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.


low-tech cyclist said...

I'm not keen on the charge for the second bag, either.

If they want to charge for luggage (including carry-ons) by weight, I'm OK with them making me put it all on a scale and charging me if I exceed my allotment.

But there are good reasons for shlepping two light suitcases, rather than one really heavy one, while traveling. And I think it's stupid for the airline to charge not for how much stuff I'm packing, but on how I've divvied it up.

Now if the problem is that space in their luggage compartments is at a premium, the per-bag fee would make sense. But that's not what they're saying.

low-tech cyclist said...

And then there's the carry-on bags. Don't they have size rules? Do they ever enforce them? I sure don't ever see much of that.

IMHO, the rule for carry-ons should be simple and sweet: if you can't get two of a particular carry-on in one overhead bin, then it has to be checked.

Too often, I see too many bags in overhead compartments that are too long to fit in there with (I'm going to say this badly) the long dimension of the carry-on perpendicular to the central aisle, rather than parallel to it. And of course, if it's put in the overhead with the long dimension of the suitcase (since that's really what it is) parallel to the aisle, then there's really no room for other rigid carryons in that compartment; all you can do is stuff coats and purses around the edges. One passenger's carry-on effectively takes up six passengers' overhead bin space.

I'm sure that overhead bins have a more or less standard size, so it would be possible to construct and market carry-ons to fit that space in a manner that maximized the use of that space - e.g. a carry-on with the largest dimensions that three of them could fit in a bin. But there wouldn't be much incentive for luggage manufacturers to worry about such things unless airlines were going to enforce their carry-on rules.

Anonymous said...

I’m an airline employee, so take my blathering for what you think its worth as a shill. Airlines are not making any money today. They are looking to reduce the number of seats flying so prices can be raised. If passenger load factor is at 85%, then adding more flights will reduce this. Profit is tied directly to what percentage full your flights are not how much revenue you can pull. Adding more flights is not in the picture for a while.

Other than Southwest, airlines operate a number of different aircraft types. Unfortunately, they all differ in over-head compartment space design. I wish a standardization of carry-on dimensions could be established, but the airline industry is stuck in the 1960s. Everything to do with determining if a bag is too-big is up to the people on the plane or at the gate. It will probably always be like that.

Airlines will begin charging at the gate for checking a bag. It is just taking time to implement. A number of fees were implemented as experiments, but bag fees generated the most revenue. The airlines would love to charge you for every decision you make about a flight, but it’s not cost effective.

Flying is cheap, enjoy it while it lasts. In 5-10 years when all the mergers and bankruptcies are done it’s going to be expensive to fly. But you’ll probably get to check your bags for free.

travel toiletries said...

In Europe, Ryanair, who I believe based their original model on Southwest, have been getting stricter about cabin baggage. One carry on bag allowed, into which you must put duty free, handbag, laptop, etc. They'll generally walk up and down the line of people at the boarding gate. More than one bag, or if your bag is obviously over the allowed size, they take it off you and put it in the hold. And charge you €30. There's been a load of complaints from people caught out, but it's a poilcy that's highlighted in bold on both the confirmation email and the boarding pass itself. I've got to say I'm in favour of it - I've been delayed a few times by morons bringing suitcases on board and then giving out there was no room in the overhead bins, and we all had to wait while it was taken off and put in the hold.