February 2nd, 2012

Ben Baldanza or Michael O'Leary?

Who's the king of airline fees?

Looks like Ben Baldanza, CEO of Spirit Airlines, is trying hard to compete with Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair, in the race to tack on as many fees as he can imagine to the (artificially low) quoted airfare:

From Smarter Travel, via Yahoo:
A mere week after the Department of Transportation (DOT) introduced a series of passenger protection regulations, Spirit's rolled out a fresh fee in reaction to the rules. According to a press release issued by the airline, Spirit customers must now pay a $2 each-way DOTUC (Department of Transportation Unintended Consequences) fee to cover costs associated with the DOT's new regulations. The $2 fee went into effect on Tuesday, January 31.

One of the DOT's recently enacted rules gives flyers the option to change or cancel a reservation within 24 hours of booking; it's this law in particular that's given Spirit cause to charge extra. The airline's reasoning? By reserving seats for customers who have yet to commit, Spirit will lose inventory and, consequently, money—or so it says. Hence it's passing the purported cost on to its passengers.
So far, no one else is charging such a fee, so I'd just call that a Spirit Airlines price increase. A commenter asks:
What about "overbooking" and then "bumping"? Airlines sell tickets to more people than they have seats for, with the justification that they want the planes to fly full. The people that don't make the flight for whatever reason don't get a refund. That means the airline is getting paid DOUBLE for who knows how many seats and still charging "change fees" for the people who re-schedule.
CNN adds:
Extras on domestic flights include up to $40 for a carryon bag, up to $38 for a first checked bag, $5 to have an agent print a boarding pass and $1 to $15 for snacks or drinks.
Nonetheless, I think Michael O'Leary remains the champion in this competition. In fact, it's possible Baldanza got the idea for his fee from O'Leary. Back in March, Ryanair imposed an €2 "EU261 levy". From USA Today:
Ryanair, the airline notorious for its array of extra charges, has just launched an unavoidable new fee that will add euro2 ($2.80) to every one-way ticket.

Europe's biggest budget carrier announced Wednesday that its new "EU261 levy" has been designed to compensate the airline for European consumer laws that hold airlines, rather than airports or governments, liable for stranded customers' food and hotel costs whenever a natural calamity or air controllers' strike grounds services.

Traveling with a baby on your lap costs euro40 ($56) round trip. So does a single Ryanair-printed boarding card. Checking one bag costs at least euro70 ($100), two bags up to euro280 ($400). The right to stand in the fastest boarding line — important on an airline with no seat assignments — costs euro5 ($7).
To help sort consumers sort out the fees, the UK's Civil Aviation Authority has just released a document: "Comparing airline fees for optional extras and other charges" (pdf), with tables which "cover the top twenty-four airlines based on scheduled flights numbers operating in the UK, covering over 84 per cent of the passengers travelling to/from the UK." (updated January 30th, 2012)

I can't find a similar document from the American authorities, but there are some comparison documents compiled by private organizations. SmarterTravel has one (pdf, updated November 23rd, 2011), as does USA Today (updated March 10th, 2011).

Disclaimer: I have flown Ryanair (STN-DUB). I have not flown Spirit Airlines.
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