Charge for airplane carry-on bags; let checked bags fly free


What is more annoying than having to wait behind oafish airline passengers trying to stuff their bulging carry-on bags into the overhead bins?

For me, it's a scene from hell. If I'm to be punished in Hades, I'll be stuck in an eternal cycle of sluggish boarding and deplaning. Boarding, I'd be trapped in the line on the movable bridge from the concourse to the plane's door. Holding up the line are confused, chatty or clueless passengers clumsily trying to jam their bulging two-wheelers into bins.

As part of the endless cycle, upon deplaning I'll be trapped back in row 32 as short, elderly or weak passengers ahead try to extract their overloaded bags without concussing the passengers seated below.

The airlines are starkly aware of the consequences, from aggravating passengers and crew to longer and wasteful airplane turnaround times while sitting at the gate. A Boeing study found that boarding about 140 passengers on a domestic flight takes 30 to 40 minutes, up from 15 minutes in the 1970s.

American Airlines recently began testing a boarding process that gives priority to passengers carrying no luggage larger than a purse, laptop or such. The test, at four U.S. airports (not in Chicago), allows those passengers to board immediately after first-class and other "elites," but before the herd of economy-class fliers loaded down with their roll-ons.

Nice, but hardly enough.

After giving the matter careful thought, I have a free-market solution: charge for carry-on bags (except for small items like purses), but not for checked bags. Carrying luggage on board is a privilege you should pay for; it allows you to avoid the wait with the peons at baggage claim. Even before the airlines started charging for each checked bag, the "smart" fliers already were cramming the overheads with their junk. If you want to annoy and block other passengers by demanding your roll-on "rights," then you ought to reimburse others for the inconvenience you cause.

Of course, the airlines wouldn't like the loss of checked baggage revenue under my scheme. So maybe they would be content to balance the books by charging less for checked bags, but a lot, lot more for carry-on bags.

Also protesting my scheme would be "me-firsters," who must by any means beat everyone else on and off the plane. But it shouldn't matter to the airlines if passengers who are pleased with the new boarding procedure outnumber the me-firsters.

And speaking of boarding delays, I don't understand why passengers up front have to load first. Why not start boarding with the rear seats, so people don't have to queue up behind, waiting for the aisle to the rear to clear? (Counterintuitively, Fermilab physicist Jason Steffen concluded in a 2011 study that back-to-front loading is the least efficient method. Maybe, maybe not.)

Frankly, I don't understand this compulsion to be the first on the plane. If I had paid first-class fare, I wouldn't want a long line of steerage passengers jammed up in the aisle at my eye and nose level, bumping me with their carry-ons. I'd rather wait in the concourse lounge to be the last to board. Let everyone else wait for me.

And as long as we're talking about air travel, why are O'Hare suburban passengers still treated like second-class citizens when catching a taxi or limo? A Chicago-bound passenger merely walks out of the terminal to a line of waiting cabs. But suburbanites have to call ahead and wait in the cold for their cabs some distance away. Chicago allows its licensed cabs to take people to the suburbs, but for 50 percent more than the metered fare.

And talking about O'Hare: Last June, Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino trumpeted that O'Hare and Midway International Airport soon would get free Wi-Fi Internet connections, like many other airports already have. Checking Monday on O'Hare's website, I found the airport still charges $6.95 for a 24-hour connection.

Air travel is such fun.

This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune.


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  • Hear ya! ...just got back from a great vacation that was tarnished by the air travel. The very situation that you alluded to - bulging carry-ons that slow the boarding and deplaning of the aircraft - occurred on each of the flights we took. However, for the first time in a while, we were not one of those oafs with the jumbo carry-on - we checked our bags. And therein lies the alternative problem - upon arriving back in Chicago there was my bag circling around majestically on the conveyor, pockets opened and the contents missing. Of course the airline denied any liability and that was that - over $100 worth of personal items missing - I guess just the cost of me checking my bag. In other words, theft is now an accepted consequence of checking your bag. And let's not forget it cost me $25 a bag for the privilege of having those bags pilfered by airline employees. Doesn't seem like you can win either way!

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