Wait…This Is MY Fault????

We should be ashamed of ourselves.

I have complained, more than once, about the naked greed and obvious incompetence displayed by the airlines charging $25 or more to passengers who check luggage. The results of this reverse incentive are that people carry on too many, and too large bags, boarding takes longer, and flights are delayed. Passengers talk about the idiocy of the policy all the time. So do the airline attendants. Anyone can see how dumb the policy is. The smart approach would be to charge for anything carried on other than a handbag or briefcase, and make checked luggage free. Boarding would be faster and there wouldn’t be passengers using the sneaky (but effective!) trick of carrying a piece of luggage through security only to check it at the gate at no charge when the airline personnel makes the routine plea for passengers to free up luggage bin space by doing so.

Now comes Janet Napolitano, President Obama’s inept head of Homeland Security (no, I’m never forgiving her), to tell a Senate sub-committee that the airlines’ backward policy also costs the country and taxpayers millions. Because luggage fees have prompted more passengers to hold onto their bags, she says, there are more items for Transportation Security Administration officers to inspect at security checkpoints, adding an estimated $260 million per year to the costs of security.

To which I would add, “Duh! And what was your first clue, Sherlock?” Where was Homeland Security, or anyone else with a brain stem, when the airlines instituted this policy? Was it not obvious that charging to check bags would have this effect? Did Janet have to wait two years of $260 million of unnecessary expenditures—that’s about a half-billion dollars by my slide-rule—before sharing this information?

Ah, but our Senators are up to the challenge, now that they have all the facts. Sen. Mary Landrieu, chairwoman of the subcommittee, told the hearing, “Checked bagged fees are increasing, it looks like, the cost to TSA because people don’t want to pay the fees so they are not checking bags and putting more on the planes. My question is, do the taxpayers have to pick up this fee? Or should we be looking at the airlines for some of the profits that they make from these fees to offset the cost the taxpayer?”

Morons. So Landrieu wants to add an extra tax to the already struggling airlines, which they will promptly pass along to travelers in ticket prices, who already have to pay the stupid, counter-intuitive, security straining, plane-delaying fees to check luggage, making it even more likely that they will try to save the $25 to $50 by not checking their bags, causing more bin crowding, more delays, less income to the airlines and more check-point costs!

Good thinking, Senator Landrieu, you incompetent fool. And no, that isn’t uncivil. That is a fact.

Meanwhile, how does Yahoo begin its story about Sec. Napolitano’s lightning-quick realization that a three-year old airline policy adds to security costs? Like this:

“Choosing to carry your luggage onto a plane instead of checking it with an airline might save you a few bucks at the ticket counter but it’s costing taxpayers about a quarter-billion dollars a year.”

That’s right. This is all OUR fault.

16 thoughts on “Wait…This Is MY Fault????

  1. Now you’re just writing posts to piss me off. Are you trying to get my blood to actually boil?

    The old adage is truly accurate:

    Ignorance is bliss.

  2. Common, Jack. Everyone is trying to save a buck, but that’s only natural. If you can’t blame passengers for taking their bags through security, you can’t blame the airlines for charging to check luggage. The costs of airport security are going to be covered by some tax or other; why is taxing the airlines inequitable? Taxes necessarily modify behavior, and this particular tax might cause the airlines to reconsider their checked luggage policies.

    More to the point: What is the ethical issue here? Is it unethical to charge for a service? Is it unethical to provide a service that entails hidden costs, such as delays and crowded seats, so long as the customers understand that’s what they are buying? Is it unethical for government officials to propose new taxes? Try this: Is it ethical to post – to an ethics blog, no less – an expression of anger and frustration without offering insight or remedy?

    • The ethical issue is COMPETENCE, as well as fairness, diligence, and accountability.

