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Are Airlines Going Overboard With Extra Fees?

Submitted by Josh Lew on April 22, 2010 19 Comments

Spirit Air’s announcement that it will charge a fee for carry-on luggage was met with criticism by just about everybody. The hefty fee, $30 for one carry-on, is a bit ridiculous. It might be the last gasp of a hopelessly in the red airline trying to create a profit-earning miracle. Spirit, like most airlines, also charges for checking bags, so passengers will be caught between two fees and forced to pay something extra (unless they simply want to fly with the clothes on their back).

Unfortunately, Spirit’s carry-on charge soon may not be the industry’s most ridiculous example of a la carte pricing. European low-cost-carrier Ryanair may steal the title. The Irish airline already takes the a la carte flying scheme to the extreme, with a basic ticket allowing you to do no more than board the plane and sit down. They do allow one carry-on free of charge, but are notoriously strict about deciding what constitutes a carry-on. Per recent announcements, Ryanair will soon charge passengers to use the bathroom in-flight. Yes, that’s correct, if you fly Ryanair in the future, you may have to pay to pee. The details: passengers will have to pay one Euro to use the lavatory on all flights that last one hour or less. (It should be noted that Ryanair’s executives love publicity, good or bad, and some industry-watchers think this pay-toilet scheme is nothing but an attention-getting ruse).

Spirit and Ryanair provide the most outlandish examples, but extra fees are a reality for virtually everyone who flies. Over the past couple of years, paying to check your bags has become commonplace. Current prices for stowing luggage in the aircraft’s belly average $25 for the first bag and anywhere from $20 to $30 for the second. Southwest, which heavily promotes its no-baggage-fee policy, continues to be the only major airline that does not charge for checking two bags. Fellow low-cost-carrier JetBlue allows its customers to check one bag for free.

It used to be that snacks were complimentary on all flights. That is no longer the case. Delta, American, United and US Airways have snack-packs and meals that cost between $3-$7 per passenger. This is probably the least controversial aspect of a la carte pricing. As long as airlines don’t start confiscating the snacks and water that you bought in the terminal prior to boarding, food fees will remain more or less a non-issue.

It should be noted that these charges, including the checked baggage fees, are not usually in effect for international flights. So, if you are crossing the Atlantic or Pacific, you do not have to spend the entire 10-hour flight without so much as a drink. Of course, if you have to take a connecting flight in order to reach your overseas flight, you may be hit with expensive baggage charges. That is something to keep in mind when planning your itinerary.

In addition, various surcharges can significantly add to the price of international flights. Most booking sites have begun to include these fees in the quoted price rather than revealing them after the booking process has started.

European fliers have proven that there is a strong market for the bare-bones approach used by Ryanair and its peers. They simply want to fly as cheaply as possible and don’t care about the extras. However, many domestic fliers in the US are used to a certain level of comfort and service and the fact that legacy carriers are changing the game has made many customers upset.

Though it seems unlikely that Spirit’s ridiculous carry-on levy will become the industry norm, it is also clear that a la carte pricing, including fees for checking baggage, is here to stay.

For more information on current airline fees, from checked baggage charges to pay-per-pillow prices, you can check the Airfare Watchdog web site.

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Passengers Leaving Ryanair: Bigpresh
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  • David says:

    People are going to fly despite these charges and the airlines know that. If someone has to get somewhere in a relatively short period of time, flying is usually the only answer. So they will continue to get the charges. A buck to pee? That’s ridiculous although it does say that it is only in effect on flights which are less than an hour. The only flight I’ve ever flown that was less than an hour was from Madid to Barcelona or one of the two cities to Mallorca. I’ll use the bathroom in the terminal although I’ve never flown on Ryan Air.

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  • Tess Elliott says:

    So let’s start taking ships! Really! I am at the point where I am willing to go overseas on a ship, and build it into my vacation time! At least where ships dock, you can get trains to anywhere. Am going to research where I can go by boat!

  • Tim says:

    Ummm, yes.

  • rita says:

    They have to find ways to make money because less people are flying.

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