Ryanair, torchbearer for all fee-crazy airlines, is up to its old tricks again. The European low-cost carrier raised its first-checked-bag fee to £30—that's roughly $50—and increased its second-bag fee to an astronomical £70 … around $115. Passengers pay less if they check their bags online: £15 for the first bag and £35 for the second. Oh, and did I mention those fees are one-way?
Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara explained his carrier's choice thusly: "These baggage fees are all avoidable by all passengers who choose to travel with carry on luggage only. Over 70% of Ryanair passengers will be totally unaffected by these changes as they already travel with just one carry on bag, which is free of charge."
Translation: We don't want you to check bags at all.
In a sort of warped way, it's easy to see why. Checked bags require time and employees, both of which are costly, especially to an airline that charges such low fares. The fewer bags Ryanair handles, the quicker it turns around planes and the fewer paychecks it hands out. Voila! Low overhead. And if the carrier must transport some bags, the exorbitant fees attached to the service should more than make up for the cost.
It's not rocket science, and it's not a new idea. But Ryanair's decision to test the extremes of baggage fees is a troubling one, at least according to Arthur Frommer. Frommer writes that "decisions by the U.K.'s leading low-cost airline have a disturbing tendency to influence later decisions by U.S. airlines flying domestically. Ryanair was the first to institute a la carte pricing in air travel, and the system which it inaugurated has since been copied— triumphantly, enthusiastically, wholeheartedly—by American carriers."
Frommer is correct in pointing out the correlation between Ryanair's business model and the evolving fee structures here in the U.S. Add in the fact that several domestic carriers have lately pushed their own fees up, and there is cause for concern. Will we ever see Ryanair-style runaway fees here in the U.S.? I'd like to say no. But instead I'll just keep my fingers crossed.