Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Battle for the Overhead Bin

I just read a frustrating article in the Wall Street Journal titled "A Battle Looms For the Overhead Bins" (subtitles: "Brace for Carry-On Overload" and "Barbarians at the Airline Gate").

It deals with the various ways airlines intend to make back the money they lose per passenger, due to high oil prices. Amongst the methods they will start enforcing beginning this July, on domestic flights:
  1. Want a drink of water or a soda? $2 please. No more freebies.
  2. Want to check in luggage? $30 for the first bag (round trip); $50 for the second; $70 for the third.
  3. Want to carry on your luggage with you? The "beloved" metal brackets limiting the size of your carry-ons are making a comeback. They'll measure your bag at the security line and send you back to check it, if it doesn't fit the bracket.
  4. To accommodate all those luggage constraints, new personnel will be assigned to checkpoints, gates and security lines (and I guess this personnel doesn't cost them money? rolleyes)
  5. If these measures don't help, expect higher prices, and more bad news down the road.
The chief leaders of these initiatives are American Airlines and United Airlines, both of which send their speakers to interview for the article and explain why all those new limitations are good for you.

But the writer predicts a miserable future:
  • Passengers will try to avoid baggage checking fines by taking everything with them on the plane.
  • Lines at the security check-in would get longer, with passengers fighting the airline representatives to avoid going back to the check-in counters.
  • Passengers will fight ground attendants at the gates trying to prevent them from bringing their baggage on board.
  • Passengers will ignore boarding queues and fight their way to the plane, so they'll have some space for their carry-ons in the overhead bins.
  • Since space will not be enough for everyone, air attendants will have to check extra baggage in - delaying the flights further.
The result? Delayed flights, fights and aggravation in the concourse, frustrated passengers and eventually bankrupt airlines. And of course, airports, that were not a happy place to be stuck at to begin with, will start resembling hell a bit more.

Some questions I have for these airlines?
  • Why not sell standing places and charge people for a seat? Or better yet, pack them up and ship them in the cargo compartment?
  • How about charging people to go to the bathroom? (I'm joking now, but I can see this happening down the road sad).
  • If you force me to check in my bag for $30 and you lose it, do I get my money back?
  • If I miss my flight due to your shenanigans on the ground, will you pick up the tab?
  • And finally, here's a suggestion for a cheaper trip: when a customer gets to the check-in line, shoot him in the neck with a tranquilizer dart; pack him in serene wrap and stack him in the cargo compartment, along with the other customers; wake him up on the other side.

    This would allow more passengers per plane; no need for flight attendants or in-flight entertainment or food; and the customer won't suffer through 5 hours of shouting babies, and would be ready to start his day on the other side refreshed and relaxed razz.
The 2 airlines that stood out in this article are Continental and Delta, who said they would not fine the first bag checked (but would still charge $30 for the second bag). So I recommend voting with your travel plans: show AA and UA that if they charge fines and make life miserable, but get less passengers as a result - they lose more money.

Doug just sent me 2 YouTube links to Southwest's commercials, mocking the new nickel-and-diming airline policies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaQpZFqrQeA and

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