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Ever since the inception of airline checked baggage fees there’s been a war between passengers and airlines over in-cabin bin space.
Frugal passengers tired of paying extra fees are cramming as much as they can into their free hand baggage allotment, soaking up bin space and slowing down the boarding process in stride. With tight schedules and operations to maintain, the airlines are conversely trying to discourage as many carry-on bags as possible.
Legacy U.S. carriers have cracked down significantly in the past year by placing sizers outside of security and at the gate, regularly asking passengers to verify that their baggage fits. Now, British Airways is stepping up its enforcement.
In an email sent to its Executive Club members, the airline outlined new constraints on hand baggage allowances saying “In recent months we have seen an increase in customers travelling with hand baggage that exceeds their allowance.” BA’s new policies are similar to those in the U.S. with one further refinement: approved bags will be given a yellow tag to show their compliance.
At large, the changes from British Airways reflect the global movement of the entire airline industry. With ancillary revenues topping $38 billion in 2014, airlines have found a business model that works well — regardless of the price of oil — and that they’ll continue to pursue until told (or regulated) otherwise. As United’s Jeff Smisek said at an industry luncheon last week, airlines are businesses that have to make money. And even if that money is hand over fist — and even if airlines are pulling in record-level profits — there’s no such thing as too much profit in their eyes.
As a result, tighter enforcement like the upcoming changes from BA will likely be the status quo for the industry as airlines push more baggage into checked compartments and rake in the extra cash.
Consumers, for their part, may have little recourse. Proposed rules to cap baggage fees at $4.50 seem more political than practical, while the International Air Transport Association can’t even get its act together to agree on proper baggage sizing.
For now, the best approach for consumer may thus be to carefully check hand baggage requirements and make sure that nothing is overpacked. Until there’s better regulation in the world of luggage, the airlines have the upper hand.