Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In Defense Of The (Second) Bag Fee

I've done a fair bit of travel over the past month. I think I can report that at the margin, bag fees on the first bag encourage two behaviors:
  • Travelers pack the largest bag they think they can carry on to the plane. This results in higher boarding and de-planing times as they struggle to put their bags in overhead compartments. In addition, nearly every flight on airlines that charge for the first bag has less than zero space for carry-on luggage; they know that there are more bags than there are overhead compartments-plus-space-under-seats. This is the bottleneck for airline to earn more revenue; if they could shrink boarding times by ten percent and get an extra flight out of each plane, they'd be very happy. So at this level, the fee for the first bag is penny-wise and pound-foolish.
  • Travelers pack a large bag and expect the flight attendants to deny them the chance to carry it on. But, they don't (can't?) charge you for bags they force you to check at the gate. As more and more people figure this out, it will become the norm, and airlines will either be forced to abandon the fee for the first bag, or start charging people at the gate, which means they'll have to start charging you for checking the stroller, which means the airlines hate children, Congress will intervene, &c.
Air travel would be faster (and therefore better for the airlines) and more pleasant (and therefore better for the airlines) if airlines charged fees for checking the second bag. Charging fees for checking the first bag is probably a loser for the airline.
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