Carrying On: Why Airlines Have Got It Wrong

During my recent travels, my beliefs on traveler’s luggage didn’t waver. I’ve held these beliefs for quite some time now, and my latest trip only solidified them further. My belief is as follows:

Carry-on luggage that is larger than an item that can fit under your seat should be something you have to pay for. Checking one piece of luggage that goes in the cargo hold of the plane should be complimentary.

Simple as that.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been boarding a plane and any of the following scenarios regarding carry-on luggage play out:

  • After a ton of time spent on trying, the realization sets in by both passenger and crew that there’s not enough room in the overhead bins and the piece of luggage goes into the cargo hold — for free.
  • If a spot for the carry-on is found, it ends up being several rows away from said passenger. Then they feel the need to take up others’ time getting it instead of waiting until most of the aircraft empties.
  • A family of four each fill a sizeable carry-on and save money on the checked baggage fees but take up an inordinate amount of space on the plane.
  • A passenger (or passengers) can’t lift their carry-on from floor to overhead bin.
  • The plane’s aisle is too narrow for a carry-on to navigate through without causing a ton of issues for everyone.

Sure, there’s likely more scenarios that I have failed (or chosen not) to mention, but that should be enough for most who travel frequently. And I do travel frequently.1

That said, there will be an argument that comes up that tries to downplay my idea. The argument that those who travel frequently and know how to deal with carry-on luggage shouldn’t be punished by those who can’t. The punishment, of course, being that they have to wait at the baggage carousel for a free checked bag as opposed to walking off of the plane and leaving the airport unscathed. Well, that argument may have held water before the increased security measures, but not so much now.

Airports have become a constant queue. If you’re travelling by air, you’d best get accustomed to waiting. There’s a lot of it. It is no different than waiting for your bag to hit the carousel. That’s. Just. Another. Wait.

Besides, the time you save on bringing your carry-on with you on board is lost by the delays that other passengers cause doing the same thing. It’s a perceived productivity gain when you bring your bag with you, but it’s far from an actual gain. Bringing your carry-on with you is fool’s gold. Or a fool’s errand. Actually, both.

The notion of having one free checked bag and no free checked carry-on bag (other than the one that can fit under your seat) will actually serve the customers better as a whole. It will make the process of travelling less stressful for many. For those that want and need the security of a full carry-on bag, they can pay for that luxury (just like their pretzels). For those that can get by on a small carry-on that allows them to have what’s needed in case their luggage goes missing, they’ve prepared themsleves how they see fit and shouldn’t be charged. They should be treated as travelers who are looking out for the welfare of all on board — not just themselves.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect plan, but what’s being done right now is further away from perfect than what I’m proposing. However, I will admit that the status quo does help one line out quite well.

The airlines’ bottom line, of course.2

1 I loved the movie “Up In The Air”, but it totally gave a false sense of entitlement to business travellers. Unless you’re in Business Class, you’re just like rest of us — in coach. Deal with it.
2 End of rant. Thank you for your indulgence.