Bagging the airlines: what a carry on

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway reckons it's an "urban myth" that airlines are finding it's taking longer to turn around their flights at the airport gate because they're now charging for checked baggage.

Certainly you'd have to say it's not an issue for Jetstar which has drastically improved its on-time performance in both Australia and New Zealand.

But it's my own experience and there are anecdotes that it can take an age to finish boarding and disembarkation because of the sheer volume of stuff people are now taking aboard flights with them – either, in the case of Qantas passengers, purely as a matter of convenience to reduce the amount of personal airport time (baggage reclaim, etc); or in the case of all the rest to avoid what can be hefty new baggage charges.

The hassle of carry-on baggage has become a huge global issue in the past two years as airlines have introduced new baggage charges, ostensibly to cover the massive spike in the price of oil in 2007-08.

Of course, the price of oil and therefore jet fuel has halved since then, but do you think airlines have rescinded their new baggage charges? Of course not.

Consider the following:

1. Airbus has agreed to redesign the overhead bin latches on its popular A320 planes after one of the world's biggest A320 operators, US Airways, requested a fix because the standard latches were breaking. In other words, passengers are stuffing the overhead bins with so much gear the latches can't take the strain.

It's no coincidence that US Airways is one of the more aggressive leviers of baggage charges ($US15-20 for one bag; $100 for three bags) in the States, where free carriage of baggage is now rare.

(Ironically, one of the airlines that carries bags free is low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines, which I rate as the best economy class carrier in the world after using Southwest extensively in 2007).

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2. Jetstar is in the process of creating about 15 per cent additional overhead bin space in its A320s by stowing essential equipment such as oxygen bottles and life jackets in the galley area instead of in the overhead lockers.

Jetstar denies that overhead bin-stuffing is slowing down its domestic turnarounds. But that's probably because Jetstar has decided to be relatively unaggressive in charging for baggage, compared with other low-cost carriers (Tiger, Ryanair) and most of the US legacy carriers.

Qantas has also resisted the urge to begin charging for baggage – unless, of course, you've ever exceeded the baggage limit on a Qantas flight to Europe and have been whacked $50 a kilo for the excess!

Is bin-stuffing slowing down aircraft boarding in your opinion? Have you had to carry bags on your lap because the overhead bins were full? Have you found yourself paying for priority boarding to get to your seat while there's still bin space available?

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