Archive for May 8th, 2011


May 8th, 2011 6 comments

The economics of luggage cartage is relatively clear and simple.

For a cruise line, every passenger (which NCL allows) who takes their luggage with them down the gangway and through customs is fewer cabin attendants diverted to luggage handling from turning over rooms. This, in turn, means an earlier access to cabins for boarding passengers. It also means less area required for luggage delivery, warehouse and handling prior to customs at the Port. Cruise line passengers expect to tip should they have someone assist them with baggage on the Port.

Now, let us look at the same issue related to airlines.

Traditionally people have purchased airline tickets, flying from Point A to Point B. Often it is now the case that the traveller involved has plane changes at airport C, D and occasionally E prior to gratefully crawling out of the flying sardine can at their final destination. People are actually easier to manage than luggage. They can be counted, move themselves from here to there and let you know normally when things are not going in the correct direction. It is not common to find someone on the wrong aircraft.

As passengers we all have this selfish desire to have stuff with us. Things that we just can’t manage without. It normally is not a lot on a day trip or a simple overnight business trip. But be headed out (or home) after a year at college, a prolonged backpacking expedition or a ski vacation and the stuff starts to mount up. Even going somewhere for a week normally involves a bit more than a few changes of underwear.

The challenge comes in balancing the wants/desires of the raveller against the costs of the airline.

For years, cartage was included in the price of the ticket (did I say that already?). Then, the low cost airlines got in the game and started charging for every last little item that people were willing to tolerate. In turn, this had a tendency to drive down the cost of tickets (comparison – in 1972 I paid ~$400 for a round trip ticket from Minnesota to Europe. That is comparative more expensive than today’s prices even with the sharply increased fuel costs.) No matter how cheaply the seats are priced today – sold is better than empty since the flight and cabin crew numbers are fixed and sunk costs.

In contrast – baggage is a money loser for the airline. Just as British Airlines after their Heathrow Terminal 5 opening fiasco with a pile up of over 65,000 pieces of luggage. (yes, sixty-five thousand pieces of luggage which did not make their owner’s flight and most of which were never reunited with their loved one.) It costs the airline for each and every piece which must be handled. The more the luggage, the more employees required since the movement time is fixed. Then there are the additional expenses of maintaining a tagging, tracking and lost luggage service for those pieces which inevitably are going to stray.

Charging for luggage can potentially turn baggage into at worst case a money neutral cost center. At best, it can make money, either with the luggage covering costs or the decreased luggage meaning that the airline can move high value paying freight.

All of this leads me to the problem of cabin space. When you have to pay for luggage, why not carry everything on? After all – if you get on first you can fill up all the overhead compartments and still keep your feet free of having to share with your bags. Never mind that everyone else seems to have the same attitude.

Our flight out of New Orleans was so full – packed even – that the gate personnel were offering free plane side checking of bags. No fools, we happily handed over one of the bags for free. Then they decided that the long board was too long so they offered to swap it out jetway to jetway.

Such a deal – no charge for luggage and we actually had some leg room. I won’t tell you this is a good idea for any carry one that is full of computers or cameras. But for that bad that you really are just hauling to avoid the charges, your life could just be a bit easier if you have the opportunity for plane side free check-in.

Charlotte Airport waiting on her next flight!

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