The heroic bravery of US Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

In case you haven’t heard the news already, Spirit Airlines announced last week that it would be charging up to $45 for carry-on luggage, effective August 1st:

MINNEAPOLIS – Baggage fees have sneaked out of the belly of the plane and into the overhead bin.

Spirit Airlines will charge as much as $45 each way for a carry-on bag starting Aug. 1. Personal items like purses and laptop computers that fit under the seat will still be free.

The new fee makes Spirit the first airline to charge passengers to haul their own possessions onto its planes. It’s sure to seize the attention of passengers as well as airline executives who are probably glad that Spirit tried it first.

“I didn’t think anyone would go this far,” said Jay Sorensen, an airline consultant who specializes in airline fees.

Industry observers said Spirit’s move doesn’t mean it will spread to the big airlines. None of the major carriers changed their fees on Tuesday.

Spirit’s new charge for a carry-on is $45 if paid at the gate, and $30 if paid in advance. Spirit said on Tuesday that it reduced its lowest fares by $40 on average, so most customers won’t really pay more to fly. Customers who pay for space in the overhead bin will also get to board the plane earlier. The new policy limits paid carry-on bags to one per passenger.

Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza said having fewer carry-on bags will help empty the plane faster. He said the idea is to get customers to pay for individual things they want, while keeping the base fare low.

Yeah, it’s annoying to have to pay those extra fees but never fear, Senator Chuck Schumer is here to save the day:

WASHINGTON — Democratic US Senator Chuck Schumer has warned he may introduce legislation to bar airlines from imposing fees for carry-on luggage, joining a congressional chorus of outrage at such charges.

Schumer urged US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in a letter Friday to repeal a regulation that may encourage such fees by exempting services not deemed “reasonably necessary” — like providing in-flight snacks — from taxes.

“Peanuts may not be reasonably necessary for air travel, but the ability to carry a bag onto a flight is,” Schumer wrote, warning he would act if Treasury does not find a remedy “in the coming months.”

Schumer tied his warning to a decision by low-cost US airline Spirit’s move to charge for some carry-on luggage, saying action was needed “before other airlines adopt this fee.”

You can read his press release on the “issue” here. Snippets:

Since the inception of commercial air travel, customers have always been given the opportunity to bring one carry-on bag with them to store in the overhead compartment without fear of being slapped with an additional fee, but that’s now beginning to change. Carry-on luggage is particularly essential for weekend travelers, day trippers, and overnighters.

These fees will have a heavy burden on middle-class families trying to take their family on a summer vacation. Families with children almost always need a piece of carry-on luggage in order to ensure that they have everything they need, like medicine and other emergency supplies, readily accessible. These new fees will not only impact family budgets, but will also increase the costs of doing business. Business travelers, who often only stay a night or two at their destination before heading home, almost always use carry-on baggage.

“Airline passengers have absorbed fees upon new fees over the last several years and they are hitting the boiling point,” continued Schumer. “This latest fee is a slap in the face to travelers and has crossed the line of acceptable practices. I will fight to see it reversed and make sure no other airlines follow suit.”

Schumer’s letter to Secretary Geithner should serve as a sign to the entire airline industry that consumers have had enough with unnecessary fees that don’t improve the quality of air travel. Fortunately, this fee is one which the government can address by closing a loophole that currently exists in airline regulations.

Schumer has pledged to press the Treasury Department to revise its recent decision and close this loophole. If Treasury is unable or unwilling, Schumer plans to offer legislation that will close the loophole by specifically mandating that carry-on bags are reasonably necessary for air travel and that, therefore, carry-on bag fees are taxable.

Isn’t it awesome that Schumer seems so concerned about what the middle class Americans will have to pay for carry-on luggage on a Spirit Airlines flight? He didn’t give a rip about the hundreds of millions the “rich” and the hundreds to thousands that middle class Americans will have to shell out in order to pay for healthcare “reform” for “all” Americans (not to mention the many other ways we’re getting ready to be taxed), but dammit, he’ll stand up for your “right” not to have to pay up to $45 for carry-ons on a Spirit Airlines flight. Bravo! =d> Thanks, Chuckie!

In all seriousness, though, Patrick Ishmael has the sane idea:

Dear Senator Schumer: Let the market deal with this. As annoying as a carry-on bag fee would be, it is exceedingly more annoying to have the government dictating the minutia about how airlines assign and manage their expenses. As any semi-sentient economist knows, legally forbidding a “carry-on fee” doesn’t make it go away; the fee just gets imputed back into the cost of the ticket, which for most airlines the cost of carrying on already includes. Some fees are avoidable; I rarely check a bag these days. Other fees… not so much.

[…]

Do we like paying for checked in bags beyond the cost of our tickets? No. Does the addition of individualized fees affect whether we fly with a particular carrier? Yes, absolutely. Just ask Southwest Airlines and RyanAir. Smart airlines don’t “nickel and dime” their passengers or else the passengers will leave them, and serious governments don’t assign a “right to carry-on for free” (or rather, “without an individualized fee”) simply because a politician deems that right to exist.

Which is the exact opposite of how Obama and Congressional Democrats operate, sadly.

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