Photo: Spirit Airlines
More than a year ago, Spirit Airlines began charging $30 for the right to place one’s bag in the overhead compartment.Starting next month, that fee will climb to $35 for travellers who pay it before check-in.
Here’s the kicker: For those who wait until boarding time to pay up, the fee will be a whopping $100.
Spirit’s corporate communications director Misty Pinson argues that in the year since the airline introduced the carry-on charge (which is $20 for members of the “$9 Fare Club”), it has been a huge success. “It has speeded up the boarding process, ensures sufficient overhead space for all carry-on bags, and has helped reduce our fuel consumption,” she said.
The obvious argument for fees is that airlines’ profit margins are razor thin, and that the extra income allows them to stay in business and be competitive, while lowering ticket prices. Of course, Spirit is not alone among airlines in adding fees for services that have long been offered as part of the ticket price (like checking bags and meals).
Regarding the upcoming $100 bag-at-the-gate fee, Spirit has taken the position that “this is the one fee that we truly don’t want our customers to have to pay.” The idea is to use the exorbitant charge to discourage travellers from slowing the boarding process by waiting until the last minute to “purchase their carry-on.”
Faster boarding means a more pleasant flight experience, and airlines can turn planes around more quickly, for more profit.
A Sustainable Model?
But is $100 going too far? Craig LaRosa, a principal at Continuum, a global innovation and design consultancy, argues that it’s an example of a strategy that can’t hold up: “Their growth model is adding fees…they may get a revenue bump,” he said, but added, “in two years, what are they going to charge for next?”
On top of that, Spirit runs the risk that customers hit with the $100 fee will decide the airline is not as inexpensive as it seems, despite rock bottom ticket prices, and opt for another carrier.
LaRosa points out that Spirit, and other airlines like Delta, United, and American, are caught in between two business models: Ryan Air’s open admission of offering as little service as possible, and JetBlue’s quest to offer a genuinely pleasant flying experience, complete with live television.
Every year, flying on most airlines becomes less enjoyable: there are more fees, less space, and fewer services offered. There’s little reason to think the trend will reverse anytime soon.
But asked if he thinks air travel will ever be pleasant again, LaRosa holds out hope. He points to United’s use of thinner seats that will fit more passengers on flights, while giving them more space.
There are ways to make aviation profitable in the long run, but they require real innovation.
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