It had to happen, and it’s no surprise — at all — that it’s Spirit who’s doing it. The airline that started us down the path of fees-for-everything in the US is back, with a vengeance, charging for both checked baggage and now, carry-ons that go into the overhead bin.

Spirit Airlines will charge as much as $45 each way for a carry-on bag, adding a fee that bigger airlines have yet to try.

The charge will apply to bags in the overhead bin. Personal items that fit under the seat will still be free. Spirit said it will add measuring devices at the gates to determine which carry-ons are free and which ones will incur the charge.

The new charge is $45 if paid at the gate, and $30 if paid in advance, and begins Aug. 1. Spirit said today that it reduced its lowest fares by $40 on average, so most customers won’t really pay more to fly.

Spirit also charges to check luggage.

Nice spin re: reducing fares by $40 on average. This coming from an airline that often pitches $9 base fares with cutesy sale names.

Airfare comparison just got harder again. A fare on Spirit may now look cheaper than a fare on, say, JetBlue, despite the JetBlue fare including carry-ons and one checked bag. A “deal” may not be a deal once you add in all the fees.

As I’ve argued time and time again, there will be people upset with Spirit for doing this, but until people wise up and start voting with their feet (and wallets), this will continue.

(Thanks, Irv!)

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- Spirit Airlines keeps it classy with their M.I.L.F. sale
- Spirit Airlines’ CEO flips his customers the bird
- Consumer victory: Spirit reverses its “web convenience fee”
- Is Spirit Airlines’ new club worth joining?

Categorized in: luggage, Spirit Airlines

Upgraded: Making the most out of a small airport
For those who are frustrated with the seemingly slow-as-molasses pace of relief efforts and the ceaseless flow of depressing imagery from Haiti, consider this, from the commander of the earthquake-damaged airfield that was once the Port-au-Prince airport:

Col. Buck Elton, who was given the mission to open up airfield and assist with airlifts, says they have controlled 600+ takeoffs and landings in an airstrip that normally sees three takeoffs and landings a day.

Because the air traffic control tower has collapsed, all of this is being done by radio, on the ground – in a place that only has one runway/taxiway for planes, set directly in the middle of the airport and thus making it difficult for other planes to take off and arrive.

Col. Buck talked about how they have to “stack the aircraft until we have space for someone else to come in. ” The maximum number of aircraft that can fit on the ground: one wide-body, five narrow-body planes. and three smaller aircrafts that can taxi in on the ground, filling that spot as necessary. (It sounds like a game of Tetris.)

“The volume is similar to running a major airport without computers, radar or other equipment,” he said.

That’s great work in a bad situation. Here’s hoping that they can squeeze a few more relief flights in and out.

Downgraded: JAL
Japan’s JAL officially declared bankruptcy and defaulted on its bonds. The bidding war for the airline reached an impasse, but will resume now that bankruptcy is definitive.

Upgraded: Your debit card’s PIN
For some time, debit cards have been accepted as a form of payment on airline websites, but in the US, the cards have been processed much like a credit card, through the Visa or MasterCard number to which they’re linked. Now, Spirit Airlines is serving up a way to use your debit card to pay for airline tickets, using the same PIN you use at the ATM. PIN-enabled transactions at retail locations have gained acceptance (and are far cheaper for the retailer than swipe-and-sign transactions), but entering your PIN into a website? That may be a tough sell to the American consumer.

Upgraded: Really big new threats to air safety
Downgraded: Reality

On a lighter note, forget airport patdowns. Worry about giant sharks that are larger than super-jumbo jets and can attack aircraft from deep in the sea. There’s so much to enjoy in just this short clip from the B-movie horror spectacle “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.” The wooden acting, the awful computer animation, the absurd physics. Aviation geeks will enjoy the near-slanderous depiction of a “Condor Airlines” (alert the German airline of that name of this abuse!) Boeing 747-8 — a plane that hasn’t even been built yet — bouncing through the clouds, before it … just watch below. Words get in the way.

Categorized in: airports, bizarre, JAL, Spirit Airlines

moneybags pay Spirit Airlines boardgame playing CEO celebrates his companys business practices: A rebuttalThere’s a good profile of Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza in yesterday’s New York Times, and it’s worth reading to get a sense of the mindset behind one of the most successful airlines in the US.

The problem with Spirit is not that it is cheap. It’s not even that it takes a hard line with its policies (sure, a little compassion would be nice… but it’s fine to be consistent). It’s also not even a problem when the airline says its only obligation is to get you from point A to point B safely.

