The Tally On Carry-On Fees
9:00 PM on Apr 21, 2010
Ryanair would seem like a good European candidate for emulating Spirit Airlines' new fee for carry-on baggage, but Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara all but ruled out the possibility in a discussion I had with him. Ryanair's current policy is to strictly limit passengers to one carry on bag weighing no more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds), and items such as a laptop, camera or handbag have to fit into that one bag.
McNamara insists Ryanair has never considered a fee for carry-ons -- not necessarily on principle, but because of who travels on the airline. The one-bag limit, he says, seems to work for Ryanair's mix of business travelers, weekend travelers and student backpackers. McNamara says Ryanair recognizes its passengers, on an average trip length of two-and-a-half days, need a certain amount of luggage.
"I don't think [charging for the bags] would be a very popular move here, and I don't think we would do it," he says. "But if it works for Spirit, good on them."
In the U.S., as previously and widely reported, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says the CEOS of five major U.S. carriers have promised him their carriers will not implement a similar charge, namely American, Delta, United, US Airways and JetBlue. But as I noted in this Aviation Daily story (subscriber only), it really is not clear how long-term the airlines' commitment is. Airlines are loathe to say "never" about anything; even Southwest declines to say "never" about checked bag fees. In fact, American told me it "did not discuss a timetable" with Schumer, and I could not get specific answers from any of the carriers. United, US Airways and JetBlue simply told me they have "no plans" to implement a fee.
Southwest, which has not even followed the other carriers on fees for the first and second checked bag, certainly isn't going to leapfrog them with a carry-on fee. AirTran was not on Schumer's list, but I spoke today to Kevin Healey, AirTran's senior vice president, marketing and planning, and he is very critical of Spirit's new fee. "I think it's anti-consumer," he says. "These guys have gone too far."
So who does that leave that might match Spirit in the U.S. market? How about Las Vegas-based Allegiant, the low-cost, leisure-focused carrier that makes a large percentage of its revenue from ancillary revenue and has not hesitated to add new fees? Well, it is more ambivalent.
In an earnings call yesterday, Chairman and CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. said he's "sympathetic" to Spirit's stated boarding issues with customers trying to bring on to many carry-on bags, which Gallagher said also has become "a bit of an issue" for his airline. As for the charge, he said, "You can't knock Spirit's approach [of] letting customers choose what they want to do." But he said the political backlash to Spirit's fee on Capitol Hill, with legislators offering "definite opinions on how to run a business," give him pause.
“We’re examining the [carry-on bag] situation and we’ll look at it over time," he said. "I’m a bit leery, though, to wander into any of this environment" when legislators "on the warpath."
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