Just When Yout Thought Air Travel Could Not Get Worse...

US Airways has chosen to try to cover rising fuel prices by unbundling their ticket price and charging for services that were here-to-fore free, or built into the base ticket price.  They now charge $15 for the first piece of checked baggage ($25 for the second), and charge for most in-cabin services, including for soft drinks.

I'm not going to argue with them about this.  Airline pricing is a wickedly complex topic, and folks who know more than I do think this is the best way to get incremental revenue.  Really, these charges don't affect me (I almost never check bags, except when on vacation with my family).  In fact, as I write this, it strikes me that the baggage charge is really a price hike mostly on non-business travelers, which is interesting as it bucks the trend of having increasing price spreads over the years between business/last-minute and tourist pricing.

Anyway, the net effect has been to absolutely jam the security screening station this morning.  Every passenger seems to be carrying every bag he or she can on board to avoid the $15 charge.  What a mess.  I can't wait to see what the boarding process is going to be like.  Glad I don't have any bags today.

By the way, a few weeks ago I shipped a 60 pound trunk to my kids' camp for about $16 via UPS.  If these airline bag charges stick, it might be time for UPS to start soliciting the send-your-luggage-ahead business in earnest.  Next time we go skiing or some such place, I am going to seriously consider sending a couple of duffle bags ahead by UPS.

Update: The luggage bins were completely full before the fourth group out of six were called.  There was a fairly long line down the jetway of people gate-checking their bags.  Apparently, the airline is not set up to charge the $15 when they gate-check the bags, so everyone is hauling all of their bags to the gate and either bringing them on the plane or checking them at the gate for free.

  • JimS

    On a recent flight we were delayed a little while the flight attendants checked several bags that wouldn't fit in overhead because they were too damn big to fit in the overhead bins. The only change I've made is flying with one really large suitcase (when needed ) instead of two small ones. The logical thing would be to charge when the baggage by weight when the baggage is weighed. The cramming the passenger compartment full is idiotic.

  • Viridis Calculus

    On your shipping your luggage via UPS to avoid the airline luggage fees:

    I conjecture that shipping luggage via one of the dedicated package shipping companies leads to a much lower risk of having luggage lost, stolen, or abused (a la TSA thugs "checking" luggage for explosives) than granting the airlines control of your luggage.

  • http://www.creativedestruction.com/blog/ Sameer Parekh

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  • Molly

    I just did this yesterday -- I sent two boxes of vacation gear for the kids home UPS instead of in our luggage. It cost about $40, we don't need the stuff inside because the vacation is over, and it will arrive next week at my doorstep without me having to lug it to the airport, worry it will get lost (stolen), or pay extra to the airlines for it.

    Next vacation is wintertime in Cleveland -- I will absolutely send the snowboots, coats, etc ahead via UPS. If I could ship the blasted car seats ahead, I would really be thrilled.

  • http://www.tom-hanna.org Tom Hanna

    I've never shipped luggage to my destination but I've shipped souvenirs and dirty laundry home, even when traveling in a fairly well packed car.

  • Dr. T

    everyone is hauling all of their bags to the gate and either bringing them on the plane or checking them at the gate for free

    Can the executives at US Airways be so stupid that they did not predict this response? Or perhaps they short-sold their stock options.

    Anyone with more than 4 connected neurons could figure out that this policy would drive nearly all passengers into carrying-on as much luggage as possible.

    This policy makes sense only if US Airways has a severe shortage of baggage handlers.

  • KJ

    I see that "including for soft drinks" has been lined out.

    I work in the airline catering industry, and I was told that they would be charging $2.00 for a can of soda and $2.00 for a bottle of water, to go into effect on Aug. 1st.

    We are awaiting new diagrams from US Airways for the assembling of the beverage carts to reflect this change.

    My wife is a flight attendant, and the very first thing she said when hearing about charging for checked bags was, "Oh great! Now we're going to have to deal with too many carry-ons." LOL

  • http://space4commerce.blogspot.com/ Brian

    Every passenger seems to be carrying every bag he or she can on board to avoid the $15 charge

    I'd rather not pay that but it's also not the end of the world. $15 bucks is the cost of dinner for one in a nice place - that's piddly. Also worth it not to schelp my bags all the way down the terminal.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    Molly,

    If I could ship the blasted car seats ahead, I would really be thrilled.