      1) The airlines are responsible both for efficiency and safety. They are ethically obligated not to come up with means to make a profit that for no good reason also has the undesired consequences of making planes late, the load-in process unpleasant, and the security process unwieldy and expensive. It was obvious that charging for checked bags created a counter-incentive that also inconvenienced and burdened people, like me, who complied (initially) and did check bags. The airlines have many ways at their disposal to make up fuel costs, the initial explanation for the charges. They could (and should) have charged each passenger by weight, making them and their luggage get on a scale with a fee resulting forthwith. If you are going to be charged anyway for your baggage, you have a) an incentive to bring less of it 2) no reason not to check it and 3) incentive to go on a diet. They could even add the additional fee for carry-ons.

      I’ve mentioned this before. And I did propose a remedy—charge directly for carry-ons. You must have missed this sentence—“The smart approach would be to charge for anything carried on other than a handbag or briefcase, and make checked luggage free.” That’s what speed reading will do to you.

      2) The Landrieu tax doesn’t address the problem, ergo it is irresponsible.

      3) Sure I can blame them. I carry a soft foldover bag if I’m not going to check luggage, out of respect for my fellow passengers and the need to conserve space. The wheeled carts used to be banned for carry-ons, and still should. And if I do pay for a checked bag, I am going to damn well use the bin for my brief case so my legas are clear, and I don’t want ti hear how I should stow my small carry-on under the seat in front of me so the cheap bastard with the giant rolling cart can take up twice the space he’s entitled to overhead.

      4) Anyone who has flown for the last three years immediately noticed more luggage going thru screening. The Feds had an obligation to address any problem before it costs a half-billion dollars. Wouldn’t you think? Diligence. Demand that the airlines find an incentive to reduce unchecked luggage.

      • The people who run big companies aren’t stupid. (Well, some of them aren’t.) Yet most airlines worldwide are adopting the policy of charging for checked luggage. So there must be a good reason, and it probably doesn’t have much to do with passenger convenience. And why should it? Passengers have demonstrated time and time again that there is no convenience they will not trade for a lower fare. The airlines are giving the customers what they want. Which is good. (Yes, Jack, that means the lousy experience is your fault. If you want a more pleasant flight, try paying for first class.)

        Airlines are no longer regulated, and they can charge what they like. But competition is fierce (the government sees to that) so they end up charging more or less what they spend, and their profits are modest to nonexistent. As costs (primarily fuel) increase, they must charge more. So the claim that luggage charges were instituted to meet rising costs is truthful (in the sense that new charges had to be added, though not in the sense that the new charges had to be for checked luggage).

        Checked luggage is costly for airlines to provide, and contributes even more to delays than carry-ons. Charging for checked luggage motivates people to travel with less, and assigns the fee to those passengers who create the expenses. It is rational, efficient and fair. (Unfortunately, it’s unpopular among people who do not understand it.)

        I’m all for charging for carry-ons as well, but it’s unnecessary – there’s limited capacity on the plane, and the problem will sort itself out. If your carry-on fits beneath your seat (as mine does), then you won’t have to check it.

        I agree they should charge for checked bags, even if they are checked at the gate. But what do you do if someone decides not to pay. You’ve already taken their boarding pass. It’s messy. And costly to administer. Probably not worth the trouble.

        As for TSA expenses, the government took it over because the industry couldn’t deliver. (Now THAT was unethical.) Perhaps they should charge the airlines, the same way the police charge to attend a private function. But some would consider it yet another tax. Sigh …

        No, I don’t fly a private jet. But more and more, I drive to avoid the unpleasantness of air travel. So do many other people I know. This means the fliers who remain are those without alternatives. They are reduced to whining.

        Grow up.

        • What makes you so sure that the people who run airlines are intelligent? I see no indication of that at all. Your comment is full of assumptions like this.

          The charge is not an incentive not to bring luggage; obviously, because more and more luggage is being brought on board. The airlines could simply ban roller-boards, and require them to be checked…why don’t they? I’m sure you could come up with a system that is fairer and more efficient in 10 seconds of thinking about it. You can’t believe that it is “rational, efficient and fair” when those who DON’T check these monsters don’t pay, and do make everyone else uncomfortable and late….and increase security checkpoint costs too.

          That’s right, I don’t have the option of avoiding air travel (nor do I have the option of paying first class, which is 1) a rip-off and 2) seldom reimbursed by the business that pay me, and I don’t blame them.

