Right to Flight: Does Spirit Airline's New Policy Violate Passenger Rights?

Jenny Erikson

jenny erikson
Photo by Kristen Bons
Last week, Spirit Airlines announced that it would be charging a fee for some carry-on luggage items. The new fee would be similar to the amount charged for checked bags (up to $45), and would allow the airline to lower its base fares.

Since then, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called the move a "slap in the faces to travelers," and has proposed introducing legislation that would prevent airlines from charging a fee for carry-on baggage. He believes that carry-on bags are a "reasonable necessity" to air travel.

It's apparent from Senator Schumer's comments that he didn't actually read the statement from Spirit Air outlining its new policy.

According to press release from Spirit Airlines, personal items will remain free, including backpacks or other similarly sized bags, along with umbrellas, cameras, diaper bags, assistive devices, outer garments (coasts/hats/wraps), car seats and strollers, reading material, and food for the flight.

Yet Schumer says this new policy denies passengers the right to the reasonable necessity of carry-on luggage. What necessity could a person possibly need on an average flight that wouldn't be covered under Spirit's personal item classification, which remains free?

I would also be willing to venture that Mr. Schumer hasn't flown coach in awhile. A few months ago, I was surprised to encounter a fee for my checked suitcase. "I knew that ticket price was too good to be true!" I said to myself. I paid the fee, grumbled a bit, found the airport bar and had a ten-dollar rum and diet coke.

When I finally boarded the plane, I beheld the circus of travelers practically screeching and flailing their arms in wild attempts to claim the overhead compartment space. Let's face it, those bins have never been roomy, but ever since airlines have started charging for checked bags, the space up there has become practically nonexistent. Remember when people used to try to book their seats toward the front of the plane? Now they book toward the back, in hopes of claiming some of that prime baggage real estate.

The idea behind charging for the overstuffed suitcases masquerading as carry-ons is to alleviate some of the chaos created by passengers attempting to beat the system by not checking their luggage. Hey, I don't blame them; I'd do the same thing if I didn't insist on traveling with a suitcase big enough to hold at least four pairs of shoes and my fantastic ceramic hairdryer.

Who cares if airlines charge a base fee and then charge you on the size or weight of your luggage? It's their decision to charge their patrons whatever they want, and however they want. And it's my prerogative to decide how and where I want to travel. If customers like the policy, good for Spirit Airlines and their customer loyalty. If the new rules suck, Spirit will either have to readjust their practices or risk going out of business due to lack of patrons.

The government used to be in charge of air travel. Do you know what happened between 1978 and 1992 as the deregulation process was implemented? Airfare dropped by more than a third (adjusted for inflation). It also allowed for new, smaller airlines to get their feet in the door (wings in the air?) by taking over some of the smaller routes that were no longer profitable to the larger airlines.

The government already had its sticky, clumsy fingers in the commercial flight industry. It took over a decade to get them out. Let's not allow them a way back in, shall we? We can fight with our dollars. We don't need an Air Passenger Bill of Rights.

We just need to spend our money where we want to spend it. Personally, I wouldn't continue to pay for goods or services from a company that I felt had taken advantage of me. If others felt the same way, they wouldn't either. And guess what? That company would either step it up or go out of business, providing an opening for a new company that would, at least for a time, put its customers first.

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