The Florida based US and Latin America self titled ‘ultra’ low cost carrier Spirit, has announced forthcoming $100 carry-on baggage fees.

It’s a notion that would strike terror into the heart of most travellers, perhaps even more than Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary’s headline grabbing threats to put £1 coin operated locks on both sides of cabin toilet doors, if it tells us where desperate or wicked Australian airline managements might head in their pursuit of higher ancillary fees.

The idea of any carry-on baggage fee in Australia is alien, even if it was only $10, and in Spirit’s case, the fee at check-in rises this November from $US 40 to $US 50, and doubles if you turn up at the gate with anything deemed to be too large to fit under the seat in front of you meaning it must go into the overhead bin.

US media reports point out that $100 for a carry-on item is more than many Spirit customers pay for their fares. Spirit is the US version of Ryanair, minus the compassion and sense of fun that sets the European low cost giant apart from other airlines.

And although it only morphed into its ‘ultra’ low cost format early in 2007, it could teach Ryanair a few things about extras. Your Spirit fare doesn’t actually include the seat, in that there is a small additional fee for the compulsory seat selection process after you choose your fare, including what may be the world’s only middle seat fee, rising higher for window and aisle seats.

But think this through. A $100 carry-on fee for any oversized item a passenger brings to the gate at an Australian airport would probably wipe out in less than 24 hours the seemingly impossible to eradicate habit of passengers jamming the aisle and lockers with items cabin crew seem loathe to turn back.

Maybe Spirit does have something to offer Australian travellers after all. Although I’m not sure how the carry-on rule is supposed to work in the American winter, since as a Florida carrier, it does fly to some places where its often -20C to -40C on the tarmac, and flights are stuffed full of winter coats, hats and mittens, as well as 150 kilogram passengers, on a routine basis.

Spirit's route map, full of opportunities to be flown, or offended

Spirit, by the way, has a magnetic Ryanair-like attraction for bad media. Last month it refused to refund the fare paid by a 76 year old veteran who after paying and booking was diagnosed as terminally ill.  It brought libertarian Ron Paul type Americans, belonging to the ‘tough, so you’re going to die, we don’t need no commie pansy consumer protection laws, so p*ss off‘ mind-set into conflict with the star and stripes draped patriots-are-sacred school of thought, which as students of US life might well know, can simultaneously reside in the consciousness of many Americans.

Fortunately for Jerry Meekins, the veteran, and Spirit, the airline gone right wing loony feral, the carrier today apologised, said its CEO would personally refund the money, and would make a $5000 donation to a charity nominated by Mr Meekins in his name.

Spirit is about half the size of Jetstar by fleet, with 40 A320s in service, but is also growing fast, after shrewdly identifying the American Hispanic and Florida retiree markets as being under served and predisposed to take up regular low fare offerings to visit family and relations.

It also has Big Front Seats that are the same size but no-where near as beautifully covered as those in Virgin Australia’s domestic business class, which you can buy as upgrades at the counter for, say, a week’s worth of cheesy beef burgers with lashings of  caramelised cranberry toppings , which for observers of public health in America, is why the need for Big Front Seats actually exists, and in abundance.

While the fee culture at Spirit may seem unthinkable to anyone flying in this hemisphere, even on our low cost carriers, it has to be said that Spirit also routinely outrages much of the older American demographic with the most vulgar advertising campaigns ever seen for almost any category of goods and services.

Recent examples, which may survive somewhere on video search engines, include the close up Valentine’s Day ‘go south’ beach babes ads, the MILF ad campaign, which Spirit said meant ‘Many Islands Low Fares’, and the MUFF Diver promotion, which stood for ‘Many Unbelievable Fun Fares’ to scuba resorts.

Which raises the thought. Maybe the slogan for Jetstar should be ‘the SPIRIT of Australia’.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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