3 Reasons Fliers Should Welcome Spirit's Carry-On Fees

Spirit Airlines announced this week that it will begin charging between $20 and $45 for carry-on bags that don't fit underneath a seat. That's in addition to similar fees already in place for checked luggage. This has many travelers fuming, annoyed by this latest attempt by an airline to nickel-and-dime them through additional fees. But really, consumers are better off with more a la carte pricing: it provides more spending discretion, should lower overall fares and will make for a smoother airport experience.

In the press release, Spirit COO Ken McKenzie explains the airline's rationale:

"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," says Spirit's Chief Operating Officer Ken McKenzie. "Bring less; pay less. It's simple."

Obviously, many people are cynical about the assertion that ticket prices will decline as a result of this move. But as long as the airlines remain competitive, they will have to. If fares don't change, then that means airlines weren't charging enough for tickets in the first place. Given the airline industry's troubles in recent years, that's certainly plausible. So either way, fliers would ultimately have been responsible for the same total cost.

Let's consider the three benefits of a la carte pricing McKenzie alludes to:

More Spending Discretion

Let's say you think it's worth packing lighter and saving $20 to $45 on the cost of your flight. Now you have the ability to do so. Before, that cost would have been unavoidable, since it was included in the price of the ticket. Consumers should welcome this flexibility.

Lower Ticket Prices

Travelers now have a clear incentive to pack as lightly as possible. That should result in more fliers deciding to bring less baggage. Consequently, planes will use less fuel. Airlines will then face lower fuel costs, and ticket prices should decline.

A Smoother Airport Experience

Probably the dumbest thing that airlines have done over the past decade was to charge luggage fees on only checked bags. That encouraged people to carry on more baggage, slowing the boarding and security processes, which resulted in more delays and headache. Airlines should have done what Spirit is doing now: charge customers the same for a bag, whether checked or carried-on. Now, travelers will be indifferent to those storage options, if they need to bring along a suitcase. In fact, there's a slight advantage to checking -- since you can generally pack more in a checked-bag for the same price. This should result in shorter delays.

For these reasons, consumers should hope that all airlines also adopt Spirit's new policy. More a la carte pricing options allows travelers greater flexibility to control their flying experience based on their affordability.

Small Correction: Accidentally referred to McKenzie as the CEO instead of the COO. Now fixed.

(Nav Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Presented by

Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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