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No carry-on fees, 5 airlines promise

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Spirit Airlines plans to start charging passengers $45 to place a carry-on bag in the overhead bin beginning in August. Five major U.S. airlines said Sunday they won't follow suit.

Michael Dwyer / AP Enlarge

ATLANTA - Five major airlines agreed yesterday not to follow the lead of a small Florida airline that plans to charge for carry-on bags.

The airlines pledged their commitment just in time to keep travelers from running for the exits during the summer flying season, but it is doubtful that it marks a change in strategy.

Airlines are going to tack on every fee they can because it bolsters their revenue stream while allowing them to keep base fares lower.

They just don't feel like passengers will tolerate losing their sacred free carry-ons - at least not right now.

The promise was made to New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways, and JetBlue Airways even though some of those same airlines are expected to report first-quarter losses next week.

They were stung by higher fuel prices and the heavy February snowstorms.

Ancillary fees for air travel - including baggage fees, reservation-change fees, and other miscellaneous operating revenue - have been piling up.

For U.S. carriers they totaled $1.95 billion in the third quarter of 2009, roughly 36 percent higher than for the same period a year earlier.

For 26 large U.S. airlines, those fees made up 6.9 percent of their total operating revenue in the third quarter of last year, according to the most recent government data available.

But major carriers risk alienating customers if they follow Spirit Airlines' lead and impose a fee on carry-on bags.

In August, Spirit will begin charging customers up to $45 to place a bag in an overhead bin.

Other fees haven't stopped people from flying, but many can be avoided.

Carry-on bag fees would be hard to avoid.

"We believe it is something that's important to our customers and they value, and we will continue making that available to them at no charge," American Airlines spokesman Roger Frizzell said.

It wasn't clear how long the five airlines had pledged not to charge for carry-ons.

Mr. Schumer and five other Democratic senators - New Hampshire's Jeanne Shaheen, Maryland's Ben Cardin, Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, and New Jersey's Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg - support legislation that would tax airlines if they charge carry-on bag fees.

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