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Narcissism in the News: How Dare Spirit Airlines Charge for a Service

Flying on an airline has become a tragedy of the commons.  Everyone wants to bring two large bags onto the plane, even though the shared resource of the overhead bins cannot accommodate everyone.  Consequently, we all stay in line far too long while hapless flight attendants shift bags and explain to passengers that there isn't room for their luggage.  Often, flights don't leave on time.   

And so Spirit Airlines has a solution:

MINNEAPOLIS - Baggage fees have sneaked out of the belly of the plane and into the overhead bin.Spirit Airlines will charge as much as $45 each way for a carry-on bag starting Aug. 1. 

Personal items like purses and laptop computers that fit under the seat will still be free.

Spirt's new policy is an obvious - and just - solution: Make people pay for the services they use.  If you want to bring a large carry-on bag, go for it.  Why should I pay for your convenience?  Who do you think you are? 

People are of course outraged.  Why don't they price in the cost of storing baggage into the ticket?  They did, until everyone decided to start carrying on luggage and hogging all of the overhead compartment storage.  Even if people weren't hogging all of the space: What is just about making me pay for your convenience?

While drafting the post, it occurred to me that Spirit's policy is an obvious metaphor to healthcare.  Why should I pay for your care?  Yet the obvious counter is that Spirit is merely charging for convenience: This isn't life-or-death stuff.  You're being charged a small amount of money for a service you're actually going to use.  What exactly is the problem?

The problem is that we as a society have decided that everyone must bend to our every whim.  There is no sense of proportionality - no ability to parse, nuance, or carve gradations.  That a child with lukemia might be entitled to healthcare - even if it means complete strangers must pay for his treatment - has nothing to do with whether a business traveler is anything but a lout for demanding that complete strangers subsidize her airplane tickets.

Whether people ever had a sense of decency is up for debate.  The old guys who will of course claim that there was once a sense of public duty; but those kids have ruined it.  This is so even though the worst bring-too-much-luggage offenders are older business travelers.  Kids, after all, just need a back back to carry the iPod and iPad.  Older, most serious folks carry on suits, 3-ring binders, lap tops, and other essentials of the white-collar working class.

Whatever the case, the push back against Spirit's policy is evidence of the times: There is no Me Generation.  Young or old, everyone expects everyone else to subsidize their way through life.  How long a society can survive when the leeches outnumber the hosts shall be interesting to see.