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Spirit Airlines to charge for carry-on, calling it the next unbundling phase

Spirit CEO, Ben Baldanza
Spirit CEO, Ben Baldanza

The only bag that will fly free on Spirit Airlines is one that fits under the seat, according to the airline which rolled out the industry’s only carry-on bag fee – USD30 a pop – for bags destined for the overhead bin.

The announcement came in the guise of a fare sale – a 'penny apiece for a million seats'. The fare is Penny Plus for a reason. While it ostensibly reduced the lowest fare by over USD40 each way and reduces checked bag fees for its USD9 Fare Club members, it does ask passengers to pay for fuel and bags, this time for bags. 

It did blame the new over-head-bin fee on its fare reduction. “In order to continue reducing fares even further and offering customers the option of paying only for the services they want and use rather than subsidising the choices of others, the low fare industry innovator is also progressing to the next phase of unbundling with the introduction of a charge to carry on a bag and be boarded first onto the airplane,” the carrier said in its fare sale release.

Members of Spirit’s USD9 Fare Club who pre-reserve their carry-on bag in advance online receive a USD10 discount compared to non-members and pay only USD20 for their carry-on.  In addition, checked bag fees for USD9 Fare Club members have been reduced to USD15 for domestic flights and USD20 for international flights, both a USD10 savings compared to non-members.  The baggage discounts will be available for purchase by 01-Jul-2010, for travel from 01-Aug-2010.

Those who pay the fee will board first.

Examples of Spirit Airlines PENNY PLUS Fares¹ Exclusive to $9 Fare Club Members and available in most non-stop markets:




Taxes & Fees***


AtlantaMyrtle Beach




Boston – Myrtle Beach




DetroitFort Lauderdale




Detroit – Las Vegas




The announcement sent travel bloggers howling. Regardless, Spirit is definitely spinning the bright side. “In addition to lowering fares even further, this will reduce the number of carry-on bags, which will improve inflight safety and efficiency by speeding up the boarding and deplaning process, all of which ultimately improve the overall customer experience,” says Spirit’s Chief Operating Officer Ken McKenzie. “Bring less; pay less.  It’s simple.”

Flight attendant fight over bags

McKenzie was taking a page from the US airline industry flight attendants which have petitioned Congress to ban carry-on bags saying stowing bags in over-head bins is dangerous. In a recently released survey, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) said one out of two flight attendants witnessed carry-on items falling from overhead bins in the previous 60 days.

“The survey validated anecdotal reports that carry-on baggage is out of control, mostly due to recent fees to check luggage,” said AFA-CWA International President, Patricia Friend. “We now have compelling evidence that flight attendants and passengers are being injured by excess amounts of oversized carry-on items/ AFA-CWA has been urging Congress, government agencies, and carriers to establish reasonable carry-on limitations that will improve the overall safety, health and security of crew and passengers inside the aircraft cabin.  These limits will reduce injuries and distractions caused by carry-ons and allow flight attendants to devote more attention to the critical task of ensuring the safest and most secure flight possible."

According to the survey, over 80% of flight attendants sustained injuries over the past year from carry-ons in over-head bins. The most common injury being strained and pulled muscles in the neck, arms and upper back. The survey was compiled from a representative sample of the 50,000 AFA-CWA members at 22 US airlines.

AFA-CWA launched a new website,, dedicated to encouraging the traveling public to write to Congress, urging them to pass legislation that would ease the carry-on situation. 

Currently, there is a bill in the US House of Representatives that offers to set one standard for all bags carried on board U.S. commercial aircraft. The Securing Carry-On Baggage Act, H.R. 2870, would create a universal size for carry-on bags, instead of allowing each carrier to determine its own size requirements and requires the Transportation Security Administration to enforce the rules.

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