It’s one thing to preach about the virtues of traveling light. It’s quite another to practice them.
The Irish discount carrier Ryanair has a well-earned reputation for unapologetically burying its customers in fees, including charges for carrying their bags on board. It isn’t as well-known for its unfailingly polite defenses of its indefensible policies and their uneven implementation.
Yomna Nasr’s story probably won’t change your opinion of Ryanair. But after reading it, you may grudgingly give it points for its clever non-apologies.
It’s not your imagination. Congress seems to be paying closer attention to travelers’ welfare.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the International Travelers Bill of Rights, proposed bipartisan legislation that would require online travel agencies to disclose information about the potential health and safety risks of overseas vacation destinations marketed on their sites. A week earlier, I covered the aggressive new tarmac-delay laws included in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.
It’s been more than two years since most major airlines “unbundled” their fares and began charging passengers for the first checked bag. And although air travelers are now paying more for their luggage than ever — $2.7 billion last year, compared with just $1.1 billion in 2008 — they are deeply unhappy about it, according to a new poll.
A survey of more than 1,000 travelers by the Consumer Travel Alliance suggests air travelers are more upset about the checked luggage charges than any other airline fee. Asked what they missed the most about air travel, 56 percent said it was the ability to check their first bag without paying extra. Roughly 20 percent said they missed meals, and slightly fewer — 19 percent — missed the ability to make a confirmed seat reservation. About five percent of respondents missed the free pillows and blankets.
“It’s almost impossible for the casual traveler to go without luggage, or even the road warriors who have to stay over several nights,” says Robin Edelston, a frequent traveler from Cos Cob, Conn. “And charging for checked luggage encourages people to cram stuff into the overhead bins when the airlines should be encouraging people to stow it in cargo.”
Thought those reservation change fees I showed you yesterday were shocking? Then check this out.
Here’s what airlines have charged us in baggage fees during the last 20 years. Notice any trends?
From 2007 to 2009, the number jumped from $464 million to an astounding $2.7 billion, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. If the first-quarter number holds for the rest of the year — and that’s a big “if” considering that it continues to go up — then the airline industry will collect more than $3 billion in baggage fees for 2010.
Let’s look at some of the biggest beneficiaries.
Earlier this week, Spirit Airlines announced it would begin charging for carry-on luggage. That drew criticism from the Secretary of Transportation, who I interviewed on Wednesday. I wanted to give Ben Baldanza, Spirit’s chief executive, an opportunity to respond — and to explain the rationale behind charging for carry-on bags. Here’s our interview:
Why did you decide to start charging for carry-on luggage?
Last fall, we identified excessive carry-on baggage as the number-one controllable reason that our planes were being delayed at the gate. We challenged ourselves to eliminate these delays without raising customer prices or Spirit’s costs, and to make the boarding process quicker and easier for our customers.