- Associated Press - Saturday, July 31, 2010

Spirit Airlines passengers may want to get to the airport a little earlier than normal Sunday as a new charge for carry-on bags takes effect.

The low-fare airline sparked controversy in April when it announced plans to charge for carry-on items. Passengers who pay in advance, either online or by phone, have to fork over $30. For those who don’t pay before arriving at the boarding gate, the fee jumps to $45.

Members of Spirit’s special fare club only pay $20 for a carry-on. And any bag small enough to fit under a seat flies for free.

The privately held Spirit is based in Miramar, Fla. and has about 150 daily flights. Most carry leisure travelers from big airports in the U.S. through Fort Lauderdale and on to Latin America.

Spirit says extra employees will be on hand at airports to assist passengers. The airline is expecting to handle 23,000 passengers Sunday, including 5,800 in Fort Lauderdale.

Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson says the airline wants to ensure an easy transition for customers and employees. “We’ll have to see how things go over the next week or so,” she said.

Spirit is the first airline to charge passengers for carry-on items. Travelers have grudingly paid the fees for checked baggage that most airlines, including Spirit, have been charging for the past two years. But Spirit’s plan to charge for carry-ons really touched a nerve.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer has extractd a promise from five of the nation’s biggest airlines, including American and Delta, that they wouldn’t charge for carry-on bags.

Spirit reduced its lowest fares by an average of about $40 ahead of the new carry-on fees. The average one-way base fare for August is $63, Pinson said. She said passengers have been paying the carry-on fee in advance but she did not have specific numbers.

A larger bag destined for the overhead bin will incur a $30 fee, as long as the passenger pays in advance. Paying at the gate brings the fee up to $45.

Umbrellas, camera bags, strollers and car seats are among the items that will remain free of charge.

Most airlines have found fees for extras to be lucrative. Besides checked bags, travelers have been paying extra for things like more legroom and refreshments.

A recent study by consulting firm IdeaWorks showed that worldwide, carriers took in $13.5 billion from fees in 2009, a 43 percent jump in just one year.




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