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Aviation: another illogical step backward?

The latest news suggesting air passengers are now being advised to check in all luggage is truly bewildering. The DfT guidance states: “You are strongly encouraged to check in baggage to the aircraft hold and minimise any hand baggage. This will speed up boarding and disembarking, and minimise the risk of transmission.”

Loading baggage containers (American Airlines)

Sure, checking bags may speed up boarding and disembarking – maybe reducing the challenges associated with social distancing in confined cabins at the same time – but has the DfT really thought this through?

If I check in a bag, I have to go to a check-in desk or a bag drop. At the former, another human being will have to handle the bag and attach a tag, while the latter involves me interacting with a touch screen. That entails a staff member touching something unnecessarily and potentially passing on the virus if they are pre-symptomatic, or entails me touching a screen that could be infected through other people touching it previously. And once checked, that bag goes on a merry-go-round that involves further human handling as it is loose-loaded into a baggage trolley and then into an aircraft hold, or place into and removed from a container.

Manual check-in is still performed by human contact (Air Canada)

And when I get to my destination, having a checked bag means I have to loiter around a reclaim belt with hundreds of other passengers waiting for my luggage, whereas carrying hand baggage only means I can be through the airport and out of harm's way much more expediently. About the only situation in which my bag could be handled by more people if I carry it on, and thus my possessions be at greater risk of contamination, is at security, and then only if it has to be searched. Having said that, hold bags are screened and some have to be searched too. The reality is that the process of checking in a bag is far more touch-point intensive than carrying an item on and off an aircraft.

Close contact in aircraft cabins is largely unavoidable (Blue Swan Daily)

The harsh reality is that airlines and airports are unlikely to argue with this latest development. Firstly, the industry is on its knees and needs all the revenue it can get, and the prospect of additional baggage fees are unlikely to meet too much resistance. Secondly, the sense I am getting is that almost anything will be accepted if it results in the industry getting one step nearer to us all returning to the air, even if the changes are illogical.

Picking one’s fights – and quarantine is that one right now – is probably a sound policy for the industry to adopt. However, the cost implications of passengers having to pay unnecessary baggage fees is hardly likely to entice people back to air travel, especially when the underlying motivation for it seems somewhat misplaced.

Again this latest development leaves me wondering why governments seem to be acting so much against the interests of the air travel industry. The industry needs all the help it can get right now – ideally a full restart not restricted by further obstacles – but every step seems to be retrograde right now. I sincerely hope there is better news on the horizon in the very near future.

Above - Bags are either loose-loaded manually (as on smaller aircraft) on in containers

(Walter Siegmund)

Below - Waiting at bag claim carousels also involves close contact

(Reg Natarajan)

Text ©The Aviation Oracle / KJM Today 2020

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