Transportation & Logistics

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Preloading of Carry-On Bags: Coming Soon to an Airport Near You

4 Jun, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
In the Scramble to Shorten Boarding Process, Airlines Trying New Measures

Once upon a time, airline travel was considered something of an adventure. Airlines competed by offering amenities and little luxuries to travelers, and flyers had their choice of routes and companies. Today, the airline industry is a different beast. Companies are racing to the bottom when it comes to cost cutting, surcharges and fees, route consolidations, baggage limitations and cramped seats. Air travel, once an adventure, now has more in common with medieval torture (whose victims, at least, didn’t have to pay for the privilege).

One of the largest complaints of airline passengers today is the time it takes to board and deplane. Cramped spaces and overcrowded baggage compartments mean the people at the back of the plane spend more time deplaning than they spent flying. In this regard, airlines’ interests are aligned with passengers’ interests: the more time it takes for passengers to get off and on a plane, the less time that aircraft has to earn revenue. Slow boarding can create take-off and arrival delays and cause already generally unhappy passengers to miss connecting flights.

According to a recent article by the Associated Press, several airlines are taking steps to speed up the boarding process for the summer travel season. Delta has announced plans to preload carry-on baggage for passengers before they board the plane on some flights, operating under the assumption that its own baggage handlers can load luggage faster than passengers. (According to USA TODAY, bags will go over passengers’ seats). Southwest, meanwhile, is changing its procedures for seating families together in order to shave precious minutes off the process.

“Researchers from Northern Illinois University once figured that every extra minute that a plane stands idle at the gate adds $30 in costs,” wrote the AP’s David Koenig. “About 1 in 4 U.S. flights runs at least 15 minutes late. Multiply that by thousands of flights each day, and it quickly adds up for the industry.”

Some airlines have tried to circumvent the problem of long boarding delays due to carry-on baggage by instituting programs to encourage more passengers to check their bags. Earlier this year, Delta introduced a policy that guaranteed that fliers' checked bags will arrive at the baggage carousel within 20 minutes for domestic flights, and the company said it will award 2,500 miles to customers whose bags take longer than that to reach the carousel. Alaska Airlines, which competes with Delta on the West Coast, has a similar policy.

Still, many travelers don’t trust baggage check: they fret that their bags will get lost or damaged, or they don’t want to take the time to wait at the carousel. Even more importantly, they resent the per-bag fee imposed on them. Alternatively, they want the convenience of having their possessions nearby during the flight, particularly if a flight delay or a missed connection results in an overnight stay in another city.

Delta says it plans to pilot the carry-on luggage valet service at some of the U.S.’s busiest airports, including Atlanta, New York and Seattle, but spokesperson Morgan Durrant said it is expected to be rolled out to a broader number of flights and airports in the near future. Durrant said the process was first tested last summer in Atlanta and Los Angeles and was found to reduce the overall time it took to board the plane.

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