Pack Your Bags... But Be Ready To Pay!

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Mark Feldman, the CEO of Ziontours in Jerusalem, wrote an article in today's Jerusalem Post describing the many changes in baggage policies of airlines over the last several years. Since Mark is based in Israel, unsurprisingly he focuses on the policies of major carriers to/from Tel Aviv.

Americans and Europeans who have gotten used to being squeezed on baggage charges over the last decade would probably be surprised to hear that most carriers - El Al and all the North American based ones - offer two free bags of up to 50lbs/23kg to Tel Aviv. Many who regularly fly this route tend to view it almost as a self-evident truth, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson et al, that all travelers are entitle to two free (and often overweight) bags.

Once of the challenges of a competitive market - and the benefit of it to consumers - is that it can be hard to raise prices on just about anything. As long as El Al and a few other carriers give free bags, other carriers will find it very hard to charge for bags, unless they offer drastically discounted fares to lure customers in. The situation is different Tel Aviv to Europe, where, since El Al does not offer two free bags, most European carriers can get away with offering their usual one bag, if that.

Mark argues that squeezing out bag fares is pennywise and pound foolish (although that is not his terminology). He points to Southwest Airlines, the discount carrier that still offers two bags free, and markets it very heavily. Clearly, the market is responding, and customers are flying Southwest (although I suspect it is more due to being treated like a customer, not like a commodity).

Personally, if I were running an airline, I would charge for baggage... but on a rising scale. At reservation, $10/bag; up to 72 hours before, $20/bag; and at the airport, $30-50/bag. All of it nonrefundable. Baggage service is just that, a service, and people pay for a service. Somewhere built into the cost of your ticket is the cost of checking, scanning, loading, flying, unloading and dispensing your luggage. Let airlines charge less for tickets, and more for bags. Let other airlines (Southwest?) give two bags free. As long as it is transparent, it is good, varied competition.