One reason some airlines are eager to charge fees for carry-on bags: There’s no room at the (overhead) bin.
To avoid checked-baggage fees, more travelers are carrying more bags onboard with them. At the same time, airlines have packed flights with more passengers, on average. That’s led to a real-estate crisis in the cabins—not enough space in overhead bins to accommodate all customers. So more flights are delayed when customers struggle to cram bags into full bins and airline workers have to send bags that don’t fit down to cargo compartments.
Mr. Baldanza says Spirit will be able to trim five minutes off each flight—20 hours of airplane time per day. That’s like having two extra $40 million planes in your fleet, and would let the airline add more flights without having to buy more planes. Today, without carry-on fees, Spirit is often gate-checking as many as 20 to 30 bags per flight that don’t fit in overhead bins.
Part of the bin shortage is of Spirit’s creation: The airline squeezes more seats onto its planes than competitors. Spirit has 145 seats on its Airbus A319s; US Airways Group Inc., by comparison, has 124. And when “properly packed,” Mr. Baldanza says, the A319 has room for 130 bags. If each passenger puts only one bag in the bin, and every passenger packs the bin in the most efficient manner, then the last 15 people to board a full flight still are going to find bins completely full.
Airlines and travelers alike say people are bringing more stuff onboard planes. AMR Corp.’s American Airlines was averaging 1.1 to 1.2 checked bags per passenger before it instituted baggage fees in 2008. It now averages about 1.0 bags or less, according to spokesman Tim Smith.