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EDITORIAL: There ain't no such thing as baggage that flies for free

By: The Gazette editorial
April 29, 2014 Updated: April 29, 2014 at 3:20 pm
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The illusion that some business offers goods and services for free lives on like a fairy tale.

The latest indicator that Americans believe in free stuff comes in the form of headlines, news stories and readers comments regarding a benevolent decision by Denver-based Frontier airlines. The company clearly has an interest in serving customers who need the lowest fares possible. To serve them, it will begin offering tickets that pay for nothing more than basic transportation from point A to point B.

To travelers who can barely afford to fly, this should be cause for celebration. No longer will Frontier passengers pay the cost of flying carry-on bags if they don't bring them on the trip. The airline already decided to stop charging customers for soft drinks and food. They can ask for these amenities and pay as they go.

To the low-income traveler, this can be the difference between flying or enduring a long, agonizing bus ride. For some, it's the difference between a trip and just staying home. Lots of people would rather travel with the clothes on their backs than stay home because an airline includes the costs of transporting bags in each ticket, by rote, without asking customers.

Anyone who thinks bags fly free simply hasn't run a business. Transporting a bag from one city to another costs money. Someone earning wages must process and check the bag. Passengers cramming bags into overhead bins cause more costly time on the ground. Carry-on bags create more work for flight attendants who are earning wages. Bags clearly raise an airline's overhead.

Any airline that says "bags fly free" is spoofing. The cost of transporting bags is included in tickets. Those who fly light subsidize people who fly with an assortment of bags. It's an indisputable fact. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, and there ain't no such thing as a bag that flies free.

The cost is so significant that Frontier is willing to pass a portion of the savings on to passengers who choose to fly with no bags. The company will lower its base fare by an average of 12 percent for customers who fly without bags. A $300 flight would cost $264. Lot's of frugal or struggling Americans will be happy to save $36 in return for flying light. Conversely, the person who chooses to fly with a bag will be charged $25 during online check-in or $35 at airport check-in. Frontier could not offer this savings if the reduction in bags wouldn't genuinely reduce the company's overhead.

So, by helping people fly for less - by offering them the option to save money by leaving bags at home - Frontier creates headlines such as this from Monday's New York Times: "Denver-based Frontier Airlines now charging for bags"

The more accurate headline would be: "Denver-based Frontier Airlines creates option to not pay for bags"

The story's lead reads: "Passengers beware: More airline fees are on the way."

Precisely the opposite is true. The new fee structure gives travelers the option of a ticket that transports only a human. The ticket contains only the costs associated with flying a human and, presumably, a reasonable margin of profit.

Because of the article's headline and spin, reader comments are predictable:

- "More and more reasons not to fly! If I can't drive, I'm not going"

- "Good. Another airline I won't fly..."

- "I don't understand charging for a carry on... You're just making passengers angry..."

The airline is offering a discount, just as cable companies offer lower fees to customers who don't want Showtime and HBO. Media types, and some of their readers, cannot see this. That's because they're helplessly confused by old pricing structures that bundle costs and pretend to give away sodas, snacks and free rides for bags. Discerning consumers, who avoid confusing hidden fees as freebies, will avail themselves of the option for better deals.

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