The Bloggers
Subscribe to this Blog

Monday Rant: Can't I Carry-On in Peace?

Andrea Sachs

As we all know, there's a huge debate going on about airlines now charging for checked bags, and I know which way I stand: Against. However, I can understand the dissenters (that is, supporters of the fee), who argue that people who use the checked-bag service should pay for it, while those who tote only carry-on should be exempt.

To be honest, I don't know if the airline industry is just being greedy or if the weight of bags really does cost the airlines more in fuel and labor. (If that's the case, will the airlines soon charge passengers per pound? If so, the Olsen twins will fly free). And, while I sympathize with both airlines and passengers, I, an inveterate carrier-on, have remained unscathed.

Until I flew on Spirit Airlines.

When I checked-in for my Florida-bound flight at Reagan National, the agent looked at my two bags (one a duffel that fits the floor sample, the other a small tote with personal items) and told me I had to check them. I told her they were carry-on size and started heading for the nearby model to demonstrate how my bag fit within the required measurements. She ignored my entreaties and continued to push me to check my bags. I was confused, until a lightbulb shaped like a dollar sign flicked on: Whoa, is the airline trying to make a buck off me?

Knowing my rights, I told the agent I was going carry-on and that if my bags did not fit, I would check them at the gate. Then, I sprinted off.

My bags, of course, fit with room to spare. I flew to Fort Lauderdale. Had a nice time. Then, returned to the airport and to Spirit for my flight back.

During my travels, my bags did not expand; in fact, they shrunk, as I finished one 900-page book and several celebrity mags. (So glad Jen dumped John.) However, when I approached the gate agent, I was told that -- not again! -- I had to check my bags. I went through the whole mime of how my bag fit in the container, adding that I flew down with them as carry-on and I should be allowed to return with them as carry-on. The agent was curt and unforgiving, continuing to push me to check them. Eventually, I was tired of arguing and just walked on, tossing out the same rejoinder: If they don't fit, I'll check them. The plane was nearly empty; I could have carried-on an elephant and found bin space for it.

I am only speculating, of course, that the Spirit agents were pressing me to check my bags for monetary reasons. And I know this reads cynically; maybe they were just concerned about my leg space. But I have flown this airline pre-baggage fees and received no comments about my carry-ons.

All I can hope is that we who travel light don't get penalized for going carry-on only.

By Andrea Sachs |  September 22, 2008; 7:14 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Andrea Sachs , Luggage , Monday Rants
Previous: Travel Insurance, Wall Street and You | Next: What Not to Pack

View or post comments


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I flew USAir last week with a traveling companion. I checked a small suitcase and he checked a medium sized one. Despite the warning of the $17/bag charge on the website and signs all around the curbside check in stand, we were not charged to check either going or coming home. This is maybe the first pleasant surprise from the airlines I have ever had.

I am against the checked bag charge because this leads to people who opt instead to drag everything they own into the cabin making the whole loading and unloading process take far too long. Nothing irks like being stuck half standing while waiting for someone to wrestle their barely-within-the-limits bags out of the overhead bin. However, if I am to be charged to check, maybe I will become one of these carry-it-all-on-the-plane people too.

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 22, 2008 8:02 AM

Off-topic: I was dismayed to see that TSA is STILL making people take off their shoes. This is completely ridiculous. The poor young woman in the line ahead of me had a 3 or 4 month old baby in a stroller, diaper bag and small carry-on bag and was trying to juggle all that and take out the baby's bottles for inspection and get her shoes off and then back on. Ridiculous. And while reshoeing myself, I saw a very elderly gentleman who simply could not get down to get his shoes off and on - this poor fellow held up the one security line for at least 10 minutes. I can't say it enough - ridiculous.
Thanks for letting me rant! I feel so much better!

Posted by: VaLGaL | September 22, 2008 8:08 AM

It seems like the airlines would have a better balance of recouping costs and giving customers a reasonably pleasant experience if they raised fares to account for increased fuel costs and then charged only for the second checked bag. That would exempt all but the true long-haulers from the additional fees, and it doesn't seem too out-of-line to charge for what it likely to be a whole lotta weight once you get into the second bag.

What's getting the airlines in trouble to my mind is that they've figured out that they can keep the base fare low and their fees opaque, so customers will book based on the low fare they see and end up (perhaps) paying more than the otherwise might have. This is a strategy that promises short-term gains but long-term ruin, as whatever particles of trust customers may still retain for opaque-fee airlines are systematically crushed and unceremoniously discarded.

