Because travel sucks ... now more than ever.

No need to riot ... yet

Wed, 2008/05/21 - 22:05 by aargh

Talk about a leading indicator.

Last month (or was it earlier this month?) AA announced they would shutter their operation's at California's Oakland airport. No surprise at the time: Northern California is already well-served by San Francisco and San Jose airports, and it had been a while since Oakland was a cheaper alternative to those other two.

So I shrugged it off. Silly me.

Fast-forward to the present: AA's trimming its fleet (read: fewer flights, pricier tickets) and tacking on fees for checked baggage. Ostensibly, all this in response to pricier oil.

Granted, even if you adjust the price to a more respectable 2002- or 2003-era dollar, $130 is a lot of money for petrol. Economics 101 says this is the time to scale back on operations to save money and boost prices to calm demand. That, I can see.

What I don't see is the baggage fee.

It doesn't add up.

May I see some numbers, please? At $15 for one checked bag, and $25 for a second bag, how much money does the airline expect to reap from each flight? Only so many passengers check bags to begin with. Will that group's collective fees really salve AA's petrol-price wounds?

Maybe AA calculated the average suitcase uses $15 worth of fuel. Fair enough. Then why not weigh the bags and charge accordingly? I, for one, would lose my cheshire-cat grin when they slap a HEAVY tag on my luggage. I would also fear the day American starts to price tickets (and arrange seating!) based on body weight... but that's another story.

So will AA collect any meaningful money off that checked-baggage fee? Doubtful.

It really doesn't add up.

Hold your horses ... If you expect an angry mob to storm AA headquarters, expect a very small mob. Not every passenger qualifies for the $15 checked-luggage fee.

Per AA's website, elite-status travelers and their companions are exempt from the fee. (Maybe this is where I should stop, then?) As are passengers riding on first-class, business, and full-fare coach tickets. International travelers, too. The list goes on ...

When all is said and done, only the Occasional Domestic Travelers will have to cough up the fees. Fine, they're trying to make a quick buck off of summer travel. Except that airlines expect fewer people than normal to travel this summer, since ticket prices have surpassed cruising altitude.

Guys, I'm sure the idea looked good on paper. Really.

But we'll still get fed up

Deep down, then, the checked luggage fee is no big deal. Great, but let's not get cocky. AA may have unwittingly worsened the in-cabin situation. Spend any time in coach and you'll have to deal with the Mensa rejects who circumvent the luggage fee by overloading their carry-ons. (Raise your hand if you've ever seen someone bring on more than their fair share. Both hands if they stashed one of their bags in an overhead nowhere near their assigned seat.)

Unless gate agents toughen up and police carry-ons luggage we'll have riots as those who obey the size limits still don't have space for their bags. Heaven forbid the airline try to charge people the $15 fee for checking a carryon-sized bag, simply because their fellow passengers were greedy.

Time for something completely different

At this rate, I'll gladly pay $15 to check myself into the cargo hold. No food, no climate control (sounds like my last voyage on an MD-80), but plenty of space. Maybe, even in today's crowded planes, I can get a row to myself.

Reference links for the literate among you:

This page on the AA site describes the policy in detail. Note the "View Exceptions" link for the list of passengers exempt from the fee.

"American Airlines to Slash Jobs, Charge For Bags"

"American Cuts Flights, Adds Fees As Airlines Face Crisis"

"After AMR, the Deluge"
(This is Scott McCartney's regular The Middle Seat column for WSJ)