          The system is a welter of bad management and disrespect for the customer, yet the customer has limited options regarding choice. Even if I could avoid the problem by bypassing it, that would be a breach of my duty to 1) complain 2) get others to complain and 3) do my part to make it unpleasent for the airlines to keep doing what they are doing.

          Growing up means, to me at least, taking responsibility and being willing confront the self-satisfied morons who make idiotic decisions—the current pat-down system comes to mind–that demean us. Whining would be what I hear most of my travel companions doing, cursing the system and saying “but what can we do?” Opting out is what you have the luxury of doing—ducking the issue and sending a “So long, sucka!” message from your litter. I’m calling the miscreants out, and if and when my megaphone is loud enough, it will lead to a solution.

          • Your arguments don’t hold water. For example, “The charge is not an incentive not to bring luggage; obviously, because more and more luggage is being brought on board. ” Not obvious. Not even a correct syllogism. More luggage in the cabin doesn’t imply more luggage on the aircraft. It could be that there is more luggage in the cabin, but even less luggage in the hold, and a net reduction overall.

            But I am starting to understand that this isn’t about reason. Never mind economic and political realities. Never mind common sense. You’re mad as hell and you aren’t going to take it any more. And you figure that if you and other passengers stir up enough of a fuss, then the airlines will be forced to accommodate you.

            That’s probably true. But it’s not civil. And it’s not equitable, because (like every other consideration in this discussion) providing a better experience for passengers is going to increase costs, and that increase will have to be passed on to customers, some of whom would rather pay less and endure the discomfort or inconvenience.

            And promoting this kind of behavior has no place in an ethics blog. In that still isn’t clear, look at some of the responses you have elicited. Tim LeVier takes satisfaction in the suffering of a gate agent who has to lift his heavy bag. Gate agents don’t make airline policy. They’re just doing their job, like the rest of us. In fact, airline employees are routinely subjected to abuse by angry travelers. This doesn’t change airline policy, nor should it. It just makes the world we live in a little bit uglier.

            • It seems to me that you’re stretching to swim uptide against the obvious. (Gee, I’ve never known you to do THAT before…)

              Of course I wasn’t suggesting that the fee increases the total amount of baggage. It does increase the amount of carry-on luggage, and anyone who has been flying for while has noticed the phenomenon, as do attendants, who I chat with about this frequently. I fly a lot.

              Since you frequent the rarefied environment of First Class, let me enlighten you. (You already know that whether you check the luggage or not, it now takes an eternity to get through security, because they are opening large pieces, discovering half-filled tooth paste tubes, and arguing with the passengers. And missing the guns and knives anyway. But I’m just whining…)

              Before we board, they beg us to check the already screened luggage on the runway or the gate. This, of course, is unfair, since I already paid—DIDN’T have my luggage clog up security for everyone else, didn’t increase the cost of security—and now am out 25-50 bucks while the passengers that game the system have their luggage checked for free….and get a “thank-you!” in the bargain. (You say they don’t want to go through the hassle of collecting fees then…why is that hassle, which is justified, worth avoiding, and the hassle of the actual boarding process, which is not justified, NOT worth fixing?)

              Then it’s boarding time! Since those brilliant airline executives—you know, the ones who are so darn good at predicting unanticipated consequences, like the frequent flyer miles fiasco, whose solution to probalem more often than not is to just lie–like telling us that cell phones will endanger the aircraft— decided not to have all passengers board window seats first, then middle, then aisle, from front to back, as any 7th grader could probably figure out—it is utter chaos, with people standing in aisles as other passengers try to cram too-big pieces overhead, then sometimes having to fight their way back to the front to check them (for free, natch). Many passengers stow their bags long before they get to their seats, meaning that the passengers who are sitting in the seats where the bins have been filled have to fight their way to empty bins in the back of the plane, then disrupt the process by moving against the line to get to their seats (this happens in reverse while unboarding, causing more delays and at least sometimes, as it once did for me, causing passengers to miss a connection.) During this period, the attendants are reduced to—actually, my guess is instructed to– lying, claiming that the flight is “completely full” even if it isn’t, and shouting that if everyone isn’t in their seats, take-off will be late—which it often is. Airlines that are persistently late get fined by the FAA.

