So maybe this was inevitable. We have written a few things on baggage fees as a way to shape customer behavior and most recently noted that the imposition of checked bag fees was leading to problems in planes. Well one airline now seems ready to address that too:
Spirit said the new charge will help the airline lower base air fares. The fee applies to carry-ons placed in overhead bins, while personal items placed under the seat remain free. Spirit will charge $45 for these bags at the gate and $30 when paid in advance. Members of Spirit’s frequent flier program will be charged $20 for carry-on bags if paid in advance.
(The quote is from Reuters.com Spirit Air to experiment with carry-on bag fees, Apr 6.) Note that this makes checking a bag decidedly cheaper than schlepping one on board. Spirit charges $25 when a passenger checks a bag at the airport.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I have to think that there will be some customer backlash on this. Unless they can demonstrate that the average customer is getting a cheaper ticket than they would under more standard policies (which I am a little dubious of), customers are not going to take this well.
UPDATE: The New York Times (Fewer Bags, More Revenue, Apr 7) adds these nuggets of information:
The total in bag fees collected by the airlines has skyrocketed since they were first imposed. According to the Transportation Department, the fees rose from $464 million in 2007 to nearly $2 billion in just the first nine months of last year.
At the same time, passengers are now checking fewer, and lighter, bags to avoid the extra fees for heavy suitcases. As a result, the airlines have not been losing as many bags, and baggage handlers appear to be suffering fewer injuries.
In addition, the airlines now have more space available for cargo, which sells at a higher rate than a checked bag. “Freight makes a significant contribution to the bottom line of passenger airlines,” said Ulrich Ogiermann, chairman of the International Air Cargo Association. The revenue potential “cannot be ignored,” he added.
To put some numbers to that, the Times quotes a veteran baggage handler who says that the average flight is leaving with 150 to 175 bags as opposed to 250. Further, the number of bags mishandled or lost has fallen 24% worldwide.
There is one curious observation in the article:
One thing baggage fees were expected to do but have not done is to reduce the turnaround time at the gate. With so many passengers trying to bring everything they need for a trip into the passenger cabin, departures are often delayed to deal with the problem of trying to squeeze too many bags into too little space.
Whoever speculated that baggage fees would lead to less time at the gate must have been high. I don’t see how you would need a fortune teller to predict that baggage fees would lead to more fighting for overhead bin space. Even before baggage fees were implemented, space was tight. Shouldn’t they have expected that this would cause problems?
AN UPDATE ON THE UPDATE: From the Chicago Tribune (Air travelers wage a battle of the bags, Apr 7)):
Since the start of last year, the number of bags checked at the boarding gate by Chicago-based United Airlines has risen nearly 50 percent, while the volume of bags checked at ticket counters has dropped 18 percent. At American Airlines, more passengers now carry on bags than check them. …
Exclusive Tribune data show that carry-on complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation more than doubled last year. They accounted for less than 1 percent of the total placed with the department and were offset by the fact that U.S. carriers lost 942,000 fewer checked bags in 2009 than in 2008.
Still, the complaints show people irked and sometimes victimized by the bad behavior of other passengers or airline workers: belongings jammed in overstuffed bins falling out and striking travelers on the head, jewelry stolen from bags checked at the gate, and airline workers arbitrarily enforcing bag size limits.