DOT Secretary on Spirit Air: 'I don't think they care about their customers'

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Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has some strong opinions regarding Spirit's decision to start charging passengers for carry-on bags.

In an interview posted at Christopher Elliott's blog, LaHood said that the DOT was going to "hold the airline's feet to the fire" on its decision to charge for carry-ons, and for the misleading way fares are listed, with a cheap up-front price followed by all sorts of fees down the line. LaHood says:

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.

When asked if Spirit has crossed the line, LaHood said flatly:

I don't think they care about their customers. That's what I think.

He also commented on Ryanair's recent decision to begin charging passengers to use the bathroom on planes:

I think when you charge somebody to use the bathroom, you don't care about your customers. I mean, it's pretty clear.

Based on the response to our post on Spirit's fees for carry-ons, LaHood isn't the only one with strong feelings about the topic. Here, a few excerpts of the 125 (and counting) reader comments, which, while mostly anti-Spirit, are actually more mixed than one might imagine:

This is just another reason not to fly this airline, which is the worst I've ever seen in terms of nickel and diming customers. They charge for water, assigned seats, checked luggage and now carry ons. Their prices may look cheaper than other airlines on the surface, but add in all these costs, and they're no longer such a budget option.

I have noticed bags getting bigger to save luggage fee, but if airlines push costs too high, people will stop flying. I use Southwest Air almost exclusively, because their very good, but also no baggage handling fees. I would rather see handling fee on carry on baggage, than checked baggage, as it would solve overhead problems, or very minimal size for overhead baggage.

This is ridiculous! As a frequent flyer, I can tell you that I WILL NEVER fly Spirit. If they are that pressed for money, raise the price of the ticket. Its just insulting for the CEO to try to sell this as a way for us to "customize" out travel. We are smart enough to know the deal -- you can't efficiently manage the costs of your business so you try to bleed customers dry rather than tightening up your business. This is no more than a blatant money grab -- plain and simple.

I love it!!! If people had used carry-on for just that -- not stuffing everything they owned into a small wheelie suitcase, there would not be so many complaints. Maybe now we will be able to board a flight in a reasonable amount of time and not have to walk all the way down the aisle to find a place for your coat since the overhead is so full of oversized carry-ons.

I think Spirit's intentions, as well as American, Delta and United, are insulting. Do these carriers really think that the traveling public is that stupid and that loyal that they will accept anything that the carriers wish to charge??? They flunked Marketing 101.

Even though I dislike it, charging for checked bags makes some sense in that airlines could ship freight at a higher rate than checked bags. Charging for carry-ons has no basis in business sense, nor any real practical basis. Smells of the sort of profiteering we've witnessed in other circumstances within this industry.

This is why I have stopped flying as much as possible. The hassles at the airport and on the plane suck the fun out of traveling. I'll drive to local spots when possible or maybe take the train.

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