Friday, November 27, 2009

Thoughts on Airline Baggage Rules

I'm not a big fan of flying for a number of reasons. Before 9/11 and the tighter security restrictions, though, I'd finally gotten to being able to pack One True Bag for trips of up to a week. My One True Bag contained a week's worth of clothes and a toiletry kit. After 9/11, I started checking my bag and going on the plane with nothing but a book and a jacket. Of course this isn't true of ski trips or other gear-requiring travel.

The airlines have screwed it up, though. They've started charging to check even the first bag. If I don't have to spend money on something, I won't, so now I try to limit myself to one checked bag, containing my toiletries. It occurred to me yesterday that that's actually kind of dumb. I typically only travel with tooth paste and shaving gel. Those are $5 items, so if I bought a new tube of toothpaste and a new can of shaving gel every time I flew, I'd come out $5 ahead on a $15 bag fee. Of course, I usually fly round trips. If I leave my toothpaste and shaving gel at home, rather than getting them confiscated or something, I only buy them once per two flights, and come out $20 ahead. My mother made a "tooth paste in every port" joke that points out that a lot of the time, we don't fly to a new place each time. So realistically, I don't even have to re-buy those products on every trip.

The point of all that being that I can save $15/flight if I stop checking my bag. The carryon policy is open to a lot of abuse - you can easily roll up to the jetway with a bag that's a little bigger than the specifications, and there's no specific size given for the "personal" item. I sometimes carry my messenger bag, which has a capacity of over 2000in3. Between my ginormous messenger bag or a large backpack and my rolling bag, I'm well over the amount of volume that each passenger can carry on the plane and fit into the overhead bins. And the airlines are essentially paying people $15/head to do this on every flight.

I know that planes are sometimes delayed because people have trouble fitting all their luggage, have to check things from the jetway at the last minute, etc. And airports have some pretty restrictive rules about when planes can be on the runways to keep them from getting to close to each other, so those delays can snowball into bigger delays if the planes miss their spots or the departure times get bunched. Schedules are pretty tight, so those delays can send ripples throughout the system and cause more delays, or force the airlines to program more slack into their schedules and get less travel out of each plane. I think that all of that has to be costing money. I want to know (actually I don't care, it's more rhetorical) if the $15 that some rules-following people are paying for their first bag is enough to cover the cost of that stupidity. I suspect it would make more sense to encourage people to check their bags rather than carrying them on and having a melee in the cabin about who gets bin space.

Anyway, now that I've thought more about the issue of re-buying toiletries on every trip, or finding some 3oz containers to keep for travel only, I'm going to be one more person making it harder for the plane to take off on time with excess carryon baggage. And the airlines are going to be paying me to do that.

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