A U.S. senator from Florida is asking airlines not to act like a Scrooge during the holidays.
Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, has called on all U.S. carriers to halt plans to increase checked bag fees during the holidays. He hinted that he might propose legislation next year that would force airlines to show a connection between the fees and the cost of air travel.
Nelson's call appears to target ultra-low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines, both of which have announced plans to raise bag fees during the upcoming holiday travel season.
Florida-based Spirit will increase bag fees $2 during the Christmas travel season, Dec. 16 through Jan. 4.
Denver-based Frontier is raising bag fees $5 to $10 from Nov. 19 through Jan. 5. The fees will also increase from Feb. 11 through April 4, about the time that most colleges let students out for spring break. The airline will also increase bag fees for the summer travel season, from June 9 through Aug. 16.
"These increased surcharges fly in the face of declining fuel costs and appear focused on increasing profitability on the backs of American families," Nelson said in a letter to the chief executives of the nation's major airlines.
Representatives of Spirit and Frontier defended their tactics, saying they may be raising bag fees but they are keeping fares low, while other airline raise fares.
"During times of peak travel, such as the summer months and holidays, there is much more demand for checked bags," Spirit spokesman Paul Berry said. "This demand brings added costs for baggage handling, manpower, airport infrastructure and added weight to aircraft, which burns more jet fuel."
Frontier President Barry Bill Biffle noted that many businesses, including hotels and rental car companies, raise rates during peak travel seasons. He said Frontier offers travelers much lower fares than competitors — even when the higher bag fees are included.
"We are the best friend for the consumer out there," Biffle said.
To avoid the higher bag fees, Biffle suggested that passengers buy a Frontier package, known as the Works, that lets travelers bring one carry-on bag, one checked bag and choose the best available seat on the plane. The deal also gives travelers a full refund if they cancel within 24 hours of scheduled departure, among other extras. The package starts at $49 per passenger.