Changing behavior, one bag at a time

lots of suitcases

Yesterday, American Airlines announced that it's going to start charging a fee for checked baggage. Of course, this will draw the ire of frequent and not-so-frequent flyers everywhere. But, perhaps it makes some sense. What's making flying expensive right now is the cost of fuel. So, if people pack less, planes will be lighter and use less fuel. The logic is sound. Of all the cost-cutting approaches airlines have employed lately (charging for movies, food, etc.), this one is particularly interesting, because it puts a valid question to the consumer: Do I really need to pack that much? Can I pack less and still be ok? Every time I go to the airport, I'm blown away by how much people pack when they travel, even for short trips. Going on a weekend trip? You probably need a huge suitcase and a carry on. Taking a week vacation? Giant suitcase for everyone in the family. Please; give me a carry-on duffle and I won't pack all those extra clothes I'll never wear once I get there anyway. Of course, there are many cases where packing lots of stuff and checking your bag is unavoidable. But in reality, these occasions are quite limited, and I know that more people could pack less if they tried. My wife and I have been on the no-checked-baggage-unless-we-absolutely-have-to plan for a while now, and let me tell you, it's the way to go. No waiting at the baggage claim, and no schlepping around extra crap that you don't need. Regardless, I'm sure American is going to take some flack for this. We were just talking about this here at the office, and Bryan pointed out that being a first-mover on a fee like this is risky business. That's for sure, although it sounds like United is seriously considering going next. Phil raised a good point that this fee would feel much better if it were posed as a discount rather than a fee. For example, a $15 discount for not checking a bag would be much more palatable to consumers. Now that's nice. It will be interesting to see what happens to American here, whether people will run to other airlines or take the "discount" and pack light. Unfortunately, what's likely to happen is that everyone will start overpacking their carry-ons...

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