Would you prefer more choice regarding air travel costs or that Washington dictate what fees are fair? Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) opts for the latter. He called on airlines to promise not to charge fees for carry-on luggage. American, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways and JetBlue did so this week. This move is in response to Spirit announcing that it would begin charging fliers for luggage they store in the overhead compartment earlier this month. While many consumers likely have an adverse gut reaction to such apparent nickel-and-diming, is Schumer really looking to help travelers here or score some political points?
In fact, travelers may be better off through Spirit's approach. Carry-on fees should result in more discretion on consumer spending for flights, lower fares, and a smoother airport experience. Yet Schumer proposes a tax to punish airlines that charge fliers who bring their luggage into the cabin. It's hard to understand why this distinction matters.
Currently, many airlines charge fliers to check their baggage, but allow them to carry-on luggage at no additional charge. This results in customers trying to squeeze as much as possible in their suitcases intended for the overhead compartment. Longer security lines, lengthier boarding times, and delays follow. Yet similar treatment for both types of baggage would eliminate the carry-on incentive. So shouldn't Schumer and others in Washington be indifferent to how luggage is transported? Customers would certainly be better off in such a world.