Carry-on Luggage

Posted on December 3, 2009 by Ben Connard 

My wife and I flew to San Diego last week on Delta.  The flights left on time and were generally comfortable.  The in-flight movies left a little to be desired, but I survived. 

Delta, like many carriers, now charges to check bags ($20).  My wife’s wedding dress, which we were bringing for her friend, was too big to carry-on so we had to pay the fee.  In the past, we would have checked our other two bags for convenience since we had to wait at baggage claim regardless.  But we didn’t want to pay another fee and decided to carry-on our two rollers.

We weren’t the only ones using this strategy.  Before boarding, the attendants warned us that the flight was full and the two bag limit carry-on limit would be strictly enforced.  It didn’t matter.  The plane took forever to load and people were fighting for overhead storage.  As soon as we boarded the plane, we stuck out rollers in the first available spot even though it was no where near our seats.  The last few passengers boarding the plane were forced to scavenge for overhead space, jamming up the aisle and putting too many strangers uncomfortably close.  There were a few arguments when people moved other’s luggage.  The flight attendants forced the last few boarders to check their bags; complaints about not paying the $20 fee were made.

By charging the fee, airlines have changed the baggage storage cost.  The cost used to be zero regardless of checking a bag or carrying-on.  Size and preference determined the outcome.  Now the price of checking has increased, and not surprisingly the demand for overhead storage has increased.  When packing, we determine which piece of luggage to use based on avoiding fees.

The results are longer load times, more arguments, and less comfort as passengers are forced to stick increasing amounts of luggage at their feet.  This isn’t exactly increasing the demand for flights—the best way for airlines to increase their revenue.  I do not know if the airlines took into account this altered behavior when making the decision to charge a fee.  I hope they didn’t assume the rate of checked baggage would remain and simply multiply the previous number of checked bags by $20 to determine the incremental revenue.

At the end of the day, airlines profit off the baggage check fee, but it’s had effects on other aspects of their business and over the long-term may not be a slam dunk profit generator.  I know that the next time I’m boarding a plane, I want to be first in order to get some precious overhead storage.