Posted by: Lindemann | September 22, 2008 8:53 AM

("more than they otherwise might have," excuse me)

Posted by: Lindemann | September 22, 2008 8:53 AM

In the early days of "One carry-on plus a small personal item", I had a male check-in clerk try to tell me to check in a small backpack (it was my college bookbag) because my "small personal item" was a soft-sided briefcase. That bag was no bigger than a lot of ladies' purses, just less fashionable and better organized. The road warrior in line in front of me had not been asked to check his rollaboard, and his "small personal item" was a laptop bag-briefcase the same size as my soft-sider. The only difference was my gender and casual dress, so I told the clerk my "second bag" was a purse; my tone of voice told him he was welcome to start with me if he really wanted to.

Posted by: BxNY | September 22, 2008 9:28 AM

My fear with the fee for checked bags is that service with checked bags is not getting any better. If I am paying for someone to handle my bag, then it darn well better not get lost. A friend of mine recently lost her checked bag full of 2 weeks of business clothes (and yes, she had paid to check it). Since she travels a lot for business she had to buy a whole new wardrobe at her expense while waiting to find out if Delta is going to reimburse her. Yikes.

Posted by: dc traveler | September 22, 2008 9:29 AM

I, too, flew to Florida last week with a carry-on bag (something I rarely do). There is nothing like being in the last boarding group, finding no place for your bag, and being glared at by all sides as you have to schlep your bag back up to the front of the plane to be checked. It was an experience I hope never to repeat. USAirways could at least have the space in its overhead bins to accommodate all the bags being carried on to avoid their fees.

Posted by: Julia | September 22, 2008 9:32 AM

The fact that the flight home was nearly empty tells me that the attendants were schilling for a buck.

Posted by: EricS | September 22, 2008 9:32 AM

I flow half a dozen times since the baggage fee started and in my observation, there is a lot more luggage being carried on. I previously checked my bags because I don't like having schlep stuff around the airport and I didn't have to worry about liquids. Now I carry on.

I've never seen the two carry-on limit enforced. I regularly see people with 3 or 4 items, especially women with a giant purse, a suitcase and three shopping bags. Last time I flew, my husband ran off to the restroom as we were boarding. I carried all four of our carry-on bags myself. No one said a word.

Posted by: hate flying | September 22, 2008 10:37 AM

"To be honest, I don't know if the airline industry is just being greedy or if the weight of bags really does cost the airlines more in fuel and labor." Are you kidding? Of course the extra weight costs the airlines more in fuel and labor, and our airlines are far from greedy, since many flights are not even profitable.

I don't work for an airline or in the airline industry, nor have I ever worked for one, but it's pretty common knowledge that the airlines are filing for bankruptcy one after another, and even merging together to stay in business. The global airline industry has posted losses every year for the past six years ($6 billion in 2005). The reason? Fuel and labor costs - in fact, in 2005 (when oil was around $50/barrel, compared to over $100/barrel now), fuel accounted for over 22% of the airline industry's total costs. Imagine what is it now! U.S. carriers have been unable to purchase cheap fuel because of their weak finances, low credit ratings, and weak dollar. Most airlines are so streamlined in keeping their weight down that they've taken to calculating how much extra weight the plastic forks cost in fuel. They purposely don't fuel up the plane more than necessary to keep from burning excess fuel.

It's been documented that many flights aren't profitable at all, while most range from $100-$5000 profit per flight depending on the carrier and load capacity. Charging $15/checked bag helps keep them in business and helps keep us with travel options. Can you imagine an America without airlines? Our rail system is practically non-existent and it's certainly not a short drive cross-country. $15/bag isn't the end of the world. And while I agree that charging only per CHECKED bag is a bad idea (less room for carry-ons in cabin, slower boarding/deboarding) and that our weight certainly costs extra fuel, that doesn't take away from the fact that charging per bag makes fiscal sense.

Posted by: stop complaining | September 22, 2008 11:33 AM

I think the real question here is "Why in God's name did you fly Spirit?" They're well known as the worst domestic airline in terms of customer service and additional fees.

Posted by: Liz | September 22, 2008 12:01 PM

I can't say I ever see an agent these days unless I'm checking a big bag. I always check in online then head straight to the gate if I'm carrying on. Of course, my last flight was on SW, who doesn't charge for checked bags (and they remind you of that at every opportunity).

Posted by: no issues | September 22, 2008 12:01 PM

I can't say I ever see an agent these days unless I'm checking a big bag. I always check in online then head straight to the gate if I'm carrying on. Of course, my last flight was on SW, who doesn't charge for checked bags (and they remind you of that at every opportunity).

Posted by: no issues | September 22, 2008 12:02 PM

I'm with no issues. I rarely ever talk to an agent if I can help it and have mastered packing for a week or more in my roll-on and backpack (which carries my laptop). Of course it helps that as a women my clothes can pack smaller than a guy's business suit.

