Transportation & Logistics

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Baggage Wait Limits Now in Effect

21 Apr, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Airlines Attempting to Lure Travelers Back into Checking Bags

Checking bags before boarding your flight? Be prepared to pay. Waiting for your luggage at the carousel once you get off the plane, though, might mean the airline has to cough up.

A new policy instituted by Delta Airlines, the 20 Minutes Bag-to-Claim Guarantee, is attempting to get air travelers back into the habit of checking luggage. According to an article in USA Today, the policy, which began being tested in February and March, has now been instituted.

The program guarantees that fliers' checked bags will arrive at the baggage carousel within 20 minutes when traveling on domestic flights. Delta says it will award 2,500 miles to customers whose bags take longer than that to reach the carousel.

"We're committed to providing you with reliable and on-time baggage service every time you fly," Delta said in February about the trial via its website. "That's why we're backing your bags with a guarantee: if your checked bag doesn't arrive at the carousel in 20 minutes or less after any domestic flight through March 31, 2015, you are eligible to receive 2,500 bonus miles."

Customers whose bags are slow to get to the carousel must fill out an online form at Delta's website to receive the miles. Delta will check the details and award the 2,500 miles once it confirms a customer's eligibility, spokesman Anthony Black tells Today in the Sky.

According to the Delta site, customers must be SkyMiles members at the time of travel to be eligible, and requests for multiple flights must be submitted separately. Lost, mishandled, and damaged bags are excluded. Oversize and overweight baggage and special items also are not eligible.

Delta is actually the second airline to try the new policy; Alaska Airlines has long offered its own 20-minute baggage guarantee. Like Delta, Alaska Air offers 2,500 miles to customers whose bags do not arrive to the carousel within 20 minutes. Alaska Air also gives customers the option to receive a $25 travel voucher instead of the miles.

And Alaska Air -- in the midst of what appears to be a turf war with Delta over Seattle -- seemed to be jerking Delta’s chain when the trial went into effect in February, with a tweet reading: "Celebrating millions and millions of bags delivered in 20 minutes or less."

The guarantee is intended to provide an extra level of service that will lure travelers back into checking their bags; the implementation of bag fees led to overcrowded, overstuffed overhead bins, which in turn led to larger bins. That led to more and bigger luggage being carried onto the plane, still in an attempt to avoid bag fees, despite airlines’ attempts to control the practice.

One workaround travelers quickly discovered was that after carrying their inflight bags to the gate, airlines often made announcements that the overhead bins were filling up, and that anyone wishing to check their bag could do so free of charge. That quickly became the action of choice; however, it still meant that bags had to be picked up at the carousel after the flight.

Waiting for those bags – free or not – turned out to be the last straw for many travelers, particularly those who had paid fees and followed the rules to check their bags in advance. An article in Conde Nast Traveler detailed the process checked bags had to go through to get on planes, and the reasons many did not make their flights as intended.

Some airlines also have worse reputations for delays at the baggage claim area; in fact, entire message boards are devoted to the subject.

Whether the new rule achieves airline goals of actually encouraging passengers to check luggage is still up in the air. Count on other airlines to implement similar strategies, however, to fill up the less crowded space – and give baggage handlers something to do on the ground.

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