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Why aren't airlines charging by the pound?

Spirit Airlines announced last week that it is charging up to $45 for carry-on bags, and other airlines reportedly are considering adding these fees, too. This latest ignominy follows on the heels of charges for meals, checked luggage and exit-row seats. Some airlines even charge for blankets and pillows.

Spirit defends the carry-on charge by saying, “Bring less, pay less. It’s simple.” The flight attendants’ union is in favor, hoping that that the fee reduces the “out of control” passenger bags. (I know I am personally shocked that passengers bring clothes and supplies when they travel long distances. It’s very inconsiderate.)

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) knows a winning issue when he sees one, and he quickly introduced legislation to ban the carry-on fee, but I think he is missing the possibilities here. People often talk wistfully about the golden age of air travel, lamenting that it used to be glamorous, with well-dressed patrons, cooked meals and silverware. Here, Spirit is getting totally retro and taking us back to the very roots of manned flight. This new policy is really circa the Wright Brothers, when men were men, and they didn’t travel with toiletries. Spirit is bringing us one critical step closer to the super-cheap seats, where we just strap people face-down across the wings. You want aviator goggles? 30 bucks!

Here is the reality: traveling by air costs money. Airlines have fixed costs (e.g. employees) and variable costs (e.g. fuel). Adding passengers and carry-ons increases the variables, but not the fixed. So let’s stop the nickel-and-diming and just do the whole thing by weight. Airlines can put out giant livestock scales, and each passenger can step on with all luggage, checked and carry-on. Airlines can charge us a buck a pound, and -- voila! We are incented to get in shape and to pack lightly, and airlines have a meaningful fee structure.

Most importantly, airlines can finally end the pretense that passengers are treasured customers and treat us the way they really view us. Mooo!

By Kevin Huffman  | April 13, 2010; 5:47 PM ET
Categories:  Huffman  | Tags:  Kevin Huffman  
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Comments

I would like to point out that mass is not the only factor here.

So to, is volume.

For instance, an elite athlete with 3% body fat is going to take up much less volume than an out of shape individual who weighs the same because muscle is much denser than fat. He shouldn't have to pay as much, even at the same weight, because he takes up less volume.

This also must be considered.

Not only should they weigh us, I believe it's also necessary to dunk us in water to determine our total displacement also.

Then, each weight class can be assigned a further sliding scale based on volume.

Posted by: Gover | April 13, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Well, that was well researched. Not.

To begin with, employees get hired and laid off with increases and decreases in business, so their costs aren't as fixed as Mr. Huffman claims. In addition many airline employees saw cuts in wages and benefits during the last decade, further underscoring the variable nature of airline labor costs.

Second, the implementation of checked baggage fees virtually guaranteed a surge in carry-on luggage. Given that there often wasn't enough room for all the carry-ons to begin with, it was inevitable that some airlines would start searching for ways to make the overhead bins a profit center.

Finally, some carriers are actually looking into 'stand up and strap in' seating on short haul flights, so claims about comfort and service are already hading into history.

Posted by: MsJS | April 13, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

How disgusting! Now we have our Government people who can't control our costs or defend the American citizen against illegal alien invasion and occupation, trying to pass laws crippling free enterprise by regulating their right to charge for services rendered. If people don't want a service they can refuse! When people like Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) get in and monkey with our Freedom we enter an era of a skewed of an distorted
system of free enterprise exchange, in which we all fail and go broke, and go hungry. If you want to be a Socialist/Communist, that system might appeal to you. For the rest of us, it is a total diaster, and a very big threat to the American citizen's freedom. Tell Schumer to "get a life" and butt out! No government in free enterprise, or monkeying with it!

Posted by: USDefender | April 13, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

"Why aren't airlines charging by the pound?"

I agree, show up with all the excess junk you believe is necessary to travel ... you and your junk get on a scale and pay by the pound, everyone is equal.

Posted by: knjincvc | April 13, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Sen. Charles Schumer is a typical democrat moron...more worried about his carry on koolaid bag than jobs....he probably has a special barney franks dildo bag

Posted by: JWx2 | April 13, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Interesting idea but..... for jet aircraft the thrust is sufficient to lift about as much poundage as can be fit into the aircraft. It's space that is at a premium. That's the thrust of it.

Posted by: AuditorNY | April 13, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Nah. It's easier and a lot less hassle to just drive or take the train.

Posted by: solsticebelle | April 14, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

It's about time as the situation is out of control. Most air travelers are barbarians.
They hog all the space above their own seats and above other people's. They will gladly put their 50 pound workout bag over your laptop and be offended if you point out that their stuff is not going to fit. They stand on aisles, choking the aisles the minute the plane lands and is still taxiing. The last time I was flying, the man in front of me stood up at his seat, while the plane was taxiing, reached out to the cabin above me, and pulled his very heavy bag, then lost grasp of it so that it fell on my head. I had a gash. Where was he going that he needed his bag right then and there while the plane was still taxiing. Barbarians.

Posted by: Gina14 | April 14, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse


Good column, but you got the last sentence scrambled. To summarize the gist, it should read "Most importantly, airlines can finally end the pretense that passengers are treasured customers and publicly acknowledge the way they really treat us. Mooo!"

Posted by: hcgmcpo | April 14, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Good idea. Last year I was next to a guy who must have weighed at least 400 lbs. It was really inconvenient for everyone. Sitting in his seat, he blocked half of the aisle. He should have been charged double - at least.

Posted by: mitchgart | April 14, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

@mitchgart:

The remedy here is simple. At check-in, each full-size, possibly obese, passenger is measured with a large calipers to determine his or her body width. If you are wider than the seat you paid for, you will have to fly in a wider seat, first class if necessary.

It may actually violate the Americans with Disabilities Act not to do this.

Posted by: SoloOwl | April 15, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

As a 3+ million miler, I think the airlines should train frequent fliers in safety procedures, give us a 2% flight discount (or toilet chit or free overhead space) and then remove all of the flight attendants (since they're there for my safety anyway).

This is all too crazy.

Posted by: travelevangelist | April 16, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

As a 3+ million miler, I think the airlines should train frequent fliers in safety procedures, give us a 2% flight discount (or toilet chit or free overhead space) and then remove all of the flight attendants (since they're there for my safety anyway).

This is all too crazy.

Posted by: travelevangelist | April 16, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

As a 3+ million miler, I think the airlines should train frequent fliers in safety procedures, give us a 2% flight discount (or toilet chit or free overhead space) and then remove all of the flight attendants (since they're there for my safety anyway).

This is all too crazy.

Posted by: travelevangelist | April 16, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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