Need I say Moores

Turning a problem into revenue

Convincing passengers to give up their hand luggage is one of the toughest jobs in airline ground operations, so UK LCC easyJet’s plan to turn this problem into an ancillary revenue stream is an interesting move.

EasyJet is offering a “stress-free experience,” by “allowing” passengers to check in their hand luggage in the departures hall for a £4 ($5) fee. The charge includes fast-track boarding and the bags will be among the first to be delivered to the baggage belt in the arrival airport. The airline describes the service as an upgrade, because it gets rid of the hassle of dragging cabin bags through the airport.

I did five years in airline ground operations and can categorically say people despise being asked to give up their hand luggage. The two major objections are the fear of losing the bag – especially if it contains a laptop - and the long wait for it to arrive at the other end.

Therefore, it seems optimistic to think that anyone would volunteer - and even pay for the privilege - of leaving their bag behind. Business travelers are especially unlikely to pick the service, unless they are travelling home and have no laptop.

But maybe I’m wrong. EasyJet said more than 9,000 passengers chose the option during a four-week trial in France earlier this year.

Passengers have also learned to pack lighter since the advent of baggage charges, which were originally intended to turn a cost into a revenue stream and actively discourage passengers from checking in bags. Maybe a £4 charge is simply more appealing to passengers than easyJet’s regular £13-45 checked baggage fee. This isn’t cabin baggage; it’s just cheaper hold baggage.

But why encourage checked luggage – and the extra cost and complexity that brings - after years of trying to discourage it? The answer is hand luggage-related boarding delays, which cost a lot more than ramp handling.

EasyJet is known for strictly enforcing its one cabin-bag limit (premium ‘Speedy Boarding’ passengers are allowed to bring a second, small item). The airline always forces passengers to repack their items into one piece at the gate. The consistency, while extremely annoying, is impressive.

This is an area where Irish LCC Ryanair trumps easyJet, allowing two pieces for all passengers, within size limits, avoiding the gate circus.

But even Ryanair pushed out a notice this summer, urging passengers to fully comply with its cabin bag rules. “We’ve noticed some customers are bringing larger than permitted bags onboard, which can cause delays, and our policy may be reviewed should this practice continue,” Ryanair chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs said.

The problem is that, with the growing popularity of online check in, the gate is often the first time that the airline sees the bags – at an extremely time-critical and stressful stage of the journey for both the airline and the passenger.

Central and Eastern European Wizz Air even tried charging for hand luggage, but this obviously proved unpopular as it has just announced plans to scrap the fee. At least easyJet’s approach is a gentler and voluntary.

Aircraft manufacturers are consistently trying to come up with more overhead stowage, but excessive hand luggage is an ongoing problem for airlines, particularly LCCs, which typically operate with average load factors of over 90%.

The bottom line is that it’s a bold move by easyJet, charging passengers to fix their problem. Let’s see if it works.

Victoria Moores

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