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…

8 thoughts on “Changing behavior, one bag at a time

  1. I agree with Phil, it would seem more palatable as a discount, but that would essentially be PR spin. I prefer when corporations are honest.

    Unfortunately the story gets headlines because it seems like consumers are being pick-pocketed by greedy airlines… again. What’s lost is that our pockets are being rummaged through by greedy (and rich) oil tycoons. When we’re paying $2.75 for a slice of pizza it’s because the cheese was transported on big gas-guzzling trucks that are paying more at the pump. Simplified? Sure. But the extra $75 cents is a result of the rising fuel costs, without a doubt.

    Your point about changing behavior is critical. We need to stop packing so much, stop eating so much, stop driving into already-crowded cities like Manhattan so much…

    Are the principles similar? Paying for extra luggage and paying to drive into midtown Manhattan? I think so. There may be differences, of course, but one similarity that is concerning is that it sends a message: If you’re wealthy, do what you want, otherwise thanks for being a good sport and understanding that the world needs us to consume less.

    The poor(er) are always asked first to sacrifice; the first to tighten their belts. This expectation may be the behavior that needs to be changed.

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  2. I agree with Phil, it would seem more palatable as a discount, but that would essentially be PR spin. I prefer when corporations are honest.

    Unfortunately the story gets headlines because it seems like consumers are being pick-pocketed by greedy airlines… again. What’s lost is that our pockets are being rummaged through by greedy (and rich) oil tycoons. When we’re paying $2.75 for a slice of pizza it’s because the cheese was transported on big gas-guzzling trucks that are paying more at the pump. Simplified? Sure. But the extra $75 cents is a result of the rising fuel costs, without a doubt.

    Your point about changing behavior is critical. We need to stop packing so much, stop eating so much, stop driving into already-crowded cities like Manhattan so much…

    Are the principles similar? Paying for extra luggage and paying to drive into midtown Manhattan? I think so. There may be differences, of course, but one similarity that is concerning is that it sends a message: If you’re wealthy, do what you want, otherwise thanks for being a good sport and understanding that the world needs us to consume less.

    The poor(er) are always asked first to sacrifice; the first to tighten their belts. This expectation may be the behavior that needs to be changed.

    Like

  3. Thanks Tonio.

    I think you make a great point about the poor bearing the brunt of situations like this. The counter argument, that congestion pricing advocates have been making, is that those who are driving (or in this case are flying) are the wealthier ones anyway.

    However, I could see how, for example a 10% increase in first-class fares (which obv. wouldn’t have the same effect, but you get the idea) might be a more fair alternative to the regular traveler.

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  4. Thanks Tonio.

    I think you make a great point about the poor bearing the brunt of situations like this. The counter argument, that congestion pricing advocates have been making, is that those who are driving (or in this case are flying) are the wealthier ones anyway.

    However, I could see how, for example a 10% increase in first-class fares (which obv. wouldn’t have the same effect, but you get the idea) might be a more fair alternative to the regular traveler.

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  5. Good point. I think I let my rant (first official rant on your blog, I think!) confuse the point a bit. And aren’t there others who argue that it’s the folks from the outer-boroughs – and one would assume less wealthy – that are driving into Manhattan and not those who live on Park. Ave?

    I’m trying to distinguish the line between actually taxing the rich, and allowing the rich pay for services that others can’t afford. Does that make sense?

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  6. Good point. I think I let my rant (first official rant on your blog, I think!) confuse the point a bit. And aren’t there others who argue that it’s the folks from the outer-boroughs – and one would assume less wealthy – that are driving into Manhattan and not those who live on Park. Ave?

    I’m trying to distinguish the line between actually taxing the rich, and allowing the rich pay for services that others can’t afford. Does that make sense?

    Like

  7. I think the discount wouldn’t work because people often pick the lowest-cost fair, and American wants to present the lowest possible up-front fair and then add more fees.

    I think the emotional reaction is a sense that at any point a consumer’s predictions about pricing are going to be mixed up, and of course always in favor of the corporations. This leads to frustration, and given the increasingly large number of individual transactions people have it’s only predictability that keeps us sane.

    Like

  8. I think the discount wouldn’t work because people often pick the lowest-cost fair, and American wants to present the lowest possible up-front fair and then add more fees.

    I think the emotional reaction is a sense that at any point a consumer’s predictions about pricing are going to be mixed up, and of course always in favor of the corporations. This leads to frustration, and given the increasingly large number of individual transactions people have it’s only predictability that keeps us sane.

    Like

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