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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 16, 2010

New airline fees making skies unfriendly

By Wayne Harada
Special to the Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines intends to charge fliers for carry-on bags and seat location.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A rolling suitcase like this one will cost Spirit passengers $45 at the gate, or $30 if booked in advance online.

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Up in the air, there's a surge of "kaching-kaching" ploys going on.

One airline hopes to charge you if you stow your roll-aboard in the overhead bins.

Worse, another carrier intends to make you pay to pee.

Happily, neither is happening here yet.

Add-on flight charges are getting ridiculous so perhaps it's time for a Frank DeLima parody dubbed "Up, Up and Auwe," lamenting the ballooning trend to Up There.

Surely, you've heard the latest ...

Spirit, a budget carrier, plans to add a hefty charge for fliers boarding with a hand carry: a $45 fee at the gate ($30 if booked in advance online), meaning a roll-aboard or a loaded backpack but excluding a purse or a modest carry-on.

Its CEO says the charge would discourage folks with bulging bags from jamming them into limited stow space, which ultimately would reduce boarding delays and trigger more check-in bags since the fee to check a bag is $25 online, $45 at the airport.

Spirit also imposes seat-location fees: $15 for window, $10 for aisle, and $5 for middle. Huh?

Spirit is milking its customers with yet another unbundling charge. Meaning: It's looking for ways to ante up the revenue, looking for untapped schemes while pretending it's offering better service by opening up the cramped space in the overhead bins.

From a consumer's perch, this is red-flag-dangerous: other carriers may see green (bucks) in this latest pimple on acne of the airline industry's face and this tactic could spread like a plague.

Alarmingly, inventive airline bean counters continue to fish for new ways to hook a few more bucks. If you, like me, typically make three to five trips a year, including Neighbor Island hops and Mainland or global jaunts, this latest wrinkle is making the friendly skies very unfriendly.

So far, legacy carriers American, United, Delta and Continental are in a holding pattern on the hand carry fee. But the copycat mentality could prevail.

Could Hawaiian join the line, too? I hope not!

You've heard that Ireland's Ryanair is nickel-and-diming it, raising the ire of folks who use the no-frills carrier, which plans to install coin-operated on-board toilets this year. Absurd. I'm surprised the carrier hasn't also thought of additional slots to use toilet paper, flush, wash hands and use paper towels.

That's just the beginning; online reports reveal Ryanair has revealed other outrageous proposals: to yank out two toilets to place six more seats, redesign planes to inaugurate a standing-room fare, install no-recline seats with no seat back pocket for the standard-fare safety card, eliminate airport check-in with only self-service online procedures where you print your own boarding pass, and request passengers to haul their checked bags to the gate.


It's time to start beating the drums to prevent further charges and a spread of this virus. What goes up never comes down, after all. With an array of charges already in place for checked bags, in-flight food and, in some cases, fees for a pillow or a blanket, the sky's the limit.

On one hand, you don't blame the airlines. Fuel costs have gone astronomical industry experts warn of more fuel surcharges this summer. Passengers cram more crap down the aisle and literally stuff the overhead bins with loot that exceeds the one bag, one purse or laptop generally allowed.

With charges for a first and second bag already, carriers are always looking for new maneuvers to boost income, particularly if the service or the item is of a premium nature.

But as roll-aboards get larger, the bins remain teeny, meaning not enough space for bags, coats, computers and omiyage.

Would you be surprised if ...

• Vending machines are installed to fetch soda, water, or mini-bottles of burgundy or scotch? (This could reduce flight attendant counts, a bottom-line savings for carriers, though safety issues would be compromised).

• Open space in the overheads (if carry-on loads actually diminish) converts to coin-operated lockers for those willing to hand-carry?

• Seat choice selection escalates, with added fees?

I can appreciate added fees if they bring added comfort, like more legroom, but shouldn't undesirable seats conversely be discounted? Like the zone next to the restrooms? The last row in coach? The seats close to the noisy galley?

Those who taketh should giveth, too.

One way to stop mounting add-on fees, of course, is to simply return to higher airfare across the board. Bundle up the fees, and bring back first-bag-free. A hotel charges you for the room; you get to use the bed, toilets, showers but pay for perks. A la carte has been a nightmare.

Reach Wayne Harada at 266-0926 or wayneharada@gmail.com. Read his Show Biz column Sundays in Island Life and blog at http://showandtellhawaii.honadvblogs.com.