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Which Was The First Major Airline To Start Charging For Carry-On Bags?


  • Charging for carry-on bags helps lower ticket prices by reducing the aircraft’s load and saving fuel.
  • Many airlines, including Spirit and Frontier, charge high fees for carry-on bags at the gate, increasing the cost of flying on these carriers.
  • Not all low-cost carriers charge for carry-ons, such as Southwest, but some, like JetBlue and United (with their basic economy ticket), charge fees for bringing carry-on bags to the gate.

In 2010, Spirit Airlines became the first major US airline to introduce fees for full-sized carry-on baggage, disappointing many who thought the carrier’s new charge was unjustified. Others followed suit, and today most low-cost carriers charge for carry-on luggage.

In some cases, legacy carriers even charge passengers for bringing carry-on baggage aboard. In other circumstances, some passengers are prohibited from bringing carry-on luggage aboard and will be charged a fee to check baggage if brought to the gate. Such is true of travelers flying on United Airlines’ most basic economy tickets.

Why charge for carry-on bags?

While many may initially think that charging for carry-on bags is just another way for airlines to make money (though this is, in fact, true), the practice also decreases ticket prices. Not bringing carry-on bags lightens an aircraft’s load, thus saving fuel and, ultimately, money, which can be passed on to the consumer.

A Spirit Airlines aircraft flying in the sky.

Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Furthermore, most aircraft do not have enough overhead bin space to accommodate all passengers’ bags, leading many bags to be gate checked. Notably, the logistics of gate-checking so many bags often lead to delays, and as such, requiring payment for a carry-on bag can help improve on-time performance.

What are airlines currently charging for carry-ons?

Prices for bringing a piece of carry-on baggage onboard can vary significantly by carrier. Furthermore, in the booking/check-in process, if a passenger indicates they will be carrying the luggage onboard, the fee will ultimately be affected.

Spirit Airlines, the first carrier to charge for carry-on baggage, charges a full $99 if a passenger brings carry-on baggage to the gate. While the price for a carry-on drops to only $60 at booking, given some very inexpensive fares depending on the route, this price can drastically increase the total cost of flying.

A Frontier Airlines Airbus A321neo flying in the sky.

Photo: Robin Guess | Shutterstock

Fellow ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines nearly matches Spirit’s prices at the gate, charging $79 for a passenger to register a carry-on at the check-in counter. At booking, however, Frontier charges a lower fee of $53. Allegiant charges somewhat lower prices: $75 at the gate but between $15 and $50 at booking, depending on the route. Breeze Airways charges $29 for a carry-on for most tickets, regardless of when the passenger indicates they will bring a bag onboard.

Not all low-cost carriers charge passengers to bring carry-ons. Southwest Airlines notably doesn’t, and further doesn’t charge passengers for the first two checked bags they bring onboard. For passengers flying on JetBlue and United‘s basic economy tickets, bringing a carry-on bag to the gate will result in the luggage being checked, incurring a $30 fee on United and $35 for JetBlue.

A JetBlue aircraft taking off into cloudy skies.

Photo: Robin Guess | Shutterstock

For passengers, these incredibly high fees are significant to note. After all, a $60 charge can quickly convert a $40 ticket into a $100 ticket, which could be much higher than a different ticket a passenger could purchase. Prospective travelers must include all baggage costs when selecting the best flight.


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