Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A modest proposal for the airlines

Before I start to complain about air travel, let's stipulate, as Louis CK does, that the very fact of flying is amazing:

Having said that... I've been on six flights over the past couple of weeks. Every flight was smooth, the employees friendly, the whole experience went off without a hitch. Except for one thing.

The carry-on bags have gotten WAY out of hand.

Most airlines are charging to check bags these days -- it's normally between $15 and $25 for the first checked bag. So people are trying to stuff everything into the overhead compartment -- full-size bags, steamer trunks, teenage children, etc. Every airline has that little bracket at the gate, where you're supposed to see if your carry-on fits the standard, but nobody ever uses it and the people at the gate never ask.

It takes forever to get all the bags jammed in the overhead. But it's worse when the plane lands -- all anybody wants to do at that point is GET OFF THE PLANE, but we have to wait for everybody in front of us to de-wedge their carry-ons out of the compartment. And there's always that one guy who has a seat up front but has to stow his bag in the back because there's no overhead room; when the plane lands he has to swim against the flow to retrieve his bag, like a spawning salmon. Except that nobody hates salmon and EVERYBODY hates this guy.

So here's my proposal: Make every checked bag free. But start charging $25 a bag for carry-ons.

I'm sure many of you have lost-luggage horror stories. But the odds of the airline losing your luggage is small; if we let everybody carry on 100 pounds of luggage, the hassle is guaranteed. And airlines can already check your bag at the gate and give it back to you as you get off the plane -- they did it on our Delta flights last weekend, when it was clear there was too much baggage for the overheads.

Our flight to Dallas a couple of weeks ago was overbooked. After the plane filled up, one of the flight attendants asked for volunteers to give up their seats (in exchange for a free-trip voucher).
A guy across from us jumped up to volunteer. He opened the overhead bin, grabbed his bag and yanked it out -- without realizing that somebody else had crammed a laptop bag on top of his. The laptop fell out and cracked another passenger on the back of the neck.

Of course the guy who yanked his bag out should've been assessed with a Doofus Fee of, say, $500. But it wouldn't have been an issue if people didn't feel the need to stuff their worldly possessions in the overhead bin. The airlines are charging for the wrong bags. They've got it backwards.

Still, remember: You're sitting in a CHAIR. In the SKY.


lkmi said...

Yes! Yes!
I'll be on an overseas flight soon (godwilling and the volcano doesn't blow up) and I'm allowed only one checked bag - but two carryons.
All I can figure is, the checked bags require additional airline resources - i.e., persons to get the bags in and out of the planes. With carryons it's we the passengers who do that work...

Anonymous said...

I could not agree with you more and I'm one of the people that actually follows the carry-on rules. Before the airlines charged a fee for checked baggage my husband and I would combine our essentials into one carry-on and check another bag. If we know gate check is available we use it-we know the bag is going to be on the plane.

As for that person fighting to get to the back of the plane-that's just rude. On a flight to Chicago, in January, we did have to put my bag in the back. We waited until all passengers were off the plane to retrieve it. My husband and I were thanked by the flight crew very nicely and given a 1st class upgrade on a future flight.

Kathleen Purvis said...

Hear, hear, Brother Tommy. I just got back from a trip on the circle of airborne hell that is Delta to New York. There was a guy who had two -- yes, two -- "carry-on" bags that were each bigger than a 5-year-old child. The flight attendants didn't say a thing.

And when the plane was late on one leg, the passengers never listen to the request to wait and let people with close connections depart first.

Another reason I want to go back to checking my bags for free: I can no longer shop for wine or other rare ingredients in New York, because I can't carry them on. And believe me, the way I shop for food in other cities, that constitutes a serious loss to the local economy. (Debate: Does raw-milk cheese count as a liquid or a solid? How about that slightly melted chocolate bar?)

FlyGracefully said...

For every man up front who had to stow his bag in back there are probably 2 or 3 people who stowed their bag up front and are seated in back.

We just need to stop charging for checked bags and let nature take its course.

People also need to remember that items such as laptop bags really should go under the seat in front of you unless you are in a bulkhead. Too many people put a 21" roller bag and a laptop bag in the overhead. They need to crack down on that. 1 bag in the overhead. If you just have a laptop bag you can put it up, but not both. I travel weekly and I put my purse under the seat in front of me and my roller suitcase in the overhead with the handle to the aisle.

Eric said...

You may wish to make your opinion known to New York Senator Charles Schumer, who threatened to levy a tax on any airline who planned to charge for carry-on bags. Apparently in his world, the cramped conditions, flight delays, and aggravation that comes from people carrying everything on the plane is okay. Then again, he probably flies first class - when he boards, every overhead is clear and ready for use.

Anonymous said...

"You may wish to make your opinion known to New York Senator Charles Schumer, who threatened to levy a tax on any airline who planned to charge for carry-on bags." Actually, the airlines are now evading taxes through baggage fees (checked or carry-on). They have to oay a tax on the price of the ticket but not on other charges. Baggage was supposed to be part of the ticket, and was until the last couple of years. Airlines are taking advantage of this loophole to generate extra revenue while dodging taxes they should be paying.

Lana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


There's barely enough room under the seat in front of me for my legs & feet (and I'm only 6'1" 180 lbs), much less my legs AND my camera bag (which DOES meet the under-the-seat size guidelines).

The solution is easy, in place, and Tommy even mentions it: USE THE SIZING FRAME AND ENFORCE SIZE LIMITS. If your bag doesn't fit in the frame, then YOU get fined.

There is NO WAY anyone should either be forced to check or charged to carry-on their cameras, their jewelry, and other items WHICH AIRLINES EXPLICITLY EXEMPT FROM THEIR LIABILITY POLICIES.


Heln vanPatterson Patton said...

Poor ignorant Tommy. If you were truly a frequent flyer, you would know that there is no charge to check bags for members of the the airline's frequent flyer programs starting with even the lowest tier.

I for one would be more concerned being stuck in a seat beside you and your, um, uh, "mass" than anything you could carry on the aircraft. I suppose I shouldn't fret since I always fly First Class and that is something I'm sure you would not be familiar. HvPP

Anonymous said...

That was so incredibly rude and arrogant, not to mention unnecessary...

Anonymous said...

Every single time I fly I hate it just a little more than I did the previous flight.

I've had things stolen from my checked bags.

Spent 5 hours squeezed into 3 inches of space because the guy beside me should have booked two seats and was still allowed to squeeze me out.

Spent an entire flight with a kid kicking my seat.

Sat by the restroom on a flight with people who apparently were issues.

Had someone change a baby's dirty diaper right beside me on the seat.

I'm driving to vacation this year. Yup I'd rather spend 20 hours in my car than fly. If everyone else did that I do wonder if some of this stuff would change.

Anonymous said...

Very good idea Tommy. The overhead bins were never meant to carry the loads they have now. They were originally intended for coats and hats and the odd bag or two.

Anonymous said...

5:01 - care to provide a link to backup your ridiculous claim about "coats and hats"? Didn't think so.