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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Let's hope this airline comes to its senses


To the surprise of many, they actually did it. The brash and aggressive Spirit Airlines has recently put into effect a fee of from $30 to $45 for luggage brought into a plane and placed in the overhead rack. And a great many passengers are unhappy. Though it's hard to believe, a number of people on the first Spirit departures to charge the penalty seem not to have heard of the new policy in advance (according to several tabloids that covered the event). "If I had known," said one passenger, "I would have flown on JetBlue." And indeed, the new charge sometimes wipes out the price advantage that Spirit frequently enjoys over other airlines, like JetBlue.

Back in April, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York obtained commitments from the presidents of American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United and US Air that they would not follow Spirit's lead and impose charges for baggage brought into the fuselage of their planes. This means that Spirit will be quite alone in doing so for some time to come. Spirit's president, Ben Baldanza, recently met with astonished disbelief and sharp criticism when he told a congressional subcommittee that luggage is "not essential" for a vacation trip.

Clearly, a great many travelers will henceforth refuse to fly on Spirit Airlines as long as this fee requirement remains in effect. It is an open question as to whether such consumer boycotts ever are effective. Let's hope this one brings Spirit Airlines to its senses.

• Better news: With very little fanfare, the cost-cutting, upstart Iceland Express airline (not to be confused with the older Icelandair) has just announced that it will be operating its four-times-a-week service between New York/Newark and London Gatwick (via Reykjavik) throughout the year; a former termination date of Oct. 27 has been scrapped. Iceland Express has been flying round-trip from the U.S. to London for as little as $450, including all taxes, fees and fuel surcharges, and even when it charges more, it undercuts the normal U.S.-to-Britain carriers by at least $300.

Those sensational fares have filled 90 percent of the carrier's seats to date, creating an obvious profit for the carrier, and it's good to see a budget-oriented company succeed so brilliantly. Keep in mind that, from Reykjavik, Iceland Express flies to a dozen other European destinations as well, and you will see how useful its services are to the cost-conscious American traveler.

• And even better news: After valiantly maintaining high fares throughout the summer months, the airlines apparently have surrendered to economic conditions starting in September. Trans-Atlantic airfares, according to several pundits, will collapse after Labor Day.

If you will go to an aggregator website like the Copenhagen-based Momondo (www.momondo.com) and place test bookings for midweek departures both for August and again for September, you'll notice a sharp difference. In a typical example, round-trip airfares (including all fuel surcharges and taxes) between Newark, N.J., and Brussels for midweek flights in mid-August are never lower than $918. Yet on the same itinerary for midweek departures in mid-September, several airlines will be offering round-trip airfares as low as $613 (one airline on one date even quotes in the $400s, but I assume that's a mistake).

So the lesson is clear: The price of a European vacation starting in mid-September and thereafter (until spring) will return to the affordable levels we used to know, combining reasonable airfares with newly devalued exchange rates for both the euro ($1.30) and the British pound ($1.58).

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer's Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program "The Travel Show" with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer's blog at frommers.com.

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