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Which Was The First Major Airline To Start Charging For Carry

Aug 16, 2023

Baggage fees can turn travel on a low-cost-carrier into not so low-cost.

In 2010, Spirit Airlines became the first major US airline to introduce fees for full-sized carry-on baggage, which came as a disappointment to many who thought the carrier's new charge was unjustified. Others followed suit, and today most low-cost carriers charge for carry-on baggage.

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In some cases, legacy carriers even charge passengers for bringing carry-on baggage aboard. In other circumstances, some passengers are prohibited from bringing carry-on luggage aboard and will be charged a fee to check baggage if it is brought to the gate. Such is true of travelers flying on United Airlines' basic economy tickets.

While many may initially think that charging for carry-on bags is just another way for airlines to make money (and this is in fact true), the practice also brings ticket prices down. Not bringing carry-on bags lightens an aircraft's load, thus saving fuel and ultimately money, a saving that can be passed on to the consumer.

Furthermore, most aircraft do not have enough overhead bin space to accommodate all passengers' bags, leading many bags to be gate checked. Notably, the logistics of gate-checking so many bags often lead to delays, and as such requiring a payment for a carry-on bag can help improve on-time performance.

In 2023, the prices for bringing a piece of carry-on baggage onboard can vary significantly by the carrier. Furthermore, when in the booking/check-in process a passenger indicates that they will be bringing the luggage onboard also affects the fee that will ultimately be paid.

Spirit Airlines, the first carrier to charge for carry-on baggage, charges a full $99 if a passenger brings carry-on baggage to the gate. While the price for a carry-on drops to only $60 at booking, on some cheaper fares, this price can drastically increase the total cost of flying on the airline.

Fellow ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines matches Spirit's prices at the gate, also charging $79 for a passenger to register a carry-on at the check-in counter. At booking, however, Frontier charges a lower price of $53. Allegiant charges somewhat lower prices: $75 at the gate and ranging between $15 and $50 at booking depending on the route. Breeze Airways charges $29 for a carry-on for most tickets regardless of when the passenger indicates that they will be bringing the bag onboard.

Not all low-cost carriers charge passengers to bring carry-ons. Southwest Airlines notably doesn't, and further doesn't charge passengers for the first two checked bags they bring onboard. For passengers flying on JetBlue and United's basic economy tickets, bringing a carry-on bag to the gate will result in the luggage being checked, incurring a $30 fee on United and $35 for JetBlue.

For passengers, these incredibly high fees are extremely important to note. After all, a $60 charge can quickly convert a $40 ticket into a $100 ticket, which could be much higher than a different ticket a passenger could purchase. It is essential for prospective travelers to include all baggage costs when selecting the best flight for them.

Alexander (Alex) Mitchell, an Applied Mathematics and Economics student at Brown University, has maintained a lifelong passion for aviation. Mitchell aims to enter the field of strategy consulting with a specialty in commercial aviation. Based out of Providence, Rhode Island, USA.