Airline baggage check policy (rant warning)


Delta Airlines logoThose of you who follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook know I recently went on a trip which involved flying. This is the first time I’ve been on an airplane in several years – not because I’m afraid of flying, but I resent that airlines uniformly treat their customers like shit.

Prime example: the baggage check policy.

If memory serves, the practice of charging a fee for all checked baggage was instituted when oil prices soared. Like most charges, the practice continued even when oil prices dropped. It seems to me it’s time for airlines to re-evaluate the policy, not only in terms of customer service, but how it actually has worked out (or not worked out, as the case may be) in practice.

I’m not even going to get into a discussion of the inconvenience involved in trying to fit everything necessary for a two-week trip into a carry-on bag. I know people do it, I just don’t want to be one of them. I want to take more than two pairs of shoes, one of which I must wear, because shoes take up so much space in the bag. I had to do laundry twice while I was traveling, and I came home wearing my one clean outfit, and a bag full of laundry to do. Oh wait – I wasn’t going to get into a discussion about that.

So, after much anxiety and packing and repacking, I was successful in getting the bare necessities into a bag and off I wheeled to the airport. Even with wheels, it’s a PITA to drag a bag through the airport, through security, on the little bus I had to take to get to the terminal gate, then sit and wait for the flight. That was obviously more troublesome than to take a domestic flight. Only to discover the plane is a small one, with smaller-than-usual overhead bins, and my bag is too big. Fortunately for my pocketbook, the airline checked my bag at the gate, no charge. It was not my fault, after all, that the standard carry-on size didn’t apply in this case. So why, I asked myself, for this flight, do they even bother charging a fee for checking baggage? Why not just make it more convenient for everyone and waive the baggage check fee up front? How hard would it be to notify the customer at the point of sale that carry-on isn’t an option on the flight and there will be no fee for checking a bag? Or, perhaps the better question, how much can they be making on the baggage check fee on a plane that only holds 120 passengers, when they end up checking bags at no charge at the gate anyway?

On my return to LAX, I flew Delta. I like Delta. They’re usually on time and the employees are nice. You can feel the “but….” coming, can’t you? BUT…. yeah, the baggage check fee. I knew I had really stuffed the bag. In fact, some of the overflow went into my computer case backpack and I wasn’t sure I could fit my wallet-on-a-string into the backpack if I needed to, as the FAA only allows one carry on and one personal item. With the bag as a carry-on, I’d need to fit the wallet into the backpack to meet the requirement for one personal item. I was there early and facing not only a couple hours of waiting, but a change after a fairly short flight from Milwaukee to Minneapolis. So I decided to just bite the bullet and pay the fee to check my bag through to LAX.

Dumb me.

While waiting at the gate, I hear the gate attendant announce that the flight is very full and in order to free up overhead bin space, which will be at a premium, they would check 10 to 12 bags through to the passenger’s destination, free of charge. This wasn’t the first time I heard this plea – I heard it again while waiting in Minneapolis.

So #Delta, how do you think it makes passengers who have paid to check their bag feel when they hear this? Is this GOOD customer service?

I felt much the same as I used to feel when I went into the bank where I’d done business for years, only to find they were giving away toasters (or whatever) to new customers. What did I, a long-term customer, get? Yeah – nada. Or when HBO used to give free weekends to cable subscribers and those of us who had been long-time subscribers got to listen to the sales pitches all weekend, while still paying for the service.

In the digital age, why are passengers finding out at the gate that the airline is giving away free checked baggage chits? (Answer: They’re hoping idiots like me will pay to check their bag, and then they won’t have to give it away for free. This seems to work, but only on a limited basis; i.e., for inexperienced travelers, such as myself.) If they’re going to charge a baggage check fee – and this rant is aimed at saying they need to give it up, but if they won’t – why not send out a message or notice to passengers and let them know they’re giving away free checked baggage spots? I got a notification that I could check in 24 hours before my flight. I got a notice that my flight was on time. I got a notice telling me where to go to catch my flight. Why not a notice that I could also check a bag for free?

If the carry-on problem has reached the point where the airline is begging customers to check baggage, and they are willing to do it for free, maybe it’s time to just go back to allowing one free checked bag. That way, passengers who’ve already checked bags won’t get pissed off about paying for a service that is now being given away for free to people who, 10 minutes previously, were prepared to push, shove and elbow their way to grab space in an overhead bin. At the very least, they should make one checked bag per passenger free for any flight where they are offering any free baggage check. Because, y’know… good customer service.

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