WASHINGTON — Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza sought Thursday to convince federal regulators that charging as much as $45 for certain carry-on bags is a good deal for passengers. He pledged to plainly disclose the fees.
Baldanza said he received a very cordial response from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt and other federal officials when he made his case for the fees at a meeting requested by the airline.
The Transportation Department’s main concern has been that the fees be fully disclosed to consumers at the time they purchase their ticket, Baldanza said.
“We agree with that completely,” he told reporters at an aviation industry luncheon.
LaHood called the fees outrageous when they were announced by the discount carrier last month.
“Mr. Baldanza and I had a productive discussion this morning and I’m pleased that Spirit will make sure the new fee is well-advertised to consumers,” LaHood said in a statement. “However, I was also frank that I disagree with Spirit’s new policy to charge passengers for having a carry-on.”
Spirit says beginning Aug. 1 it will charge $45 for carry-on bags that don’t fit under seats. The airline says there won’t be any charge for purses, laptops, diaper bags, briefcases and other carry-on bags if they fit under seats. Spirit simultaneously lowered its air fare and says its passengers aren’t paying appreciably more than before.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based carrier, which led the way on charging passengers for checked baggage, decided to charge for carry-ons when it discovered that 15 percent of Spirit passengers who formerly checked bags were trying to carry their bags onto planes to avoid fees, Baldanza said.
Spirit’s average fares are so low that even with fees for “options” like carry-ons, the total fare is still lower than the fares of other airlines, Baldanza said.
Baldanza said he has also spoken to Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York about the lawmaker’s proposal to impose an excise tax on the fees.
Schumer has said he is concerned that the money airlines make by charging fees isn’t subject to the same taxes as airfares, and that other airlines will follow Spirit’s example by also charging for carry-on bags.
Unless Congress passes legislation or the Obama administration rules that carry-on bags are essential items, “the major carriers will all charge for bags and not lower prices, and consumers will get the short end of the stick,” Schumer said Thursday in a statement.
The Transportation Department said Monday that revenue from so-called ancillary fees charged by airlines rose 42 percent to $7.8 billion in 2009. The biggest slice of that came from checked baggage fees, which were introduced in 2008 when oil prices soared and eventually reached $147 per barrel.