A New Airline Add-on Fee: That’s the Spirit!

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Spirit Air is adding a fee to get a boarding pass (Rebecca Cook / Reuters)

Spirit Air, which has been leading the charge when it comes to airfare add-ons, has one upped itself. Passengers will now have to pay $5 if the airline prints out a boarding pass for them. It’s a cheeky, you-gotta-be -kidding-me move for passengers who last year got hit with a baggage fee—that is, carry on baggage. Chalk it up to yet another in a relentless series of fees that come under the heading of unbundling. By unbundling their fares, airlines break down each flight into its component parts—boarding, baggage, legroom, etc.— and sell them individually. So your airfare just gets you a seat, but not necessarily anything else, in this case not even a boarding pass.

Spirit is the first in the U.S. to do this but not the first in the business. That honor belongs to the ultimate cheapskate, Ireland’s Ryanair. The ultra discount carrier that loves to be hated charges £40 for the privilege, or about $21. In response, other vendors, such as car rental agencies, that had locations near Ryanair’s check in, quickly set up a secondary market, offering to print the boarding passes for passengers for £10, according air travel consultant Jay Sorensen of IdeaWorks Co. Wonder if we’ll see offers of $2.50 for Spirit’s customers from nearby airport concessions with a web connection and a printer.

Spirit Air CEO Ben Baldanza explained away this latest passenger service atrocity as giving customers more flexibility in their travel options. He’s going to charge a fee for a boarding pass, but he’s also dropped fares $5 each way. What a sport. “It’s all about consumer choice,” Baldanza said in a statement. “Imagine if you went to a restaurant and all the meals came with dessert. That’s great if you like dessert, but if you don’t, you would prefer the option to pay less for the meal and not take the dessert.” Except in this case, it’s like being charged for the napkin. And I’m imagining that I wouldn’t eat in your restaurant either.

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