I’ve always found humor to be a great indicator of truth. Using comedy to lighten a subject often leads to consensus. With so much talk about innovation in the airline industry, sometimes a focus on friction in the present is the best place to start.
Bags, great place.
A meme which has long made the rounds easily sums up one of the most frustrating and friction creating parts of the air passenger experience and I think it’s an area ripe for disruption by a creative airline.
So simple, such a valid point. Airlines sell products and each ticket type is a product, but ultimately they come down to a weight. Here’s why airlines are fussy about weight, why they’ll probably legally always be, and my very best guess at how to fix it.
Airline Products Determine Weight
Unless you’ve been living under a rock — props, if you have, it’s not great out here right now — you’ve probably seen that airlines have largely moved to carry on only fares as the new baseline.
If you want to check a bag in at a counter, it’s a more expensive product, even if the bag weighs the same or less as a carry on. If you want to check huge, or definitely “too heavy” bags, that’s an entire other product. Elite status as a frequent flyer can help with these limits, but not always in the most logical way.
As An Example…
If I travel on a certain airline and cabin class, I can have a baggage allowance of 200lbs of total weight. Woah! It’s an allowance of up to four bags at 50lbs each — woot!
But what’s always hilarious is that although I can bring four bags, even if I only bring one, but it weighs 55lbs I can be told that I can be charged extra, or that I can’t take the bag with me at all if I don’t remove some of the items and take them with me by hand.
Never mind that I’m foregoing 140lbs of potential weight which would add to the fuel bill and require more handling, I guess?
Technically, it’s over the per bag limit, so they want to charge me and at the end of the day that’s their perogative! As the meme above even more comically suggests though; no matter how they want me to spread out the weight between pockets, socks, hands or backpacks, it’s all going on the very same plane.
To the biggest end case issue of the amount of extra fuel needed to accommodate bags impact on the weight of the plane, it doesn’t matter at all how you spread it out if the same weight is going on the plane.
Unions And Laws
There are union and government mandates that are well intentioned by design, but create circular frustrations in the travel world. OSHA and other organizations limit the weight one person should have to carry at their workplace and if something is over that limit, two people are needed.
The baggage limit set is right at that limit to begin with so anything over is technically a workplace violation or requires two people to handle — technically. I certainly don’t like the idea of someone getting injured or losing their ability to work over my excess bags, so I’m sympathetic here.
Airlines have done very, very little over the last 70+ years of “modern” commercial aviation to change the way baggage works though, other than to just simply say you can’t have it unless you pay more for it. Adding it to credit cards as perks has been just about the biggest innovation, but that’s about money more than smooth passenger journeys.
My Thoughts On Baggage Innovation
Like many things in travel, this is an issue that’s much easier to complain about and fix. Let’s start there, because it’s important.
There’s already tremendous frustration around chokepoints and time lost at airports. Every new weight and measure taken will exponentially increase those already painful bits and that’s counter to the ultimate desire airlines and customers have of seamless trips through the airport.
Yes, believe it or not, airlines would love for you to enjoy the airport experience.
There’s really steady IATA frameworks and vision being put in place to create global technology and security standards where people should truly be able to walk through security without stopping (almost) and to board an entire flight in under 15 minutes, even an Airbus A380.
My Proposal: Be Agnostic
On Gilbert Airlines, an airline venture I assure you will never exist, you’ll simply have a weight limit for each ticket type. I don’t care if you want it to go under the plane or in the overhead bin.
The best thing airlines can do is simple, if you ask me. Just give each passenger an allowed weight and be agnostic to how they want to bring it: checked or carry on. Drop the game with the one overweight bag being illegal if you are allowed to have more than one and the overall weight of that one bag remains under the overall limit.
Drop the need to go carry on only or be charged if someone just wants their carry on to be put in the cargo hold for basic reasons like they want to bring a bottle of wine and it can’t go as hand luggage, or they want to keep their hands free. You set the weight rules, after all!
Until a world where no one checks luggage at all exists, which I don’t really foresee, the luggage belts and handlers are working anyway.
I’d love a world where if it’s going in the overhead bin, walk through the airport and you’re good to go. The old adage of if you can lift it, you can bring it would apply. If you want a bag within your weight allowance to go under the plane for any reason, just stop by a desk for the same price.
This basically happens already with airlines gate checking bags, so why not just pull back the kimono?
If all the stuff you’re bringing when you stop at a desk is over your weight limit, you owe us money, if not, carry on. If you don’t need to stop at a desk, nobody is weighing anything. The incremental time added of weighing one bag versus weighing a backpack and a bag is very minimal compared to the alternatives.
You can bring us one brick of a suitcase, as long as it is under the overall number, or you can bring us 10 cute mini suitcases, once again — as long as they are under the number. Check em’ all, no problem — subject to the overall weight.
Carry on rules are just like everyone else, a full sized carry on and anything else as a second item that can fit under your seat with no weight restrictions.
The customer satisfaction and likelihood of repeat business will undoubtedly model to be more valuable than the labor costs associated given that these are fixed “always on” positions during hours of operation.
The staffing dynamics will inevitably change but a change is certainly not a bad thing when the memes are so true and funny for real world airline products that they fuel social media.