Spirit Claims Carry-on Fees Rollout a Success

Short of Ireland's Ryanair, Spirit Airlines' PR machine is probably the most audacious in the business. The airline has racked up a long list of borderline offensive ad campaigns, and always manages to put a customer-friendly spin on even the most obviously customer-unfriendly policies. Case in point: Its carry-on fees, which, when announced, were touted as a major benefit to consumers. Everyone in the real world saw this as just another ancillary charge, but still, you had to admire Spirit's ability to package the fees' mostly intangible side effects into something almost resembling a consumer benefit.

No surprise, then, that CEO Ben Baldanza is already touting the smooth and successful rollout of those new carry-on fees, which took effect August 1. No surprise, either, that objective reporting contradicts just about everything he has to say.

Let's start with Baldanza, who is clinging to the assertion that most customers don't yet understand that his airline's new policy is amazing. "I think what we'll find is over the next weeks and months as this program evolves, and more and more people understand it, that people will see that the trade-off is a really good one," he told the Associated Press (AP) on Sunday. "Not everyone will think that, and those people may choose to fly someone else, but they'll likely pay more for their total travel than they will on Spirit."

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He acknowledged that Spirit had received "an understandable number of complaints," but said they were mostly from people who don't realize Spirit's fares have been lowered.

There's more, but I think we have enough to dissect. For starters, it's far too soon to call Baldanza's claims utter fabrications. The fees have been in place for all of three days, and it's possible that over time Spirit's fares and fees will balance out and the airline will remain cost-effective. Still, that certainly doesn't appear to be the case now. I did a quick fare comparison for three routes, and found Spirit to be the cheapest on only one, and even then by only a few dollars. Spirit was the most expensive on the other two routes, and by a significant margin. Granted, this is a small sample, but clearly Spirit has some work to do when it comes to the total travel cost being lower than most airlines.

Now, about those complaints. Ben Mutzabaugh at Today in the Sky rounded up customer quotes from a number of publications, and the cumulative message is basically: "Are you kidding me?"

"Why pay for carry-on? They already charge you for your flight," Lori Gorzynski told Orlando's Channel 13. "You have to pay for your luggage, to get checked and carry-on, it's just another fee process."

"Obviously I have to pay it so I paid it, but it will probably hinder my chances of booking with Spirit again." Nicole Schneider told WBMF News in Myrtle Beach. "Airlines like Delta and American, they don't charge you for a carry-on."

Still, Spirit is persistent with its pro-consumer spin. The AP writes that Spirit expects to shave six or seven minutes off each flight due to streamlined operations stemming from fewer carry-ons, and plans on adding more flights as a result. The airline claims it won't even see any profit directly from the fees—even though more flights equals more revenue, and potential profit, for the carrier.

Quite frankly, I think the main problem with the fees is that they make people feel like they're being nickel-and-dimed. Of course the cost is a problem, but constantly reaching for the wallet gets irritating after a while. And when no luggage is free, except a small bag that fits under the seat, that irritation is magnified into a pretty significant inconvenience.

Readers, what do you think? Are the fees a pure gouge? Does Spirit have a point? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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