Spirit Airlines’ fee for carry-on bags might be stupid, but it shouldn’t be illegal

Our recent survey of over 5,000 Gadling readers makes clear that a wide majority of travelers think Spirit Airlines’ recently introduced fee for carry-on bags is a horrible idea. I can see their point. Passengers are already grumbling about having to pay extra for things like in-flight snacks, headphones, and checked bags– which were all free just a few years ago– and now Spirit introduces yet another fee into the mix.

But here’s the thing: Much as I dislike Spirit’s decision to charge for carry-on luggage, I don’t think it should be illegal. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood disagree. Sen. Schumer, who said the move by Spirit Airlines was “a slap in the face to travelers,” is planning on introducing legislation that would ban airlines from charging for carry-on luggage.

Secretary LaHood was similarly appalled by the new fee, calling it “outrageous” and saying, “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.”

In the world that busybody senators and transportation secretaries inhabit, any arguably incorrect decision a company makes ought to be made illegal. In the real world, companies who make stupid decisions lose customers and go out of business.

As Jeff Jacoby wrote in yesterday’s Boston Globe:

Maybe LaHood imagines that air travelers, like taxpayers, have no choice but to pay whatever they’re told to pay. A lifetime in the public sector may have so calcified his ignorance of how markets function that he simply cannot grasp that passengers who don’t want to pay Spirit’s new carry-on fees can always switch to an airline that doesn’t charge them.

So, by all means, let’s groan about Spirit Airlines’ stupidity, let’s pillory their CEO and call him a fool, let’s never buy a ticket on board their airline for the rest of our lives. But please, before we cry out “there oughta be a law!” let’s remember that companies should be allowed to cater to people with preferences other than our own. A company’s innovative pricing scheme, whether that company is Netflix, Apple, or Spirit Airlines, should live or die on its own merit, not because some government bureaucrat doesn’t like it. Jeff Jacoby hits the nail on the head again:

Spirit’s $30 fee for the use of an overhead bin may well strike people as “outrageous.” But for Washington to bully the airline into rescinding its fee for no better reason than that some passengers don’t like it would be a greater outrage by far.

Read the entire Jacoby article here.