Paying for Using Plane Bathrooms? Spirit Air CEO Says No But Doesn't Discount New Fees

Spirit Airlines says new carry-on baggage fees help reduce overall fares.

ByABC News
May 6, 2010, 6:33 PM

May 7, 2010— -- Carry-on baggage fees? Check. Food and drink fees? Check. Checked-baggage fee? Check.

The list of fees that Spirit Airlines charges for its services has grown steadily over the years, and the airline's chief executive Ben Baldanza is vehemently unapologetic about it, or that planes will eventually have minimal leg room and no reclining seats or seat-back pockets.

"We charge you a really cheap fare and if you want to buy other stuff, we'll sell it, but that's your call," Baldanza said in an interview with ABC News. "You go into McDonald's and is it deceiving you're not going to be able to order filet mignon? No. You know when you go to McDonald's what you get."

Spirit became the first U.S. airline last month to announce that it would charge a fee -- ranging from $30 to $45 -- for bags placed in overhead compartments. The fee, which will take effect in August, caused an uproar in the airline industry and even in Washington, D.C., where some lawmakers called for regulation to prevent such moves.

But Baldanza argues the charge is misunderstood. By unbundling what the company considers to be unnecessary things -- food, blankets, luggage that needs to go into the overhead compartment -- Spirit can reduce base fares for all its passengers, Baldanza says.

"Our total price point is still lower than everybody else's and that's what matters," Baldanza said Thursday. "When our average [ticket price] is $100, it's hard to tell us not to do something when we're not the ones gouging everyone out."

Customers won't have to pay for medical supplies or baby food and milk, and they can take bags that will fit underneath their seat for free. That room, Baldanza argues, should be enough for people to take all that they need on the aircraft.

"16 by 14 by 12 is pretty large. You could carry a change of clothes, you could carry all your toiletries, you could carry a hair dryer, you could carry makeup, you can carry everything in that bag and it will fit in the seat in front of you and it's free," he said. "I don't think there is anything that you have to have in the plane with you on Spirit that you can't take for free."

Baldanza estimates the new move would take about 30 bags out of overhead compartments and into the checked-bag area, which in turn will save five to seven minutes per gate on delays.

"That's going to create almost 20 hours of new airplane time for us to schedule without having to go buy another airplane," Spirit's CEO said. "When we can find 20 more hours per day, think of how low the fares can be on those flights. That's what this is all about."

So does that mean Spirit will follow in the footsteps of European low-cost carrier RyanAir and also start charging passengers for using the bathroom?

"We think if it's necessary to fly then it should be in your base fare," Baldanza said at a meeting of the International Aviation Club Thursday. "We think bathrooms are pretty much necessary."