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How Soon Until Other Airlines Charge for Carry-ons?

Now that Spirit Airlines’ somewhat shocking decision to charge for carry-on bags has had time to sink in, the obvious question is whether or not other carriers will follow suit, and when. In this industry, monkey-see-monkey-do is the name of the game, especially when it comes to new fees or fee hikes.

JetBlue, for its part, seemed to make clear yesterday that it will not be adopting the Spirit model any time soon. The airline’s blog featured a post mocking Spirit for its pay-to-carry-on model, assuring customers that “JetBlue will continue to offer a free first checked bag, not to mention that you can bring your Mickey Mouse ears, your magazine collection, your favorite wrinkle-free slacks, and your lunch onboard.” The post was accompanied by an item from its spoof catalog: The Extrago Sherpa Shirt, basically a suitcase you can wear.

No other airline has made any clear declaration of whether or not they think Spirit’s fee is a good idea, though considering its “Bags Fly Free” slogan, I’d say it’s a safe bet that Southwest won’t be following Spirit’s lead. But what about everyone else?

On its face, charging for carry-on bags and checked bags seems like nothing more than a great way to aggravate your customers and kill your business, especially with Southwest and JetBlue offering free checked baggage. That said, a majority of the industry has migrated toward charging for checked bags and, by and large, remained successful and stable. There is strength in numbers when it comes to fees. There’s only one Southwest and one JetBlue, after all.

When American added its first checked bag fee, it was almost as if the industry was relieved. Competing carriers matched within weeks, and the new status quo was established: Free checked bags were officially a “perk,” offered by a shrinking number of airlines.

Will that be the case here? Hard to say. Spirit, with its “ultra-low-cost carrier” model, is hardly a barometer for the industry as a whole. How many other airlines offer penny sales? It is effectively the Ryanair of the U.S., with incredibly low fares and an equally amazing list of fees and charges, albeit with a much sunnier disposition than its European counterpart. Spirit and Ryanair occupy their own niche of the industry, catering to passengers who simply want a bargain basement fare, period (disregarding that the litany of fees eat away at any perceived value).

Nevertheless, you’re kidding yourself if you think executives at the major domestic carriers haven’t at least considered carry-on bag fees. Whether or not they have the audacity to go down that road is hard to say, but likely will be influenced by the success, or lack thereof, of Spirit’s policy. And if one major U.S. airline adds the fee, expect more to follow. Occasionally airlines examine their competitors’ ideas and decide to pass—US Airways boneheaded plan to charge for all beverages comes to mind—but carry-on bag fees, which would generate revenue and speed up the boarding process, may be too tantalizing to lay off.

Readers, what do you think? Will other carriers match Spirit’s policy?

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