With new carry on baggage fees, Spirit Airlines has lost this customer

by Chris on April 8, 2010

Spirit Airlines announced this week that it will charge carry on baggage fees, as well as continuing fees for checked luggage. Isn’t it time customers said enough?

Next week, I’ll be flying Spirit Air for the first – and last – time.

I bought my ticket on the Florida-based airline out of desperation a few weeks ago when I needed a flight to St. Thomas. Even though Spirit generally offers itself as a lower-priced alternative, my Caribbean tickets were neither cheap (about $488 after taxes) nor convenient (we’re flying out of Atlantic City, which requires a hotel stay the night before).

And I was already well aware that we’d have to shell out more money for the seat assignments themselves, a necessity when you travel with a guy topping 6’5, although I’m a little shocked at the prices ($20 for an exit row, $12 for an aisle). On a two-leg trip, those fees will easily reach another $100 round trip.

Because we’re going on a sailing cruise, we are traveling light – as in, one duffel bag used as a carry on. Turns out that it’s a good thing we’re traveling now, as in Spirit Air announced this week that it will be adding carry on bag fees of up to $45 to its arsenal of charges. That’s right. You will now pay to store your bag in the overhead bin (if you can squish your bag under the seat in front of you, there’s no charge), just as you have to pay if you check it. Analysts are speculating that other airlines may join Spirit in adding these charges, if it is a success.

I understand that airlines – and other passengers – have suffered since checked bag fees came into vogue. On my Delta flight home from Seattle this week, I noticed the chaos and frustration as people tried to stuff their rollies into the overhead bin. It’s a real hassle for flight attendants and travelers alike, not to mention potentially dangerous. As a dedicated aisle seat fan, I am waiting for the day that someone drops a huge suitcase on my head as they try to shove it in.

(I checked my bag – and you can see where that got me. We’ll see how long it takes to get my suitcase fixed).

But imposing fees for bringing any luggage at all is too much. Seriously. Airlines should make up their minds: either charge a fee for checked bags OR for carry on bags. But not both. Spirit’s new policy is the blatant money-making move that makes potential customers furious – so angry, in fact, that I will now go out of my way to avoid flying them.

And those are the feelings from someone who likes to travel. I often hear from others who don’t travel as much as I do and between the bag fees and the TSA security theater, they are fed up, particularly if they are older or have young children. In recessionary times, it’s been easier for these people to justify their decision not to travel, which doesn’t help anyone who makes their living in the industry.

In marketing circles, it’s called customer fatigue. And now that Spirit Air has done their part to perpetuate it, I hope other airlines see an opportunity to search for a creative solution for the baggage problem that treats the flier as a savvy shopper instead of an ATM.

In the meantime, Spirit is officially at the top of my own do-not-fly list. I suggest others add them as well. As customers, let’s try to stop this trend before it spreads throughout the unfriendly skies.

What are your thoughts on a carry on bag fee? Would a fee like this encourage you to seek out another airline?

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| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine April 8, 2010 at 9:46 am

Spirit has been on my do-not-fly list for a while. I believe I wrote about my Spirit experience in the comments on your blog post about worst travel experiences. I really hope none of the other airlines follow its lead in charging for carry-ons. If they do, I might consider just traveling without bags. If I’m going to have to pay to carry it with me, I might as well just shell out a few bucks more and ship my bag to my destination via FedEx or UPS. That way, I wouldn’t even have to deal with lugging it to and from the airport.

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Chris April 8, 2010 at 11:38 am

Christine – More travelers are starting to ship their bags ahead. Peter Greenberg, the CBS Travel Editor, told me that he does it all the time. It might be an easier way to go, if you know exactly where you are staying and there’s someone to pick it up.

Jen – This will be my first time flying out of AC – and now it probably will be my last. You are right, Spirit is not doing them any favors with this policy.

William – Uh oh. Your comment is making me think that I should shell out the money and get my husband one of the larger seats. Argh.

Joel – Even experienced travel writers make mistakes sometimes – and when we do, we can warn others! I’m with you, I really hope that Spirit encounters a huge backlash from all of this, so other airlines aren’t encouraged to copy them.

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Christine April 8, 2010 at 12:08 pm

I do have a question about going on a flight without baggage, though. Isn’t not having any luggage when flying one of the things TSA looks for in terror suspects? If I were to arrive at the airport with no luggage and walk through security with just my handbag, would I be targeted for suspicious activity? I am, as you know, just a small Asian girl. … Any insight?

