If you follow signs of the times – the answer is almost inevitable. But can we really complain? And will it actually happen? Depending on your criteria, the golden age of air travel is not an era which can easily be defined. Airline tickets have never been cheaper, nor has the experience involved so much passenger friendly technology. Air travel is fast becoming something for everyone, and with this emergence price is the new king. Studies conclusively show that tickets are booked on price over all other factors. Discount carriers have submerged prices to record lows and to compete, legacy airlines are changing tact.
Delta, KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, TAP Portugal. That’s a list of airlines which already charge for checked bags on long haul flights. American Airlines is racing to catch up, adding international markets by the day. It’s a forgone conclusion that Virgin Atlantic will join this list, as a partner of Delta, KLM and Air France as well. Bags on Delta cost a whopping $60 a piece, each way – which is often far more than the difference in price between the “basic” fares and the “standard” fares including a checked bag, at time of booking. The concept: they get you in the door – first. Not all fares will result in fees to check bags, but each of these airlines now compete on price by offering “light” fares, which do not include many amenities such as checked bags. If you want the best price, you’ll need to do so with carry on baggage only.
British Airways offers “Hand Baggage Only” fares on short haul flights within Europe. These fares are less expensive than standard economy fares, but charge for checked baggage and seating assignments. The fares allow British Airways to compete with low cost carriers such as Ryanair, Norwegian, and EasyJet within Europe. Passengers also board last, which cuts into the ability to secure overhead bin space on full flights. With these fares already in the system, expanding them to international flights would be extremely easy – on the airlines part. Air France, KLM, Delta and Virgin Atlantic are chief rivals of British Airways, making this a hot button issue for the new year.
While an argument could be made that an airline continuing to offer free checked bags would retain a competitive advantage, research is beyond conclusive that price is the first and most important factor in ticket purchase decisions. If an airline was matching on price while continuing to offer free checked bags they would undoubtedly make fans, but also miss out on tremendous revenue – and at the end of the day airlines are not in the charity business. Furthermore, this would open the door for British Airways to introduce a new credit card benefit – offering a free checked bag on all flights for premium credit card holders. Making money without even flying planes is tough to argue with…