put pay toilets onboard, charge for the wheelchairs and airport moving walkways."
Kevin Tremor of Ocean State of Mind Travel in Rhode Island wrote on the board: “This is a bold move, but one I would expect from Spirit, who are one of the kings of the nickel and diming of clients. They are trying to catch the revenue they are missing from people trying not check bags and stuffing them in the overhead.”
Boise, ID travel agent Tammy Rogers, of Dare to Dream Travel, stated that the Spirit move is taking merchandising to the extreme. The nickel and diming of passengers can add quite a bit to the cost of travel and Rogers said she would rather pay one ticket price to cover all services.
But, citing United’s lead in charging for checked bags, she will not be surprised if other airlines follow Spirit’s move.
Indeed, Linda Straight, vice president, director of operations of Great Southern Travel told Travel Market Report, “We do very little business on Spirit, but I felt a group 'rolling of the eyes.' It seems that what one airline does, often others quickly follow, so that is the concern. I understand the need to be profitable, but it seems that the most common method of generating income is by punishing the customer. My concern is that people will decide that travel in general is not worth the hassle.”
And will airlines start charging for the use of the inflight restrooms?
“I guess that we should be thankful they haven't started charging our clients to use the restroom,” Ron Stiles, Majestic Vacations, Portland, OR, stated tongue in cheek. But Ryanair is proposing to do just that on its flights in Europe.
Consumers participating in a poll posted on the Web site Airfarewatchdog.com overwhelmingly are opposed to paying extra for their bags – checked and carry on.
After 358 votes were recorded, the poll results showed: 6% responding “Yes, airlines should only charge for carry-ons but not for checked bags”; 6%, “Airlines should charge for both carry-ons and checked bags”; 14%, “Airlines should charge only for checked bags”; and 76%, “Airlines shouldn't charge for either.”
According to the site’s Airfarewatchblog, some of its readers have advocated for a carry-on fee to cut the time-consuming boarding process as passengers try to avoid the checked bag fees.
“If no one brought carry-on bags into a plane, wouldn't that plane spend less time on the ground, allowing the airline to utilize its aircraft more efficiently?”
Noting that Spirit’s carry-on fees are higher than the fees for checked bags, Airfarewatchdog states that the airline is probably trying to discourage carry-ons altogether to speed turnaround time and cut costs.
“We predict that more people will be using FedEx Ground and UPS Ground to handle their luggage. Maybe airlines should link to shipping companies, encourage passengers to use them, and take a commission from the fees.”
Could that be a revenue opportunity for travel agencies?