1 year ago
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Carry-on Baggage Nazis
In Europe, when I've flown on French, German, Spanish, Dutch, English, Italian, Austrian, and Swiss airlines, I've had the very polite but very firm gate personnel measure, and even sometimes weigh, carry-on luggage. Larger than 55 cm (22 inches), it must be gate checked. Heavier than 15kg? It cannot go into over-head bins (at least on Spanair from Mallorca to Barcelona - whom I will never fly again). You've got more than one personal item? Vee vill have to check zee second one, unless you are business class, then of course, take on whatever you would like.
This draconian, tiered bureaucracy was imposed about 2 years ago, and it's sunk in enough, that anyone whose flown in the last 2 years, or anyone who knows a friend or family whose flown in the last 2 years, KNOWS that in zones 4 or 5, you're S.O.L. Simply Out of Luck, and your bag will not be fitting in an overhead.. When you see your boarding pass, and you don't see zones 1, 2, 3 listed, you;re not in Afghanistan fatigues, and you've got no toddler in arms, you're going to be gate checking your bag; the dread washes over you.
And the Airlines have employed very observant psychologists, who have noticed this phenomenon. The psychological data combines with scheduling, and low-cost-country performed maintenance, to provide very tight arrival and departure schedule. Connecting flights at major hubs have about an hour on inner-airline transfers, and passengers know that if everything doesn't go smoothly, if there's a 15 or 20 minute delay, they'll probably not make their connection. Those are the often the SAME passengers who are holding zone 4 and 5 boarding passes, who have booked the cheapest flights with the shortest connection times.
I've seen this tactic of [delayed flight + threats to Z4 & 5 passengers that their bags won't fit + threats of "and we won't make our connections"] = [faster loading] used Very Effectively by US Airways, United, and Delta, in the last 6 months. The net result is, the passengers load more quickly, and when you are the last person to board (as I was at 930pm on Friday night) you find a dozen over-head storage spots EMPTY & Available! I was so amazed, I put my laptop bag in the over-head, and had room to stretch my legs a little bit, after my 1200 meter sprint across O'Hare, seated in row 25 amongst my Z4 and 5 brethren an an Airbus 320. Everyone around me was bemoaning that their glass crystal this and that, their fragile such-and-such, was going to be damaged under the plane, as I caught my breath and we rolled back from the gate. (The lesson they needed to learn was, DO NOT pack fragile items in roller bags, unless you are in first class). It's worked ingeniously, and insidiously, for the US major carriers.
If you want to see a plane get loaded every 10 minutes, fly Southwest - or fly someone else and watch as a blue and orange Southwest 737 rolls past your Delta, Continental, United, American, or US Airways gate, every 45 minutes, jammed full of passengers who've picked their own seats, and a luggage hold jammed full of free checked bags. There are rarely any delays in getting a Southwest 737 out of the gate and up in the air - in the Albany airport, while United was delayed, Southwest rolled a 737 by our gate ever 45 minutes, fro the 3 hours we waited. Southwest has convinced their paying passengers that they're a "low cost" airline, but they're not really any lower cost. Their flights and fares are comparable, within $30 or $40 dollars, to all of their "big airline" competition, and Southwest are no fools - they've instituted the "pay more, get more" practices of paying more for a "business class" seat in an all-coach 737, and "priority seating" for additional fees. They're not dummies, and are not going to leave that money on the table.