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July 09, 2009

Bin Hog Backlash

Warning. Heavy luggage

by Barbara S. Peterson

Pay for your carry-on baggage? Yikes!

Lately a wave of stories is stoking the notion that there's a 'carry on crisis' in air travel: Too many oversize duffels and golf bags chasing too little on board space.  Seems more like an old problem in search of a solution. But the latest panaceas are setting a new standard in loopiness. 

Let's take them one by one:

Make TSA's airport screener workforce police bag size 
The idea to make airport screeners the enforcers has a superficial logic.  They are, after all, already there, manning the checkpoints through which we all must pass.  But this seems like a classic case of mission creep run amok and several emails from former colleagues of mine at the TSA checkpoint point out they are already taking on new tasks from the airlines  (such as checking boarding passes against IDs). This would only make lines far worse--plus give screeners less time for what they really should be doing, like looking for suspicious people or items. 

Charge for carry-on bags and let people check bags for free   
This strikes me as back-asswards.  While charging for checked luggage at least has a certain logic to it--the airline must employ a staff to handle the bag and get it to and from the plane--your allotted quota of carry-on gear shouldn't really cost the airline anything.  Besides we've been trained by the airlines for years to bring valuables with us; otherwise  insurance claims would inevitably spike.    

Of course those arguing in favor of this notion say that carry-ons do extract a cost--when bins get too full, flight attendants have to intervene--most often by gate checking the overflow.  But that's been the case for years. 

Remove all the charges on luggage and raise fares instead to cover handling costs
In a perfect world, airlines would be able to raise prices to cover a rise in costs, just like they do in other industries.  Do you want to know how many times the airlines have attempted and failed to do just that?  Besides, the airlines are moving more to an a la carte model, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially for those low-maintenance fliers who already travel light. 

As Delta's CEO Richard Anderson explained not long ago, the fee is partly meant to discourage fliers from thinking of airlines as a free shipping service. "We are not an overnight express company.  We have had had people show up with 30 or 40 bags...and when you get to bicycles and the myriad of other stuff they try to check, then we are turning into a cargo carrier."

Still, why can't airlines do a better job of managing this? 

Next time you go to the airport take a look around. There are noticeably fewer airline employees at airports as money-losing carriers slash staff.

Finally a lot of the angst over carry-ons seems to be sparked by bad behavior on the part of a few insensitive travelers.

Bin hogs, it seems, fall into two species: The Clampetts, those clueless but probably harmless goofballs who seem to view the airplane as a flying moving van, and the Bag Bullies, who consider it a blood sport to indulge in such selfish strategies as stowing their bag in a bin nowhere near their seat--but conveniently near the exit.

The first gang can probably be tamed with some extra education.  As for the second group ---you know those announcements they make while we're boarding?--perhaps a gentle reminder on bag etiquette could be added.  And for those who persist, some more direct intervention from the flight attendants might be in order. 

I know that will get a lot of protests from the crews, who are understandably overwhelmed.. but that is unfortunately part of their job.

Further reading:
* Fees on top of fees for your checked bags courtesy of USAirways and United Airlines
* Jet America, covered early in the Daily Traveler, delays launch (The Cranky Flier)
* On the Fly: Barbara Peterson on the airline industry


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