Bags of trouble

A readable, interesting and probably important piece in the Wall Street Journal this week says that airlines are homing in on luggage as a value-added service. Up until now, it has been part of the expected service.

I think most international travellers have noticed a not-too-subtle shift on baggage over the past year or so. Travellers to, from and within Asia at least have been talking for some months about how airlines weigh every suitcase, bag and box carefully, and charge you if you’re even a kilo over, in most cases.

Up until a couple of years ago, airlines from Thailand, at least, were very liberal about bags. Check-in clerks were likely to give you a finger-wave for 10 kilos in cases. The two-suitcases rule for people going to the United States from Bangkok was extremely liberal in the weight and size department.

Last year, an airline clerk in Bangkok told me that unions in the United States were cracking down on bags over 50 pounds, and the 23-kilo rule began to be vigorously enforced. Budget airlines inside Thailand were on a crusade about overweight baggage, usually set at a weird 13 kilos. In Denver last year, the most officious, unpleasant United Airlines clerk in the history of the airline humiliated my wife and I when one suitcase was one kilogramme overweight. “Unpack it, take out a kilo.”

The linked article says United and US Airways are going to start charging $50 for a second suitcase on domestic flights, beginning on May 5. The author says that when this kicks in like heroin with other airlines, “hundreds of millions of dollars” will pour in, without raising ticket prices.

Of course, this is all like putting the frog in the pot of water and slowly increasing the heat. Most flights on most airlines now charge you for food and for booze. Singapore Airlines has gambling aboard. Thailand happily includes the taxes in your ticket price, totally hidden. It’s a privilege to carry 23 kilos of stuff, but pay if you’ve got 24. Now, they’ll carry one suitcase, but if you bought a stereo or have a second bag, fork over the cash.

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