Luggage fees result in more flying woes

In the desire to improve profitability, some airlines are making air travel even more of a hassle than it already is.

In the United States some carriers are charging a fee for checked luggage. On the face of it, it doesn't sound too bad: while the fees increase company revenue, costs presumably are also lowered by the reduction in the overall weight of the aircraft and the improved fuel efficiency. But the policy is turning passenger cabins into zoos.

I recently flew from Tampa Bay to Charlotte on a trip that illustrates how the flying experience has deteriorated.

With the luggage fees in effect, what happens is this: since many passengers want to avoid paying extra for checked bags, they pack more items in their carry-on luggage. Consequently, carry-on bags are becoming bigger and heavier.

It seems to me that people try to guess the maximum size of carry-on luggage and fervently hope the airline will pleasantly surprise them by using a wide-body aircraft on their particular flight.

Boarding, therefore, is taking longer. And it's testing the patience of both passengers and cabin staff. On my Boeing 757 flight to Charlotte, the boarding process took a full 40 minutes; I don't think it was an exception. As pre-boarding procedures (the accommodation of passengers travelling with small children and people in wheelchairs) get underway, the rest of the passengers begin to approach the gate entrance in anticipation of the rush. Just as soon as the staff announce the start of regular boarding, the scrum has already formed.

The lucky winners of the gateway dash move quickly on board and commandeer the overhead bins to store their oversized carry-ons. Those who step on the plane behind them begin the struggle for storage space. Flight attendants become mediators and start solving storage problems. They begin moving things around the cabin in an effort to find stowage for all. This takes time. An announcement follows, asking passengers to reconsider the placement of their luggage and to see if some items can be moved down from the overhead bins and placed underneath the seat in front of them.

On a full flight, some unlucky passengers inevitably find no room for their larger carry-ons and are forced to give them up to the flight attendants for checking into the hold.

All over America, economy ticket holders engage in boarding procedures that have become like a game of survivor, a procedure that sometimes approximates the length of the flight itself. When the plane finally takes off, you are left with this image of an unbalanced aircraft: it's flying sort of empty beneath the passenger floor and completely full in the cabin.

A few experiences like this, especially when you're facing a tight schedule, and you're ready to change airlines.

Now, more than ever, flying on some routes is indeed like being in a cattle car. The romance is gone.


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