    Call the airline. I think a carseat may be an exempted item from the charge. When I called American & United for a trip in June, they don't count the carseat as an added bag (at least not for a child younger than 2 years, like my son). Obviously, different airlines may have different procedures, and for all I know AA and UA have changed theirs since June, so call them yourself, but it might be worth trying.

    In the end, due to travel plans for my wife and I last time, we ended up renting a car and renting the car seat with it. It's easier than carrying that big heavy sucker through the airport, finding a plastic bag to protect it, etc!

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    Also realize the true reason for this change. "Average" people tend to travel once in a blue moon, and when they do so, they travel based on price and schedule, not on airline amenities. Thus, they have two options: cancel amenities altogether, or nickel and dime you after you've already purchased the ticket.

    Your typical business traveler travels often enough that they make use of frequent-flyer programs, and thus actually has brand loyalty (is willing to spend a few extra bucks to travel on his preferred airline if he has to pay out-of-pocket, and many employers are willing to drop a few extra bucks to keep those employees happy). Which, of course, is why all the airlines announcing these fees are explicitly stating that preferred (elite, etc) frequent flyers are exempt from these fees-- even though most of us could expense them from our employer anyway.

    There are a lot of things wrong with the airline industry, but in this case they've determined that the added seats sold by trying to shave a few dollars off the price of a ticket sold online is worth the traveler aggravation and disloyalty that will result from charging for bags. They may or may not be correct, but I understand what they're basing these policies on. It's a very price-driven market, and much more heavily based on the price of the ticket than the total cost of all the nickel-and-dime fees.

  • Miklos Hollender

    "My wife is a flight attendant, and the very first thing she said when hearing about charging for checked bags was, "Oh great! Now we're going to have to deal with too many carry-ons." LOL"

    That's exciting: I've noticed multiple times that people who do actual work, do experientally understand the law of diminishing marginal utility very well, and it's implications in incentives and disincentives. It's only the intellectuals who keep denying it. (For example, in this case: some people value the discomfort caused by carrying the bag on board at $1000, $500, $120, $100, $80, $3, $10, $5, $1. Those who value it less than $15 will carry them on board.)

  • http://CoMuse.Blogspot.com Allen

    Like others have said, how did they not anticipate the problem? My guess is that they have it in their heads that the flight attendants can handle policing duties. Look at it before this, everytime I flew I seemed to see one or four people bringing a bag onboard that was clearly too big or they actually had 3 bags. Clearly this wasn't going to work. And the system before was letting all the crap slide until it reached the flight attendants. Looks like they're still doing that. Too bad.

    I don't mind charging for the bags, especially a 2nd bag. I didn't like the 1st bag charge just cuz so many of us could see some yocals trying to bring too much onto the plane. That cost needs to be built into the ticket. Maybe they can lower the weight limit on it to 30 - 40 lbs to help raise some cash.

    When I flew how last Christmas I shipped things back by UPS. Same with a bunch of the stuff I got for Christmas. It's cheaper and in many ways easier. I didn't have to carry it from baggage claim to the bus to the lot to the car and then into my place. It was already there waiting for me inside.

    I can see why Crandall and others have called for "re-regulation" of the airlines. The old boys are scrambling to figure out how to run their business let alone how to make money doing it.

  • Brandybuck

    I already overnight some items rather than take them through the TSA cattle line. I've never done it with my personal luggage (clothes, toothpaste, etc), but I routinely ship business materials through FedEx. If overnight wasn't so expensive, I would ship my clothes too.

  • John Dewey

    "I can see why Crandall and others have called for "re-regulation" of the airlines. The old boys are scrambling to figure out how to run their business let alone how to make money doing it."

    Crandall hasn't run an airline for 8 years. He should be ignored.

    Southwest Airlines has figured out very well how to run an airline and make money. Had the government not subsidized much of the industry - through post-9/11 loans and assumption of pension plans - the industry would be more right-sized than it is today. Not only Southwest but also Alaska, JetBlue, and Continental would be making money. I don't think any of them are asking for reregulation.

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