Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Airlines would be prohibited from charging fees for carry-on bags, according to a new bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday to counter a new luggage fee of up to $45 at low-cost carrier Spirit.

The announcement of the fee has sparked populist outrage, but the lawmakers behind the bill say they were motivated principally by health and safety concerns.

Democratic Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana said carry-on bags often contain personal items that are “important for the safety and health” of travelers. These may include medication, personal-care products and eyewear.

“At this point, only one airline has announced plans to charge for carry-on item fees, but we cannot allow these floodgates to open,” Mr. Cardin said in a statement announcing the bill he and Mrs. Landrieu sponsored.

Fellow Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York pressed the Treasury Department on Monday for administrative action to block the proposed carry-on charges, calling them a “slap in the face to travelers.”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also said his department would look into the matter.

Privately held Spirit announced this month that it would charge up to $45 for carry-on luggage stowed in overhead compartments and would lower base fares by a similar amount. Spirit is lowering checked-bag fees as well.

The changes take effect for travel beginning Aug. 1.

Misty Pinson, a Spirit spokeswoman, said the airline is “reaching out” to Senate offices to “clarify information that has been misrepresented in the media.”

Ms. Pinson said passengers paying the fee will receive priority boarding and personal items that fit under the seat would remain free, as would bags containing medicine. Canes, walkers and other medically related devices would also not be subject to a charge.

Spirit said the plan will speed up airport security lines and allow passengers to board and exit the aircraft faster.

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