Airlines look to reduce number of carry-on bags United to test policy with low-fare passengers out of Des Moines; Airlines


MIAMI -- Ann Moshenek, waiting to board her American Airlines flight, is laden with two jam-packed carry-on bags. A missionary, she has checked another two suitcases full of clothes, medicines and supplies to take back to her home in the Costa Rican jungle.

"I'm up to my limit," said Moshenek, concerned that her carry-ons won't be allowed on board.

Her worries may be well-founded.

As flights grow more and more full and carry-ons grow ever larger and more voluminous, airlines are taking steps to make sure that there's enough room for passengers.

Ticket price may be factor

In some cases, that may mean fewer bags will be permitted on board -- and it may even depend on the price of your ticket.

United Airlines is testing a policy that would limit the number of carry-on bags from two pieces to one for their lowest-fare passengers. The test, which begins Dec. 1, will affect only flights out of Des Moines, Iowa. But if it's successful, it could be expanded to other markets.

The goal is to make more room for the carry-ons from United's higher-paying passengers, who could be sitting right alongside a discount passenger in the coach section, said airline spokesman Richard Martin.

The airline's customer-satisfaction surveys have shown that carry-on space is a major concern of frequent travelers, he said.

"What our high-fare passengers are telling us is they want space for their bags, and we are listening to them," Martin said. "This test is one way to try to give them that space."

It's not your imagination: Airline passenger travel habits have changed in recent years, and more passengers are lugging baggage on board, said David Fuscus, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents 25 airlines.

"Anytime travel habits change, you have to make sure you can accommodate them," Fuscus said. "The No. 1 consideration is to make sure [bags] are stowed properly, and to make it as comfortable and convenient for customers as possible.

Carriers do that in a number of ways, and one way is to limit carry-on luggage."

Airlines worry that too many bags brought on board can affect on-time performance.

"When there are too many carry-ons for a given plane, it clogs the aisle space and it slows down the boarding process because people are looking for space," Martin said.

Checking takes longer

If no space is found, the bags end up being checked, which takes even more time.

In addition to limiting the number of carry-ons, United's test includes requiring passengers to use electronic ticketing and pay for their ticket at the time of reservation.

The carry-on limit does not apply to the airline's top-level frequent fliers.

Martin said Des Moines was chosen because it is a small market, and could be easily tested. When on-time performance results and feedback from passengers and employees is received, the airline will decide if it will expand the policy to other cities, he said.

Other airlines say they have no plans to match United's initiative, but the burden of on-board baggage hasn't escaped their attention.

American's policy

In fact, American Airlines changed its policy during the past month, to give flight attendants and gate agents the authority to require passengers to check their bags.

Decisions are made based on the customer load and volume of carry-ons, said American spokesman Tim Smith.

American, which along with all U.S. airlines is required to file its carry-on policies with the Federal Aviation Administration, previously allowed all passengers two carry-ons. Passengers are still allowed a total of three bags -- either checked or brought on board, Smith said.

Northwest Airlines has had a policy in place for several years that limits carry-ons to one bag per passenger if the flight is deemed to be full or passengers appear to be hauling a heavy load -- which is often the case during the holiday season, said airline spokeswoman Marta Laughlin. The decision is made on a per flight basis.

The Association of Flight Attendants, a labor union representing 42,000 flight attendants at 26 carriers, said carry-on bags are among its members' top concerns.

Problems for attendants

"Flight attendants are responsible for safety in the cabin during flights, and the bags represent an enormous problem," said spokeswoman Jane Goodman.

Besides being vulnerable to injuries while helping passengers stow their bags, flight attendants have to deal with the angry onslaught when customers are told their bags must be checked.

Airline observers say that compounding the problem of carry-on luggage is the advent of the laptop computer, as well as luggage that is designed to be carried on board, such as the increasingly popular suitcase on wheels.

Pub Date: 11/09/97

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