Anyone reading my column for any length of time probably knows that I do a good amount of travelling for my day job.
I don't mind actually having to go places for a living. In fact, I like visiting different parts of the country. The act of getting from place to place and having to put up with all kinds of mishegas to achieve it? Not so much.
ZDNet is a technology site and this is a general technology column, and I try to make what I write relevant to the site's overall mission. Air travel is fair game, particularly if it involves enabling technology, such as security.
But sometimes I just think it is necessary to vent about the airlines and air travel in general, because I feel that I occasionally need to act in the interests of the business traveler.
Last year, I wrote of the evil Mileage Run (which, incidentally, was solved this year by my preferred airline, Delta, in allowing a limited number of medallion qualification miles (MQMs) to be purchased).
Today, I want to talk to you about those self-centered... putzes that feel it is necessary to attempt to bring full-sized bags onto a commuter jet, because they think they are actually saving time or money by not checking it in the first place.
For those of you not familiar with commuter jets, they are smaller aircraft, about the size of a corporate jet. Typically, they are Embraer or Bomarbardier aircraft with a maximum seating capacity of about 50-80 people depending on the model and configuration.
Delta, my airline of choice, uses Embraer E-Jets operated by Compass as Delta Connection on certain regional routes. For the past two months I have been using the Delta Shuttle at NYC LaGuardia Airport's Marine Air Terminal to fly weekly to Chicago.
The ERJs are excellent little planes. They are fast and comfortable and relatively quiet. However, the one thing they do not have which larger jets like the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A310/A320 do is ample overhead compartment space.
At best, you're going to get a backpack or briefcase/computer bag in there, your coat, and if you are lucky, an overnighter type duffle for a two day trip.
Not a freakin' week-long sized or more peice of luggage in the 40+ pound range.
Now, I understand why many of you who do this engage in this sort of insanity. You don't travel very often, and when you found out that you had to eat a $25.00 baggage fee to check it, since you have no medallion status, you thought you would save a few bucks by dragging it on the aircraft.
Or perhaps you think that by bringing your luggage on the plane, you're actually saving time. Ha!
The first problem I put squarely on the airline. They've created a system that basically forces routine business travelers to be inconvenienced because they've had to jack up their fees.
They beleive that by requiring customers to check their bags and then charging a fee for it, it would cause mass hysteria.
Instead, they simply make their repeat customers who travel business routes completely enraged.
When you have more than half your passengers trying to drag their overstuffed 40lb+ Delseys and TravelPros because they don't want to eat a $25 bag check, what happens is as follows.
First they go through the TSA lines, which are challenged with increased security to begin with, and it adds additional time to the screening process for everybody which in and of itself is quite considerable. It also costs the TSA around an additional $260 million a year to process these extra bags on the lines. Which you and I then eat in taxes.
Then the numbnutzes drag the bags on the plane, slowing progress as they all inch their way down the aisle. Then they all find out that the overhead or the underside of the seats can't accommodate their bags, despertately trying to shove it in and then getting it jammed up in there.
Alternatively, because the flight is packed, the overheads have run out of space so they have to somehow make their way back down the aisle, then having to gate check the bags.
For free, thus avoiding the check fee.
Now just imagine what kind of logjam that causes. Until everyone gets in their seat and settles down, the attendants can't close the aircraft door. If the aircraft door doesn't close, you can't taxi. If taxiing is delayed, then you end up increasing the length of time the aircraft needs to be in the taxi queue and thus spending more time on the ground.
Seriously, just thinking about this makes my blood pressure rise to explosive levels.
The situation has become so contentious that there is actually a proposed bill in the US Senate being sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana that would mandate that air carriers give each traveler a minimum of one checked bag for free.
Here's what I propose. The US Senate bill for the Airline Passenger BASICS Act going into effect anytime in the future notwithstanding, this is what the airlines should do.
Assuming that each traveller has at least one bag, the cost of the airline ticket should reflect an included baggage fee. If you're medallion status, you get the 1st bag fee refunded when you check a bag or if you don't have a bag to check.
Simple, right? You don't give the person the freaking option of checking or not checking. If they know they've eaten the cost upfront, they will check the bag. Capische?
Think of how much time this is going to save at the TSA lines when the volume of bags brought onboard aircraft cabins is reduced dramatically. It means they'll have less stuff to scan. They can devote those energies to scanning the bags during the check-in and bag loading process instead, which are easier and much quicker to process than human beings.
I mean really, if this is a commuter jet, the darned airline and the check-in people know up front that the damned bag isn't going to fit. So why the hell are they letting them do it?
If they check in at a kiosk, or their boarding documents are done electronically, the passenger should be sent a warning in the plain and clear that bags above a certain size will not fit on the plane.
This solves at least two problems. One, aisle logjams and delaying disembarkation. Two, having the passenger end-run the baggage fee by schlepping it on the plane knowing full well it won't fit and then gate checking it. And it will also accelerate the lines at the TSA checkpoints, which everyone who travels wants to go faster.
Do you hate the numbnutzes that don't check their huge bags? Talk Back and Let Me Know.