The Reuters post below indicates that United Airlines will soon start charging passengers flying on domestic economy tickets a hefty $25.00 fee for checking a second bag. Of course if you're a business traveler with "elite" status, the fee may not apply to you. Business travelers typically pay premium rates and often don't check a bag anyway for fear of having it lost.
Lets see who this charge does apply to.
Families traveling on vacation. These are the folks most likely to check baggage. Families tend to travel on discount tickets and have an extra bag or two to accommodate children and strollers.
United says the fee is necessary to offset fuel costs. If one looks at the extra baggage as additional weight that must be accommodated on the airplane, then the fee itself seems reasonable. Theres a heck of a lot more to it though.
One of the ways the airlines are fighting the soft economy and the fuel crunch is by using more regional jets to service larger markets. Routes that were once served by an MD-88 or B737 are now being served by CRJ's and ERJ regional jets. These planes have little room to accommodate ANY baggage, much less a second bag. For that reason, the airlines are using fees to discourage extra baggage. However consider that if you are flying from Atlanta to Louisville Ky, where a regional jet makes sense, its highly likely you are getting scalped on the airfare anyway. The last time I flew that route it cost $1200.00. For the same money I could have flown to New York three times roundtrip. So spare me the "extra fuel costs" argument. This is an operational issue of trying to put 5 lbs in a 3 lb. bag.
Let us not forget that those RJ's are typically subcontracted to regional airlines whose 20 something pilots make a fraction of what main line airline pilots make. Cha Ching. Savings. The customer suffers, but so what? The airlines don't care. Believe me, now that the FAA has extended pilot retirement ages to 65, more and more flights will go to the regional folks. Airlines can't afford those high priced experienced gray hairs for another five years. Leave your luggage at the curb. The airlines are going to continue to force the RJ's into longer routes to try to make budget.
On high volume vacation routes where larger aircraft are necessary, like Chicago or New York to Orlando, or Los Angeles, competition is strong and discount airlines like Southwest and JetBlue compete with United and the other majors. Thats a B757 and B767 market. Those aircraft are transcontinental big jets that eat gas. The only way to make money with those jets is to keep them full and keep them flying. Guess what? Those expensive gray haired guys also drive these planes. (I'm happy about that!)
Fees that compel passengers to lug as many bags into the cabin as possible delay turn gate turn times. A family on vacation will try to carry as many soft side bags onto the plane as possible. That means Mom and Dad, Jimmy and Suzie will all attempt to carry a roll aboard bag (plus the stroller for baby sister) onto the aircraft. The stroller will get gate checked but the roll aboards will delay the business travelers trying to get on the same flight. The airlines should be doing everything possible to get passengers to check bags so that the airplanes can be quickly turned on time. Planes at the gate don't make money. This isn't small money either.
A study I did with an airline customer a couple of years ago showed that if passengers all checked bags that airline turn time could be shortened by as much as 12 minutes. That was proven 3 years ago when the TSA first banned all liquids from commercial flights. Instantly boarding times were shortened and aircraft arrival times improved markedly. UAL needs to be thinking about how to get people to check bags, not discourage it.
How about an incentive price reduction for checking bags in the first place? Get that business traveler to check his bag and this translates to BIG BUCK savings for the airlines. If we can get the traveling family to check the stroller at the curb, then TSA lines shorten remarkably. The delay in TSA security scanning and clearance that stroller causes is one of the bains of my traveling existence.
A little "Out of the Box" Thinking is Needed.
There is a major opportunity with how the airlines manipulate pricing for luggage that can influence passenger behavior. Charging a penalty is a negative way to do it. By providing discounts to passengers who check baggage will not only get families to check bags, but may also get business travelers to consider checking their bags too.
I check my bags every week when I travel. I was already mad at UAL because they charge $2.00 for curbside check in. Delta doesn't charge at all for this service. Separating the handling of bags and passengers decreases gate turn times, improves security clearance times and generally can make air travel a happier experience.
Charging a family $25.00 for an extra suit case doesn't get it done. This is an opportunity to encourage passengers to behave in a way that makes for a leaner operating company, not a fat company who charges customers more money to support the inefficiency.
To UAL Management: Start driving cost out of your operations and work on ways to get the passengers to be part of the team.
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