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Chris April 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm

That’s an excellent question, Christine. Maybe I’ll try it out when I go next week. I’ll see if Don and I can get our stuff into one duffel (we’re going on a boat, we don’t need much) and I’ll walk through with just my backpack (although that is bigger than your typical purse).

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Jen A. Miller April 8, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Chris – It’s a great little airport. No big security lines, plenty of parking (that you can pay for with your EZpass). But unless I’m flying to Toronto, I really don’t have a reason to look for flights there anymore. It’s sad.

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Jen A. Miller April 8, 2010 at 9:49 am

I flew Spirit a lot in college – I lived in Southern New Jersey and went to college in Tampa, so it was a cheap, easy route. The smallness of the Atlantic City Airport was a benefit too.

But now? Forget it. I flew Spirit to Key West last spring, and between the up charging and fees, it wasn’t worth it – and I can drive there the day of flight.

I’ve had it. The saddest part is that this is terrible for the Atlantic City airport, which has been adding flights and routes and becoming a viable alternative to Newark and Philly.

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William Beem April 8, 2010 at 10:32 am

I’ve only flown on Spirit once on a flight home from Las Vegas to Orlando. It was the most detestable travel experience of my life and I vowed then to never fly with them again. I couldn’t fathom the concept of paying to reserve a seat, so my 6’3″ frame got stuck in a center seat. The seats are so close together that I could not physically fit my knees forward. I had to sit with my legs apart and pinned back, which intruded upon my neighbors. I spent most of the flight (a redeye) standing in the back galley because it was more comfortable than my seat.

I hope this entire airline goes out of business. It wasn’t any cheaper than Southwest or AirTran and the customer service was non-existent. Spirit Airlines jut plain sucks.

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Joel Wechsler April 8, 2010 at 10:42 am

I can’t believe that an experienced travel writer would fly on Spirit, no matter how deperate. Their customer service is non-existent, their fares aren’t so cheap and if you have a problem it is virtually impossible to contact them. It is my fervent hope that Spirit goes out of business very soon.

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Thomas April 8, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Hi Chris –
while I also wouldn’t fly Spirit I don’t understand why you should get upset about it. If it doesn’t work for you, vote with your feet/dollars (as you are). There may well be some that like this model if they are able to get lower rates. I am glad to see that airlines are trying out different business models. This one doesn’t work for me and you but maybe for others – and if it doesn’t, I’m sure Spirit will retreat.
Give it up for the free market!!

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Chris April 8, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Thomas – The problem with Spirit – and much of the unbundling of fees that’s going on in the airline industry right now – is that it’s not always clear when you book what your final price is going to be. Fellow blogger Chris Elliott sat down with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and asked him about this today, and it sounds like DOT is pretty upset about this.

And you are right, people should vote with their feet. What I hate, though, is the ripple effect that can happen when people decide not to travel because of perceived hassles…when consumer fatigue sets in, it’s not good for anyone connected to the travel business.

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Corinne April 8, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Totally see where you’re coming from – I’m not likely to fly Spirit anytime soon, but I actually do think some travelers SHOULD fly them: http://havebabywilltravel.com/Blog/2010/04/07/carry-on-traveling-families/

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Don Nadeau April 8, 2010 at 10:25 pm

There are other good reasons to avoid Spirit when you can.

Because it is not publicly traded, a significant problem with Spirit is the inability to know its basic financial condition. This most concerns customers who book their trips a few weeks or months in advance, as you did to St. Thomas.

Of course, most airlines face financial stress in the current economy, but at least with the public ones you can easily tell the companies that are underperforming the others by comparing stock performance charts in Yahoo Finance or a similar source.

Moreover, airlines like Spirit seldom if ever rebook you on another airline if they have a mechanical or other problem. This may not pose a huge risk when taking an airline like Southwest that offers many alternative flights to its destinations, but can create considerable risk when flying an airline like Spirit that offers only one flight a day or less to some destinations.

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Mark June 10, 2010 at 11:43 pm

It is my first time flying spirit. and before i even get on the plane, i know it’s my last!
Unfortunately though, i’ll have to suffer and endure their BS for a whole round trip!!!.

I bought their tickets because the flying schedule matched mine much closer than any other airlines and their price per ticket was like,10 bucks less… But It’s such screaming lie! with all those fees… so far seats and carry-on luggage for my wife and I , we are 125 bucks above any expectations!!!

I’m joining those guys above, in wishing Spirit to go out of business SOON!

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