I check bags for two reasons only: snowboarding gear and backpacking gear.

Posted by: Em | September 22, 2008 12:42 PM

The checked bag fee ticks me off for one reason: the ban on liquids over 100ml. Until that ban, I always carried on; but direct application deodorants cause me a rash, and the small pump spray I used to use 10 years ago (which I think was

In passive-aggressive form I often remove my dop kit from my small duffel and check just that. It's 12x8x3 and weighs less than 3 pounds. I've done my complaining about the liquids ban... I'm trying to get the airlines to do the same (they don't want to have to deal with those kinds of checked bags).

So I'm fine with paying for checked bags... you are paying for a service. I'm not fine with the liquids ban... there you're just paying for stupidity.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 22, 2008 1:13 PM

I flew last week from Raleigh to Providence and return on Southwest. I checked my one bag, no check fee. I got a drink of Coke, no charge and two bags of peanuts, no charge! If Herb Kelleher has time now that he has retired as CEO maybe he could take the job as Secretary of Transportation and show the airlines how to run a company.

Posted by: melj | September 22, 2008 1:25 PM

melj, I agree with you 100%. If I can't fly Southwest, I try to take the train. No airline is perfect, and the busier the flight the more difficult it can be. But SW's customer service is great.

I was on a flight out of Raleigh that had to turn back because of an unknown engine problem. We were the last flight to Philly that night, but they got us a plane, and luckily the last flight into Raleigh a couple of hours later had a legal crew (hadn't timed out) that could fly us to Philly. We got in well after midnight, several hours late, but we got there. Imagine my pleasant surprise a week later to receive a letter of apology for our ordeal, an explanation of what had happened, and a $150 voucher for future travel. Southwest rules!

Posted by: Philly flier | September 22, 2008 1:57 PM

Travelling has now become a total pain in the back side. Most people on the flights I have been on put everything in the overhead bins and nothing under the seat in front of them. I love the people who are seated in row 38 putting their bags in the bin over row 8. I also loved AA's flight attendent who would hold the bags of those same people up and say you have 10 seconds to claim this or it is getting checked. She also would force people to put stuff under the seat. Funny, her flights never had issues with full overheads even though almost every seat was full.

I also would like to see infants sitting on the parents lap counted as a carry-on and only a diaper bag allowed as the second item. Yes I am sure it is horrible flying with an infant, why would you try and carry anything on that was not 100% needed during the flight?

Posted by: Sierra | September 22, 2008 2:54 PM

This was a really interesting story, but something is missing given the fact it's a newspaper you are writing for! Where's the part where you called Spirit Airlines, described the incidents, and attempted to get them to own up to what you suspect they were trying to do or at least offer you an explanation. Why didn't you follow up so that readers wouldn't wonder?

Posted by: cala | September 22, 2008 3:10 PM

I'm pretty sure this is what happened to me on an inter-island flight on Go! Airlines last week. I've flown on the same kind of plane many different times and fit my carry on suitcase in the overhead bins and there were no problems. But the woman at the check in desk argued with me that I absolutely had to check it (I already had to check one bag). $10 for the first bag, $17 for the second. And the plane was pretty empty.

Posted by: alexandria | September 22, 2008 3:18 PM

If the above poster is right in his/her supposition, couldn't the Post Travel Section follow up with some reporting on this issue and shame the airlines a bit? It would be a public service.

Although I still just want the blogging reporter right now to add a comment from Spirit.

Posted by: cala | September 22, 2008 3:28 PM

You work for a newspaper, right? How about trying some reporting -- i.e. contacting Spirit and asking if they have ever trained their staff to encourage passengers to check bag or asking to see what their training of desk agents is with regard to baggage?

Just because the medium of blogging tends to be severely dumbed-down doesn't mean you have to follow it. Of course, I get the point of this (i.e. the Post's "Travel Log" and its ilk) is to encourge "interaction" and not enlightenment.

Posted by: Mark R. | September 22, 2008 5:03 PM

Note that Southwest, the only airline to make money, doesn't charge for checked baggage. The legacy airlines simply have to fail and die - their business model does not work anymore. I fly Southwest almost exclusively domestically, and I hate their boarding procedure. I do like the reduced fees (and I do see the connection between the two), their intelligent management, and their committed NON UNION employees.

Posted by: Columbia | September 22, 2008 5:43 PM

Nothing I like better than to be in line with those who argue with agents, disobey their instructions, and carry piles of baggage aboard. Oh yes. One thing I do like better is listening to their self-righteous blather about how airlines should be required to transport us for free.