              Terrific system, Loren. This really is the best those smart airline execs could devise, right? You really think it is competent of an industry that should understand its passengers to tolerate a system like this? Come on.

              In the last year, I have personally volunteered to fight my way to the back of the plane with an elderly passengers luggage so it could be stored, then fight my way back to the seat, and then do the same to retrieve it…three separate times. This never was necessary before. It is stupid. And now we know it costs the taxpayers millions.

              The argument, and it is a facile one, that we should just meekly submit to incompetence and inconvenience because underlings are “doing their jobs” when the real culprits and incompetents are insulated behind mahogany doors is an incentive for lousy service. Bad managers count on that. I hear it a lot: “Don’t blame me, sir…I don’t make the policies.” Yes, but you implement the policies, and you are both responsible and accountable…you are your superior’s and your company’s agent. If you can’t bring him or her to me, then I’m going to argue with YOU. And if enough people do it, and you do the other part of your job—telling the brass when their system stinks—we’ll get somewhere.

              One of the reasons I work for myself is that I DID make such points with my employers, and often forced them to change bad systems. And if more employees did this, it would be safer for those like me, who do it now.

              • We don’t need to argue the points on which we agree. I do not dispute that flying has become unpleasant. I’ve had the same kinds of experiences you have.

                I concede the point that employees should be challenged to convey customer displeasure to management. But only if it can be done in a civil way.

                I have not budged from the claim that airlines are giving customers exactly what the customers want, given economic realities.

                I have already agreed that if people like you make enough of a fuss, the system will probably change. But I do not think that would be a good thing. Because I believe in the market economy, and I understand how things work. I see flying as a necessary inconvenience, like red lights or TV advertising. It doesn’t infuriate me. And I don’t feel I need to blame anyone, or label them as stupid, incompetent, or (worst of all) unethical.

  3. Allow me:

    The ethical issue is that it is plainly (pun intended) unethical for any government to issue a new tax and/or policy with the stated intention of solving a particular problem, when anyone with half a brain cell and a passing awareness of economics OR who has ever flown can figure out that said tax/policy is going to make that very problem WORSE.


      • I should clarify:

        My “half a brain cell” comment was intended to simply highlight, through the use of exaggeration, how easy it is to figure out. On a second reading I see that it could reasonably be interpreted as being directed at the previous poster, Loren.

        For that, I apologize. It was NOT directed at Loren or any individual.


  4. not just luggage, but where is my incentive to clear my person of anything that beeps when I walk through the metal detector? I prepare conscientiously, and confidently walk through with no beep – the security personnel seem to take this as suspicious behaviour and stop me for a frisk search every time!

  5. My bro-in-law used to run airport operations for a large airline. The $25 and extra fees for weight, etc. are trying to make back the profit margin they used to have. They’re making some money, but not like they used to, so they want every penny they can get. Every # they put on that plane costs $X. I’m all for Jack’s idea of weighing me AND my stuff, and deciding how much it should cost on that scale. He’s right: most people would take only what they need. I’m an inveterate overpacker (I’m ready for ANYthing) but it would make even me have to adjust. I try and get my 5-yo daughter’s stuff into ONE suitcase with mine now, so if we pay, we only pay for one.

  6. I’ve changed my habits and they have a sequence to them.

    1st I try to fly Southwest. No bag fees! Apparently they know how to price their fares accordingly to account for their profits.

    2nd I try to fly Frontier. Three different fare options including a Classic with no bag fees and free DirecTv.

    3rd I fly any other airline that charges fees but get the largest suitcases I can find. I start with a roll-on and a backpack. If I need a suitcase, I take the largest one I can to get as much stuff as possible into one bag. With a 50lb weight limit for each bag, I’ll definitely take a 50lb bag before I take two 25lb bags. The poor bastards that have to lift that monstrosity…. oh well.

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