There are three problems with Spirit.

First, the company has been using deceptive practices to get consumers to buy their stuff. There’s the fare club that customers automatically (and often unwittingly) signed up for. Another example:

[C]ustomers have unprintable things to say about the way Spirit charges for seat assignments and checked bags. To wit: your credit card is charged for your ticket, and only then are you asked if you’d like to spend more to pick a seat and check a bag. If yes, your card is charged again.

Second, the airline leaves you hanging when it cancels a flight. If the next available flight isn’t for another few days, that’s your tough luck. That’s not adequately clear when you go to buy a ticket from the airline.

Finally, a problem with the airline is that its ideas have caught on among its competitors. That’s not their fault, or even their own exclusive province — Ryanair, anyone? But Spirit’s competitors have been taking pages from their playbook and making their fees and practices commonplace.

Each of the (many) complaints I hear about Spirit Airlines mirrors one of these issues. But when it comes to their CEO, the complaints obviously fall on deaf ears.

Baldanza, a board game enthusiast with a whopping 1700 games in his collection, seems to think that every fee and every bilking of the customer is just part of a game. He even posted a list of board games that approximate the talents and skills of running your own airline.

Games, I can appreciate. But not when the rules aren’t fair. If Ben Baldanza wants to spend an evening playing Settlers of Catan, Power Grid, or Agricola, while discussing the ethics of his airline’s “gotcha” sales methods, he should consider himself invited to come on over to U:TB headquarters. I won’t even charge him for a beverage.

 Spirit Airlines boardgame playing CEO celebrates his companys business practices: A rebuttal Spirit Airlines boardgame playing CEO celebrates his companys business practices: A rebuttal Spirit Airlines boardgame playing CEO celebrates his companys business practices: A rebuttal

Categorized in: Spirit Airlines

Upgraded: Weird contraband found at airports
Downgraded: Pigeon welfare

The NY Daily News has a set of photos of items found by customs agents at airports. Most are drug related, but my favorite has to be this image of a man with pigeons wrapped up and kept in his long underwear:

pigeons in pants Upgrades and Downgrades    Pigeon carriers, Million mile movie, fees, tantrums, and much more

“Sir, your pants are cooing.”

Downgraded: Priorities
A new film being made with George Clooney in the lead role is apparently based on the premise of a man seeking to collect 1 million frequent flyer miles. I would rather see a film devoted a person seeking to spend 1 million frequent flyer miles…

Downgraded: “Good luck” cards for illegal immigrants
Staying on the customs-and-immigration theme… A Mexican man attempting to enter the UK, with the intention of overstaying his visa, was flagged as a probable immigrant, rather than a tourist, when a card was found in his luggage containing the sentiment, “Good luck in your new life in the UK!” The UK Border Agency trumpeted that they were sending him “back.” But the man flew to Manchester from Los Angeles… I wonder what his return ticket read.

Upgraded: Advantage Rent-a-Car revived, in death
Bankrupt Advantage Rent-a-Car’s assets are being bought by competitor Enterprise, assuming the courts approve. But with the ongoing slump in the rental market, I’m surprised Enterprise would even want more cars or offices!

Upgraded: Northwest and Delta mileage accounts
I realize I’ve been negligent in not mentioning this before: You can merge Northwest WorldPerks miles into an existing Delta SkyMiles account and receive a 500-mile bonus for doing so, if you do it by April 15, 2009. The miles will instantly transfer over, but the bonus will take a few weeks to post.

Downgraded: Spirit Airlines charging fees again for buying tickets on their own website
I have to say, part of me loves the gall that Spirit Airlines has. Last year, they instituted a “passenger usage fee” of $4.90 for buying tickets on their own website. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is: The airline tried this last summer, but retracted it within a few days. In the WSJ, Scott McCartney has this summary:

Spirit tried charging a $7.90 passenger usage fee last year, along with a $2.50 “natural occurrence interruption fee” (to cover storm-related costs) and an $8.50 “international service recovery fee” to pay for some taxes and fees the airline pays to foreign governments. But the DOT stepped in and ordered the airline to stop; federal rules require airlines to include airline-imposed charges that all customers must pay in advertised fares.

Spirit was fined $40,000 but remained undeterred. Since then, the airline has been negotiating with the DOT to find an acceptable way under department rules to charge the passenger booking fee. “We will be reintroducing it in a way the DOT is comfortable with,” Mr. Baldanza says.