Posted by: jad | September 22, 2008 7:26 PM

I agree with the other commenters - where's the follow up reporting? On another note, why didn't you either check in online or use one of the automated kiosks? (caveat - I've never flown Spirit, so don't know whether they have kiosks.) I used to prefer human interaction to using the machines - but that changed years ago, and now I try to avoid the kind of "customer service" you experienced whenever possible. Desperate times, desperate measures.

Posted by: adub | September 22, 2008 8:24 PM

One more thing - cynically speaking, I'll bet that as soon as we get used to paying for checked baggage, the airlines will either put a weight limit on carry-ons (some European carriers already do, as a "safety issue") or will come up with arbitrary new size restrictions or "no-wheel" restrictions that will make it much more difficult to carry on roll-aboards.

Posted by: adub | September 22, 2008 8:34 PM

If I have to read one more self-congratulatory piece from someone who brags about how they carry on everything and never check bags, I'll throw up. On their carry on. I'm really happy for you, Ms. Sachs, that you can travel light -- you're obviously a better person than the rest of us. However, I'd like to point out all that crap you're lugging onboard delays everyone else behind you while you're trying to stow it, and then again at the end of the flight as you try to retrieve it all, plus on your way to your seat, you're hitting seated people in the head or shoulder with your "small tote."

I wish the Post would hire travel writers who weren't the cheapest souls on the planet and were willing to pony up a lousy few dollars to fly like us normal people, people who need more than the clothes and shoes on their backs, and toiletries they actually can't carry on.

Posted by: Snarky Squirrel | September 22, 2008 8:47 PM

I always find stories like this hilarious. People are getting exactly what they want from the airlines, no more no less. People have demanded low fare, and the airlines have responded to these demands by breaking up the cost of a ticket into a la carte style pricing.

Meals, drinks, pillows, and checked bags are all things that were once included, but now are not, and frankly I'm happy about it. The meals were lousy anyways. The drinks were nice, but not needed. When you ride the metro, do you complain that the conductor doesn't give you a muffin to munch on while you speed towards foggy bottom?

Posted by: Wolfcastle | September 22, 2008 10:09 PM

What I don't like about the new fees is how self-righteous some of these commentators have become. Most travelers use carry-ons for many different reasons and, yes some of them have an attitude, but most of them don't.

This blog was a rant. It's point is that it is complaining about something. It's not to be confused with a regular article. People on here complain if they post and complain if they don't.

Snarky Squirrel doesn't seem to understand that Andrea Sachs is a consumer who is responding the same way most travelers do - not being cheap, but getting what she pays for - in this instance she would have gotten nothing.

Posted by: ERS | September 22, 2008 10:14 PM

Seems to me that if Spirit Airlines allows for a certain size carry-on, then it should do just that, allow for a certain size carry-on. If Ms. Sachs' carry-on fit, then it should be allowed on. Period. This has nothing to do with what rude people do/don't do with their carry-ons once on the plane. It's about Spirit, or any other airline for that matter, following its own stated rules.

Posted by: non frequent flyer | September 23, 2008 10:30 AM

Spirit seems intent on nickel-and-diming everybody to death, weird they were so insistent. Seems on the borderline of fraudulent, have you asked Spirit management to review the agents' actions? Being a writer of a large newspaper's travel blog provides a giant lever that most of us don't possess...

Posted by: OmarS | September 23, 2008 2:04 PM

Uhhh Columbia? SW is almost entirely unionized. They just have upper management who know what they're doing - a big difference from the legacies.

Posted by: Liz | September 23, 2008 4:23 PM

I have to agree with the posters who say a little more digging here would have been prudent. Come on now! This is just lazy -- I don't care if it's a blog or not. Look at a GOOD reporter like Mark Fisher, who rants and fills in the blanks. What is going on with the Post these days?

Posted by: BizTraveler | September 23, 2008 5:24 PM

"I think the real question here is "Why in God's name did you fly Spirit?" They're well known as the worst domestic airline in terms of customer service and additional fees.

Posted by: Liz | September 22, 2008 12:01 PM "

Amen to that. Spirit is the worst airline in America.

Posted by: Andy | September 23, 2008 6:12 PM

FYI: Spirit Air like almost all the airlines at DCA(Terminal A) has no self-check in kiosks. So the only option is to check in online and bypass the gate agents if possible. Spirit Air has some of the worst customer service both over the phone and at the airport I've ever experienced.

Posted by: Justin | September 23, 2008 11:23 PM

I think ERS needs a sedative. Why aren't we allowed to have an opinion? I'm with those who think this blog -- and this writer -- sucks.

Posted by: SamuelVa | September 23, 2008 11:29 PM

Traveling by plane in Spain, Italy, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, etc., the USA is the only place we had to take our shoes off. Why? No one else seems to think there is a danger-and just check thru the walk thu Xray.

Posted by: Channah | September 24, 2008 12:03 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company