I like Joe Sharkey, he’s one of those great curmudgeons in travel, and full disclosure he moderated a panel I was on a couple of years ago at the Phoenix International Aviation Symposium.
But like so many curmudgeons, crankiness holds together their narrative more than argument. As with this New York Times piece on checked baggage fees.
Sharkey manages to simultaneously offer us that:
- People carry on more luggage than they are permitted.
- It’s unfair for airline personnel to single people out to check the size of their carryons.
- An inability to carry all of the bags people bring on board a full flight is a problem with the aircraft.
Here are some highlights.
Attire Discrimination: Will How You Dress Determine Whether You Face Carry On Scrutiny?
Michael S. Piraino, an elite-status flier on United, said he made an “informal study” on 10 recent flights of how the rules were applied at check-in areas. “On all 10 flights, I watched to see who was asked to put their bags into the sizer,” Mr. Piraino said. No men in business suits were, but males dressed casually tended to be singled out, he reported.
I’ve found that ‘informal studies’ conducted by passengers are always reliable. So I’ll posit that Mr. Piraino, over the course of 10 representative flights, carefully observed all passengers boarding (himself boarding last) and making notes based on clearly defined passenger categories and with proper measurements of each carry-on.
Even if correct that “men in business suits” weren’t being asked to use the sizer with the same frequency as casually dressed men, it’s not implausible that regular business travelers travel lighter and have carry ons that meet regulation size. In other words, how you dress may not influence flight attendant behavior but how you dress may correlate with your own carry on behavior.
The Problem Isn’t The Carry Ons — It’s the Plane
Last week, “I was reading your column on United’s bag-size policy after having boarded a completely full United flight,” said Bob Cunico, who said that he saw as many as 20 regulation-size bags that had to be gate-checked. “In other words, the plane did not have the storage capacity needed to serve the number of passengers,” he said.
Airlines used to allow more carry on bags than they do today. After 9/11, to reduce the bags being sent through the security checkpoint, government regulations drove the reduction. Passengers used to be able to take two carryons, not just one.
And yet gate checking was rarely an issue because flights weren’t full.
With full flights, and more passengers opting to carry on versus check to avoid checked baggage fees, there are more bags boarding than there were years ago.
But is that a problem with the plane’s configuration? Or with rules allowing so many checked bags, given that configuration? Many airlines around the world enforce limits on carry on baggage not just by size but by weight and actually weigh those bags. I’ve gotten pushback in recent times by Vietnam Airlines and Air France.
This is uncommon in the U.S. but further limits on cabin baggage would mean no need to gate check — but wouldn’t make passengers happy. It would lead to conspiracy pieces about airlines maximizing revenue. A Spirit Air model of charging for cabin bags over a certain size would accomplish the same thing.
Many regional jets don’t have space in the cabin for a single rollaboard. That’s why they offer planeside baggage checks, I love that Alaska Airlines refers to this as “a la Cart” baggage. Are those planes failing to meet their ‘obligation’ to have sufficient space for rollaboards?
Everyone Has a Right to the Space Over Their Seat – So Shouldn’t Have to Gate Check
Tony Williams was among those who mentioned a common annoyance: “People who are sitting in Row 20” and put their carry-on bags into the overhead at, say, Row 10, “should be immediately escorted off the plane,” he suggested.
There’s no clear standard for which overhead space belongs to which passenger, other than perhaps that passengers ought to use the bin space in their ticketed cabin. (Coach passengers do frequently take first class bin space, of course.)
Even if bins over your seat were ‘yours’ there may not be enough, bins do not correspond precisely to rows, and you could find yourself without sufficient space.
Furthermore the most important thing is an on-time departure and just getting bags up and passengers seated contributes to that. ‘Escorting passengers off the plane’ who offend perceived overhead norms would be the last thing you would want to do.
The Problem is Actually the Passengers
Stephen Fredericks wrote, “I happened to read your piece last week while sitting in my economy-plus seat on a flight boarding in Houston for La Guardia” and watching people lug on oversize bags. But on a later flight from La Guardia, he noted with satisfaction, United agents flagged two young women “trying to board with enough luggage to fill the trunk of an oversize car.”
The Problem is Actually the Employees
Linda Frioud observed that airlines might set a better example by enforcing carry-on rules for crew members. On a recent full flight from Philadelphia to Charlotte, N.C., on US Airways, she said, “there was no room for overhead storage after the eight US Airways employees flying on our flight had stuffed the overhead bins with four or more carry-ons per person. I counted them.”
It’s Really Not That Complicated
Planes are full. Passengers carry on as much as they can. That means more passengers carrying on more bags without more space.
Airlines combat that in a variety of ways. Airlines want to leave on time and don’t want to delay the boarding process. So they may offer to check bags free at the gate prior to boarding, rather than simply delaying boarding. But in any case passengers have to get on board, and their bags have to fly one way or another.
If you don’t want your bag gate checked on a full flight, don’t be among the last to board. That can be accomplished via elite status, being an airline co-brand credit card holder, skipping ahead in the queue, or simply being alert even if you’re in a late boarding group.
The alternatives though probably wouldn’t be desirable. Costly aircraft redesign would have to be passed on to customers in price. Limits on the number of passengers allowed on a plane wouldn’t be good for price either. Ultimately mass transportation is… mass transportation. And you can’t carry on unlimited bags on Greyhound either, above a certain size the bags are going to go under the bus.
(HT: Jason H. on Twitter)