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The Price of Flying Our Possessions

The principle of cause and effect simply highlights when something happens, it makes something else happen. The airline sector, and particular its new attitudes to baggage has become a text book case study of such a relationship, and one which continues to change flying habits. Good or bad for travellers? There are mixed opinions, but airlines have found a way to monetise the situation.

We may have all come to terms with what we can and can’t take into the cabin of an aircraft, but hand baggage rules about the number and size of bags and ticketing restrictions on baggage allowance remains a very confusing area, with very different rules from one airline to another. Even the most regular of air travellers can fall foul of the rules, especially on multi-airline itineraries.

In the past it was simple. You bought an airline ticket, had complimentary cabin and hold baggage allowance, and got fed and watered. Today, the range of fare options can be a minefield as airlines take advantage of technology advancement and changing passenger demographics to deliver a wide menu of options.

Granted, for many of the legacy carriers those original fares are still available. Like steak or lobster on the restaurant menu they are a tempting option and available at a price, but, we are increasingly turning to some of the cheaper options that have become favourable to our palate. The Low Cost Carriers, or LCCs, (Ryanair and EasyJet among them) may have struck a huge blow and broken the traditional airline offer, but in a world where travellers are demanding increasing personalisation, like rats after the Pied Piper, the legacy airlines have quickly followed.

That is where the ‘cause and effect’ comes in. Turning hold baggage carriage into a chargeable ancillary, while better meeting the requirements of customers, has ultimately resulted in more travellers attempting to squeeze belongings into cabin bags to avoid the what can be sizeable additional charges to check-in luggage. We all love a bargain, but it is obvious that if we can avoid paying for anything we will, especially when the cost of checking-in a bag can nowadays actually be more than we have paid for the original ticket. From being permitted two carry-on bags with almost unlimited weight restrictions to only being allowed a small cabin bag that must be placed under the seat in front, airlines now have vastly varying policies.

The move to an unbundled offering has been at the heart of the LCC model and the adoption of similar practices by the legacy operators has meant hand baggage allowance has actually become a true differentiator between airlines. As the LCCs grow more into the corporate sector – in the short-haul market at least – it could increasingly become a key driver in the decision-making process, especially with growing costs to check bags into aircraft holds.

This ‘cause’ has the ‘effect’ that overhead luggage space is now at a premium, and something that is increasingly frustrating regular corporate travellers, many of whom traditional like to board an aircraft late. The promise that space will be guaranteed for bags in the cabin has now actually become a selling point for premium ancillary options and airlines have been quick to see the opportunity.

One solution is larger overhead lockers. In a move to support changing habits and enhance the experience for passengers, Air France announced last year that it will introduce larger overhead cabin lockers on its Airbus A320 and A321 airliners and others are too. This will see the use of a luggage stowage system, which permits cases to be stored on their side with wheels at the back, increasing luggage capacity by 60% compared with standard luggage compartments.

Airlines with more liberal cabin baggage entitlements are now increasingly limiting overhead baggage space to one item with any other to be stored under the seat in front. Despite introducing different coloured tags, this remains difficult to police in the cabin, where flight attendants are busy managing the boarding process for a timely departure. But airlines are continuing to adapt to meet this pinch point. Budget carrier Norwegian has this month introduced a new fare class that permits a small hold bag, but with no overhead cabin luggage allowance.

This ‘LowFare’ option allows passengers to carry one piece of under-seat luggage, up to a maximum weight of 10kg. Those wishing to use space in the overhead locker now need to book the ‘LowFare+’ which permits two bags, but still a combined weight restriction of 10kg.

Norwegian says ‘LowFare’ customers wishing to purchase an overhead bag allowance can do so for an additional cost of between EUR5 and EUR9 depending on the route. For additional baggage allowance of up to 15kg passengers would need to book more expensive ‘Flex’, ‘Premium’ and ‘Premium Flex’ options. On a positive, Norwegian has boosted the size of the underseat bag to 38cm-30cm-20cm (from 33cm-25cm-20cm) and delivered a fare option that perhaps better meets consumer demand. Research says we are now travelling more and for shorter durations so many of us no longer need large baggage entitlements.

It is clear that as passengers we now a wider freedom of choice and truly are able to pay for the things we want. When it comes to airline baggage the old adage ‘you get what you paid for’ is completely true.

Images via Blue Swan

© Blue Swan Daily 2020

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