The days of passengers being able to take a bag on a plane free of charge appear to be numbered.
This week low-cost giant Ryanair said it could reevaluate its policyafter accusing passengers of making their toddlers drag suitcases onto planes to avoid baggage fees (two year olds, like adults, are entitled to a free cabin bag), while budget airline Jet2 announced it was introducing a charge to “guarantee” hand luggage was not bumped to the hold in the face of full overhead lockers.
Increasing congestion in the lockers combined with airline’s growing dependency on “ancillary revenues”, such as baggage fees, seat selection charges and on-board food and drink, means passengers’ bags have never been under more scrutiny.
“One provocative option is to ban all large carry-ons, and outfit the aircraft with far slimmer bins meant solely for small bags,” said Devin Liddell, principal strategist at Teague, a design consultancy that specialises in aviation and counts Boeing among its clients.
“Limiting cabin bags to computer bags, purses, jackets and the like eliminates the chronic Tetris game we’re playing with larger roll-aboard bags.
“Another idea is to reward passengers who aren’t bringing those large bags aboard through faster screening, reduced fares, preferred seats or even free drinks.
Liddell says it would make sense for airlines to shift the fees from hold luggage to carry-ons as it would speed up boarding times. He added that reserved locker space would also help, something akin to Jet2’s new initiative.
The strategist, who has previously said that airlines are “drunk” on baggage fees, said that carriers will need to evolve to compete with the likes of self-driving vehicles and the ultra-fast Hyperloop train.
“We’ve been going through a great unbundling over the last decade or more,” said Liddell. “This has resulted in an intense commoditization of airline goods and services that will eventually find the bottom if it hasn’t already. So, we’ll ultimately need to reverse that trend, and move toward a model of fares that is more all-inclusive and built around meaningful distinctions between airlines and the unique experiences they can offer.
“Air travel is going to be forced to offer travel experiences that passengers prefer to robot cars and super-fast ground transportation.”
When asked whether Ryanair is considering the end of free carry-on bags, a spokesperson said: “We are light years away from this. All passengers are currently allowed to carry two free cabin bags, but we may have to limit this at some point in the future if people keep showing up with two large bags each.
“We will never move to no free carry-on bags since our aircraft can carry up to 190 bags – one per passenger.”
In January American Airlines, a legacy carrier, announced its new lowest fare would not come with baggage. A personal item that fits under the seat is allowed but not anything that requires the overhead lockers.
Conversely, Wizz Air, which specialises in Eastern European destinations, this month said it was halting charges for carry-on luggage, dropping its fees for a 10kg bag.
“We are listening to our customers,” chief executive officer Jozsef Varadi told Bloomberg.
A study earlier this year by Which? found that more and more passengers are having their cabin bags forced into the hold because the overhead lockers are full. Liddell says if all carry-on bags were banished to the hold the boarding process would be sped up by 80 per cent, which in turn would lead to efficiency savings.
So, are we about to witness the end of the free cabin bag? “Potentially,” says Liddell.