LaHood on Spirit’s carry-on baggage fees: “We’re gonna hold the airline’s feet to the fire on this”

By | April 8th, 2010

Spirit Airlines’ decision to begin charging passengers for carry-on luggage — and lowering some fares to a penny — has caught the attention of the federal government, as many predicted it would. In part one of our exclusive interview with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, we talk about fees, consumer protection and the future of airline service.

Spirit Airlines announced earlier this week that it would start charging passengers for carry-on bags this summer. It has also lowered some fares to one cent. I think it’s possible customers will think they’re booking a penny fare, only to discover that everything else is extra after they’ve made a purchase decision. Do you think that’s the way they ought to be doing it?

Absolutely not.

How should they be doing it?

I think they should fully disclose to people — either if they’re calling or if they’re looking at a computer screen — in a way that’s legible and clearly readable, so that if they are going to charge you, you board the plane and you put your bag above the seat, that whatever that charge is, people can see that.

This idea of trying to deceive people with some little amount of print that nobody can read, or somewhere tucked away, I don’t agree with that.

And we’re gonna hold the airline’s feet to the fire on this. Because we have an obligation to do it and we have the ability to do it.

I think it’s a bit outrageous that an airline is going to charge someone to carry on a bag and put it in the overhead. And I’ve told our people to try and figure out a way to mitigate that. I think it’s ridiculous.

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Do you think Spirit crossed the line?

I don’t think they care about their customers. That’s what I think. And I think when you charge somebody to use the bathroom, you don’t care about your customers. I mean, it’s pretty clear.

That hasn’t happened here — yet.

No, but they’re suggesting it.

What about convenience fees — charging people to use their credit card? Allegiant Air does that now. DOT hasn’t stopped it.

I think if it’s not disclosed, it’s a real insensitivity to customers. I really do.

I think the question really is, at what point do you disclose that? Do you disclose it when you’re quoting the fare …

I think it should be disclosed on the phone or on the computer screen, when you’re buying the ticket.

When the fare is being quoted? So that you can make an informed buying decision?

That’s correct. I think trying to keep these things secret is not a fair way to treat people.

I’m sure you’ve been following the Menendez bill, which would require airlines to quote a total price on their tickets. Isn’t that the kind of thing your department can mandate in an administrative rulemaking?

Yes, it is.

So when you say you want to hold their feet to the fire, you’re talking about a rulemaking?

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