Monday, October 08, 2012

Avoiding Passenger Congestion

Don’t we all like to avoid airport congestion?  The pushing.  The shoving.  It’s unpleasant and even potentially unsafe. 

But what are the airlines communicating with their baggage fees at the check-in point -- if you want your luggage checked through so that you no longer have to carry it? 

They’re telling all of us that, to avoid paying that charge, you should carry your luggage on ... which is what it seems most people do, particularly on flights under three hours, although I have no statistics to prove it … just my observation.  I know that this charge — which typically ranges from $15 to $100 — has been around a while, but it suddenly got to me. 

As I write this, I am sitting on a flight from St. Louis to NYC, waiting for take-off and experiencing the consequences of this congestion.   We boarded in groups.  It seems more than half the passengers are entering with suitcases that are too big to put under the seat and too heavy to hold up and place in the overhead compartments; but somehow most passengers muster the strength for that "heavy moment" and do it anyway, with a little huffing and puffing.  But God help you if you are trying to go in the opposite direction in the aisle (e.g., making a trip to the bathroom before takeoff).  You are up against a mob of individuals heading to their seats, pulling suitcases like a train of elephants.  Back to back doesn't work. Hopefully, you can step into an empty row -- if there is one -- so the suitcase can pass.   If not, good luck slithering around the crowd with the moves of a particularly agile octopus!  

Another consequence of avoiding the last-minute check-in fees is the  fact that there is hardly any room in the overhead for the little carry-ons that passengers without suitcases normally put in the overheads (and what I thought they were made for in the first place).  Thus, those guys are being cheated.  Finally, boarding, in my opinion, takes longer. That probably causes a cascade of later departures and arrivals, which has to hurt economically.  No need to talk about what exiting from these tight quarters is like.  You’ve got the idea.

Nevertheless, I read that the airlines are making more money with a variety of add-on charges, including wider rows in coach, paying for itemized food and additional bonus miles.  Ancillary fees, like these, have helped airlines plagued by heavy losses.  For those carriers already doing well, fees have apparently fueled profitability.  

But what I don't understand, particularly on the luggage charge, is why airlines can't simply incorporate the fees into the fares and save the stress and other problems that many passengers feel as a result of the congestion created by a policy that incentivizes carry-ons.  Anyone who can afford to use airlines can afford another $25.  Contrast this with JetBlue, where the first bag goes free.  Boarding is faster.  I see more smiles.  There is room for little bags in the overhead.  And they appear to be making money!

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