Since many airlines took away complimentary checked bags as part of the fare they’ve battled the problem of too many passengers cramming too much stuff in the overhead bins. It slows the boarding process, drives passengers a little crazy and creates more work for ground crew in the final minutes leading up to departure. But it also generates more revenue. That’s a tough line to walk. JetBlue is running a trial in Orlando for a new way to deal with that challenge.
Today passengers who get to the gate but are willing to check their “carry-on” bag can do so for free. But that means getting the bag through security and holding on to it until the gate opens and the agent makes the inevitable announcement. Or the travelers can pay the checked bag fee out at the counter and hand the bag off to the airline. There are plenty of passengers unwilling to pay $30 or more for that privilege. But what if it is only $5??
The company will now accept carry-on sized bags – 22″ x 14″ x 9″ and 25 pounds max – at the counter as checked luggage for only $5 rather than the full price. Will passengers bite?
Company spokesman Philip Stewart explains, “In an effort to streamline the travel experience, we hope customers will enjoy carrying fewer bags through security and a quicker boarding process at the gate. We look forward to gathering feedback on this trial from our customers and crewmembers.” No word on how long the trial will last.
To the point Stewart makes about speeding the security checkpoint and boarding process, JetBlue is not alone on that front. United Airlines is holding strong to its decision to not allow carry-on bags for its Basic Economy passengers, citing the departure delays caused by late gate-checked bags as a primary reason. Delta Air Lines gate agents can also be aggressive about checking all bags for the later main cabin boarding groups, citing limited overhead bin space. Passengers often take to Twitter to complain about the practice, where Delta indicates that it is all about getting flights out on time.
There is a risk of eroding some of the revenue generated by checked bag fees today, though that seems less likely as most passengers are carrying the smaller bags into the gate area, if not the plane. And there’s the risk of this being seen as yet another fee the airlines are making up to charge travelers. But this one truly is new and optional. And pretty cheap. That gives it a chance of not being such a problem for consumers to accept.
The option for the checked carry-on bag is separate from the other bag fees and allowances, meaning a small third checked bag under this rule could be a massive cost savings for a passenger.
And for those thinking that this is the first step towards charging for all carry-on bags or even just on the soon-to-be-unveiled revised fare families including a Basic Economy option, company executives have said more than once that they do not plan to go down that path. That could change, but such a tack seems unlikely at this point.
And if you’re packing light anyways, $5 to keep your toiletries in the bag rather than fighting with the TSA or mini bottles might not be such a bad deal.