Offended? Complain. Here and here.

Downgraded: Missing a flight
Downgraded as well: Airline staff who film passengers

A passenger who flipped out when she missed her flight to Hong Kong, and was caught on cameraphone throwing a huge tantrum, has received an apology from the airline that kept her off the plane. Not because she didn’t board, but because the embarrassing video was made by a Cathay Pacific employee. (Notably, they claim the employee wasn’t the one to have uploaded the video to YouTube, but that’s hardly a vital distinction at this point.) I didn’t post the original video when it started making the rounds, because it seemed to be everywhere at the time, but I’ll include it here for context.

whistleblower Upgrades and Downgrades    Whistleblowers, tray table ads, and hotel points

Downgraded: The fates of whistleblowers who look out for passenger safety
A cold day in Calgary, and three US Airways flight attendants notice ice building up on the wings. After much wrangling, they convince their flight crew to de-ice an aircraft. After landing safely, they report the incident to the FAA. Then the fun begins.

After the trio reported the incident to the Federal Aviation Administration, one of the flight’s pilots fired back at them, hard. He sued all three flight attendants for defamation, demanding $2 million.
But what makes it even worse is that the cost of a trial, much less any jury verdict, would come out of their pockets. At this point, their airline has decreed that they’re on their own.

According to their union contract, US Airways is supposed to foot the legal bill for any flight attendant sued for something she did as part of her official duties. The only caveat? If the flight attendant has shown “willful misconduct,” the airline is off the hook.

And effectively accusing the flight attendants of misconduct, the airline isn’t paying one cent in their defense. Read the whole story. And if you want to help them out, they’ve started a fundraising drive.

Upgraded: Spirit Airlines flight attendant uniform hijinx
Also Upgraded: The ethical sanctity of your tray table advertisement

Spirit Airlines flight attendants are objecting to wearing an advertisement for Bud Light on their uniforms. (Ads for bloggers not quite in the works yet.)

Meanwhile, Spirit has decided that some advertisers are off limits: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “Spirit has rebuffed PETA’s attempts to place the ad, which features fluffy yellow chicks and urges passengers to ‘let birds keep their wings’ by adopting a vegetarian diet.”

Upgraded: Safety of your hotel points, for now
Your hotel points are safe, they say. Adam Kirby at the trade journal Hotels followed up on my speculation (or “paranoia”) that recent hotel bonus promotions were the sign of devaluations to come. Both Hilton and Marriott assured Adam that no such devaluations were afoot. Good, but that’s really easy for Marriott to say: They devalued their points just two weeks ago! (Thanks, Adam!)


Upgraded: Refunds on Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines, perhaps America’s most hated airline, gives refunds to its passengers after all! But only under special circumstances… like being rebooked onto a flight that ditches into the Hudson River. Actually, no, that wasn’t enough:

Rob and Jeff Kolodjay were scheduled to fly on Spirit Airlines to a golf vacation with four other friends on Thursday out of LaGuardia in New York City. Their flight got cancelled, and they were rebooked onto US Airways flight 1549. When they tried to cancel the return tickets on Spirit they could not use because they never made it to Myrtle Beach, the company representative insisted on charging them a [$90] cancellation fee.

Wait, Spirit rebooks passengers onto other airlines? Who knew? Amazing!

But as for the cancellation fee, the airline eventually reversed itself. Only after the passengers got the local news reporters involved. Stay classy, Spirit! (via Consumerist)

Upgraded: Promises and threats of Ryanair in the USA
Ultra-cheapo Ryanair has been threatening to fly trans-Atlantic again. This time, from Ireland to … Niagara Falls! Ryanair promises/threatens a route over the Atlantic on a six-month cycle, it seems. And it never materializes. Let me know when they start actually flying this one…

Upgraded: Wi-fi on United, unless you’re a Chicagoan, apparently
I’m amused by this take-down of the introduction of inflight wi-fi on selected United Airlines flights by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism website. United is putting the $12.95 service on its JFK-SFO and JFK-LAX “p.s.” service. Notably not included: Chicago flights. The article’s negative angle toward the service may betray some sour grapes…

Downgraded: Luxury
It’s barely open for six months, but the Arctic Club Hotel in Seattle has “decided to no longer be a luxury hotel, and said that downscaling will help it attract more customers.” Their new target is the AAA 3-diamond level, and they’re hoping to partner with a major chain. Welcome to the new austerity.