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The Press-News column Oct 14

The Carry-on over Carry-on.

It’s an increasingly common grizzle amongst passengers, not just at Christchurch Airport, but worldwide. Boarding and disembarking aircraft now takes inordinately longer, than ever before. The spanner in the works? The wholesale abuse of carry-on baggage limits, as passengers deliberately avoid having to pay for checked-in baggage. Booking a flight, even on so-called full service carriers, can be a bewildering consumer experience, with a plethora of add-on price tags. Bags to check in? Exit row? Seat selection? Priority boarding?  Paying by credit card?  Paying by debit card? And on its goes. The ancillary revenue juggernaut continues to scale new heights, with the airline world raking in NZ$35 billion in 2013, from those grasping fees. Of course, airlines prefer to call those fees a form of unbundling – allowing the much-valued customer to make a la carte choices from services that were previously all-inclusive in the base airfare. United Airlines boss, Jeff Smisek, compares the practise to allowing the public to customise a pizza, with their tailored toppings. Thanks Jeff. But the unbridled disregard for the size and weight limits of carry-on baggage has completely galloped out of control. If it was purely a matter of passengers trying to cheat their way out of paying baggage fees, I wouldn’t care. But I do care because the carry-on over carry-on effects every passenger. Recently, Jetstar had to structurally reinforce many of its overhead bins, to cope with the groaning strain of carry-on baggage. Pigs do fly. You can spot them a mile off, hauling their carcass and half of their household contents down the airbridge, unrepentantly. Last month, Jetstar deployed a troop of “cabin baggage enforcers” at Australian airports, who will carry out spot checks, to clamp down on the abusers, who are mangling on-time performance. In the United States last week, I noticed a new social media campaign that encourages travellers to shame the carry-on hogs, by photographing their misdeeds and plastering it at #carryonshame. Have you noticed that most domestic flights in the US, now commence boarding 50 minutes before departure?  In Australasia, I think we need a  tandem review of the checked and carry-on baggage pricing practises. If an airline charges for checked baggage, they should lower those charges slightly, and impose a similar charge for “overhead” luggage.  In other words, if you can’t house your carry-on luggage under the seat in front of you, there should be a nominal charge for parking it above you. That would serve as a direct deterrent for passengers who not only rort the system, but delay the world.

Mike Yardley’s weekly current affairs column, as published in The Press, October 14.

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