Thursday, April 08, 2010

Coming and Going

A few years ago, a couple of the major airlines started charging passengers for checked luggage, ostensibly to help offset higher fuel prices. Now, nearly all airlines--with the notable exception of Southwest--have followed suit with an array of fees and surcharges that apply to almost all checked luggage. Despite the fact that fuel prices have fallen from their 2008 highs and since stabilized, it seems unlikely that the airlines are going to roll back these charges and give up this new found revenue streams any time soon.

Since airline passengers are at least a semi-rational lot, many have reacted to these checked baggage fees by taking steps to avoid paying them. The most commonly employed tactic is to pack smaller bags that can be carried on. This allows passengers to not only save a little lucre by not checking a bag, but also allows them to avoid having to wait for the checked luggage after deplaning. Can you really blame passengers for behaving in such a logical manner?

Well, if you're an airline you certainly can. On a recent Delta flight from Denver to Minneapolis, I found it amusing (and a little irritating) to listen to flight attendants haranguing passengers about the quantity and size of carry-on luggage. During boarding, the chief attendant made a couple of scowling, snippy announcements along the lines of:

"Since we have a lot of passengers carrying on luggage today," (eyes rolling) "'re going to have to make sure your bag is stowed properly in the overhead bin." ( Bitter sigh) "And if you have two bags, only one can go in the overhead bin. You'll have to place the other bag under the seat in front of you."

"You stupid f***ing people and your stupid f***ing carry-on bags can all just go to hell!"

Okay, the last line is bit of an exaggeration, but that was definitely the vibe that we were getting from Delta's representatives. I was tempted to stand up and scream:

"Quit yer bitchin'! You don't like us carrying our bags on? Then tell your airline to quit gouging us for checking bags. This ain't rocket science here lady. Your airline created the problem, now shut up and deal with it."

But discretion and even more fear that my outburst would be labeled as terrorism and I'd get a one-way ticket to Gitmo (still open, eh?) or be placed on President Obama's Predator Drone Hit List of American Citizens lead me to keep my peace.

The solution to the problem of too many bags being carried on because of fees to check luggage? If you're in the airline business it's obvious: charge fees to carry-on:

One solution to paying fees for checked baggage -- carrying your baggage onto the flight -- is on its way out. Privately-held Spirit Airlines announced today it's going to start charging as much as $45 for carry-on luggage that's put in an overhead bin. The airline said anything stuffed under the seat in front of passengers will still be free, which should add a new headache to the boarding process.

"Bring less; pay less. It's simple," Spirit's Chief Operating Officer Ken McKenzie said in a statement.

So far no other airlines have followed suit. "I personally think that would spark a major customer backlash," Standard & Poor's analyst Jim Corridore told Reuters. "The general public is sick and tired of fees. They pay them because they have to."

Is that true? Does the paying public have to? Or do they just consider exercising what little power they have as consumers (not flying) a less appealing alternative to paying airline fees?. Airlines charge fees because customers will pay them.

We've close to reaching a level of absurdity where airlines are trying to game it so that whatever option you choose involves a fee of some sort. Oh, you want to wear pants on the flight? That'll be an extra thirty dollars. A shirt? Twenty dollars. Wear less; pay less. It's simple.

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