Friday, March 30, 2012

The Ethics of Bag Fees

Did a bit of flying last week and the thing that always annoys me is what people believe counts as carry-on baggage.  If it has wheels and you have to roll it, then you aren't carrying it.  If you aren't carrying it, then, by definition, it isn't carry-on.  If it weighs more than you can bench press, you aren't going to get it into the overhead compartment.

The situation has only gotten worse since airlines have figured out a new way to nickle and dime us -- the bag fee.  They realize that we all go to one of the travel websites that allow us to compare prices and that small differences of just a couple of bucks will steer us to one airline over another.  So, in an attempt to make their prices seem lower than they are, what they do is to lower the base price for the ticket and then tack on invisible fees.  This allows them to make the same amount of money on the ticket while seeming more competitive. 

On the one hand, this is deceptive.  It is intended to make the flight seem less expensive than it is.  On the other hand, the main factor fueling the soaring rise in airline prices is the cost of jet fuel.  The more weight in the plane, the more fuel it takes to get you there and the more money the flight eats up.  Those who have the most baggage are therefore costing the most money.  Shouldn't they pay more for the flight since they cost more to get them and their stuff to the destination?  Could we think of bag fees as user taxes and therefore fair?

At the same time, less time in destination means less baggage.  Business travelers are often in and out quicker than pleasure travelers and have fewer bags.  It is the vacationer who therefore pays more for the flight.  Business travelers aren't even the ones paying for their tickets, their employers are.  Are bag fees a way to get ordinary people to subsidize corporate activities?  Is it a tax to fund a hidden sort of corporate welfare?

Are bag fees fair?