Spirit Airlines: no hitch with carry-on fees


In this file photo taken June 13, 2010, a Spirit Airlines airplane sits on the tarmac at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Spirit Airlines passengers may want to get to the airport a little earlier than normal Sunday as a new fee on carry-on bags takes effect.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 4:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 4:23 p.m.

NEW YORK — Spirit Airlines says it is gaining ground in the fight against flight delays with its controversial move to charge for carry-on bags.

With the new fees in place for the first time Sunday, Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson said the new approach appears to be working.

"The check-in process is going well so far," Pinson said Sunday afternoon. "It looks like this is going to speed things up."

Since airlines started charging for checked luggage, more flyers have brought carry-on bags on board. Spirit's new fee — the first in the industry — is aimed at discouraging passengers from stuffing the overhead bins because it often takes extra time to get bags settled and gate check those that won't fit onboard.

Spirit is charging $30 at check-in for any bag that's too big to fit under the seat. The price goes up to $45 for passengers who wait until they get to the boarding gate to pay, another step aimed at saving time. Members of Spirit's special fare club will only pay $20 for a carry-on. Umbrellas, camera bags, strollers and car seats are among the items that will remain free of charge.

Airlines have been able to wring extra profits from new fees over the past few years, charging for checked bags, extra legroom and refreshments.

Spirit, based in Miramar, Fla., says it does not expect to profit from carry-on fees directly. Pinson said the low-fare airline is cutting ticket prices overall, in some cases by more than enough to offset the cost of a carry-on bag. But she said that by shaving 6 or 7 minutes off the time that it takes to load and unload a plane, Spirit hopes to be able to add more flights.

The privately held airline currently operates about 150 daily flights. Most carry leisure travelers from big airports in the U.S. through Fort Lauderdale and on to Latin America. Spirit had extra employees on hand Sunday at airports to assist passengers. The airline was expecting to handle 23,000 passengers on Sunday, including 5,800 in Fort Lauderdale.

Spirit will be collecting data over the next few weeks to see how the plan is working out. No hard numbers were yet available.

The idea of carry-on charges has struck some as crossing the line. New York Sen. Charles Schumer extracted a promise from five of the nation's biggest airlines, including AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc., that they won't charge for carry-on bags.

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