Spirit air becomes first to charge for carry-on bags

ATLANTA — Spirit Airlines will begin charging for carry-on luggage in August, becoming the first U.S. carrier to add a fee for items in overhead bins.

Carry-on bags will cost $45 at the boarding gate, or $30 if paid in advance, the Miramar, Fla.-based discount carrier said today in a statement. Passengers paying for carry-on bags will get to board the plane first, and all passengers can still bring a small personal item such as a purse or briefcase for free as long as it fits beneath the seat.

Spirit is advancing efforts by airlines to find new sources of revenue beyond tickets. United Airlines was the first U.S. carrier to charge for luggage when it added a fee for the second checked bag in 2008. Most major airlines now charge at least $20 for the first checked bag and $30 for the second, and allow a carry-on bag and personal item for free.

"Since these bag fees started, the overhead bins have become really crowded, and it can delay boarding and deplaning," said Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor at "Besides making money, Spirit seems to be trying to find a balance between people checking versus carrying on bags. It'll probably entice people to check more bags."

Shaw Brown said Spirit is the first U.S. carrier to charge for carry-on luggage. David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association for U.S. carriers, said he doesn't believe any of the trade group's members charge for carry-ons.

Spirit said members of its discount fare club, which costs $39.95 a year, will be charged just $20 for carry-on bags if they pre-pay online. The airline currently allows passengers one carry-on bag for free.

The carrier will also lower fees for checked bags for club members. The first and second bags will cost $15 each for members if pre-paid online, down from $19 for the first bag and $25 for the second.

"Bring less, pay less. It's simple," Ken McKenzie, Spirit's chief operating officer, said in the statement. The policy will reduce the number of carry-ons and get passengers on and off planes quicker, he said.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents 50,000 workers at 22 U.S. carriers, has urged Congress to standardize size and weight restrictions for carry-on bags.

The union said in March that half of flight attendants in a recent survey reported carry-on items falling from overhead bins in the previous two months and 80 percent said they had been injured from handling carry-ons in the past year.

Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the AFA, didn't immediately return a message seeking a comment on Spirit's new bag policy. Misty Pinson, a spokeswoman for closely held Spirit, didn't immediately return a call seeking additional comment on the fees.

Spirit operates about 150 daily flights to 40 destinations including vacation spots such as Orlando, Fla.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Cancun, Mexico.