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United Makes Plans to Drop 'Baggage Neutrality' 682

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the too-strange-to-fathom dept.
theodp writes "If you need a clue as to how creative ISP execs might get in the absence of network neutrality, look no further than United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton, who is wowing Wall Street with his willingness to examine new ways to wring money out of the carrier, including making economy passengers pay a fee unless they want their luggage to come last off the plane." Now I think when i was like gold ultimate handjob elite years ago my bags had tags that usually made them come out first, but this seems just kinda crappy. I mean, remember when you got a meal on airplanes? No wonder people hate to fly.
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United Makes Plans to Drop 'Baggage Neutrality'

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  • Re:Not a dump truck (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:26AM (#21062787) Homepage Journal
    This kind of stuff is why I try to fly Southwest Airlines whenever possible.

    I mean...yeah, I'm not thrilled with the 'cattle car' mentality you go through, but, hey....at least their prices are reasonable, they seem to be about the best with respect to flight times, and they don't seem to try to fsck the last $ out of their customers.

    I hope, though, that they stop the policy of trying to keep good looking chicks with skimpy outfits off the planes....that was kinda stupid.

  • EasyJet/RyanAir (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:28AM (#21062813)
    The airlines all have to be looking at the low cost European carriers, such as RyanAir or EasyJet. I haven't flown EasyJet in a while, but on RyanAir, the ticket covers carriage, everything else, baggage, excess baggage, drinks, priority seating, luggage tags, calls to customer service, etc. etc. are a premium. It's declared up front, and you take the "a la carte" items you wish.

    The problem is, that taking one part of this model will not work, you have to take it all - very low cost tickets, fly only one type of plane, open seats, fast airport turn around, and so forth. The leading carriers in the US don't get this, so will nickel and dime without adding service or reducing costs/fares.

  • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:31AM (#21062843)

    As someone who travels quite regularly for their job, I avoid the airports whenever possible because of this type of crap. These days, if it's under 500 miles each way, I'll drive it. I used to wish for the airlines to all go out of business, hoping that they'd be forced to figure out a business model that was actually profitable, but gave up on that after we (US taxpayers) were forced to bail them out after 9/11. It's a mess with no easy fix in sight, unless someone can magically make all of the airline lobbyists disappear.

  • by pla (258480) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:45AM (#21062933) Journal
    I always wonder why airlines have NEVER enforced carry on limits.

    Because at the point they'd notice, they've already started boarding the plane and you've already gone through security (with the baggage check counter on the outside).

    Except in the most egregious abuses, if they tried to enforce carry-on rules, every plane would start having extra half-hour to an hour delays (or in some cases, quite a few hours).

    As the alternative to that, they'd need to let people cancel/transfer/change their tickets at the last minute, and they do not want to let people out of that little scam...
  • by Detritus (11846) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:05AM (#21063055) Homepage
    You know, airports are dangerous places. It would be a real shame if your baggage had an "accident" on its way to the baggage claim area. For a small fee, we can guarantee its safety.

    -- Fat Tony, United Airlines Revenue Enhancement Agent

  • by mbone (558574) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:08AM (#21063073)
    I generally try to be the last person on each flight I take. I take a lot of flights. I generally check a bag.

    Trust me, it does not make your luggage come out first. Not even an appreciable fraction of the time.
  • Re:Not a dump truck (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JohnnyGTO (102952) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:08AM (#21063077) Homepage
    When I was doing VTC installs on the west coast I usually flew Southwest and it was great because I just wanted to get there and get home. If I got to the airport early I usually got on an earlier flight no problem, if I was late then I got on a later flight with no extra charges. I packed light personally but had a 50 pound tool kit that never was a problem. I rarly had a reason to bitch about SWA.

    Now the other west coast carrier, America West was a horror story almost every time. I would wait overnight and fly SWA before I got on another AWA flight. We once arrived at the counter at 6:30am an hour before our flight, pre-9/11, only to be told that because we booked the flight over 30 days prior and failed to confirm in the last 24 hours we were bumped. Even though the seats were paid for. Of course they tell us this after our luggage went down the chute, which they told us we could retrieve if we ever got to Portland. Then promised us to get us on the next flight. Fast forward 8 hours and we are still being fed bullshit by the ticket agents, of course I forgot to mention the two little bored kids with us. AAAAAAAAAAAhhhhh never agian AWA we went done the counter and immediately got on a SWA flight, kids got to sit with the pilot during a lay over (pre-9/11 again dang I miss the old days) and arrived 12 hours after our luggage, which was dumped beside a carousel out in the open. Never again AmericaWorst!
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dogtanian (588974) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:14AM (#21063109) Homepage

    If the airlines were interested in being more competitve the correct move would be to offer flyers a discount if they don't mind their luggage coming out last.
    You might argue that in a competitive cut-throat world, this "discount" is already included in the ticket price. People who are already going for cheap flights- regardless of what they'll say in questionnaires and surveys- are more likely to go for the upfront cheapest flight.

    The company that says "oh, by the way, your baggage will come last if you but this cheap ticket" will likely lose out to the one that doesn't say that upfront. The company that doesn't implicitly "include" the discount in the price will appear at first glance to be more expensive and lose out- or if they explicitly mention the discount, they'll have the same problem as the company that makes clear your baggage will come last.

    Better to keep it quiet, keep the price of the "basic" ticket very low and then make money charging for the "priority" gravy. Cynical, and it sucks but that's the way modern business works. And to be fair, when prices are being driven down to the bone, that's the sort of thing companies rely on to make money.

    As I said, smart customers would realise all this- but real-world customers often don't, giving priority to obvious (and short term) savings over longer term ones. Either that or they know what's happening, but want to save every last cent on the ticket and *then* get annoyed when they actually have to live with the consequences of their decision.

    IMHO, the companies are both victims and exploiters of this phenomenon.

    Removing meals from planes is the same thing.
    Depends how long the flight is. I flew business class from Scotland to London (approx. 50 minutes), and while the meal (and seats) were nice, the difference in cost over a normal ticket wasn't remotely justified. I'd rather have flown economy and had my employer pay me the difference :) If Joe Public is paying for his own holiday flight, I'm sure he'd rather save a few pounds/dollars.

    I don't doubt that the "cost" of the business class meal was inflated way beyond the cost price, but I still bet that the cost price for the company was significant enough that it would be a serious issue for economy-class tickets. Remember that not only do you have the cost of the food, you also have to store it, serve it and clean up the mess.

    And if you think I'm being picky, bear in mind that Ryanair (cheap Irish airline that is popular in the UK) kept their costs down by removing the magazine holders on the backs of seats, simply because it was one less thing to clean up before flying again.

    So yeah, the meal does make a difference, and I suspect that most people on short or medium-haul flights would rather just save the money. It's easy to bitch about this stuff, but the days in which everyone got a "free" meal were the days in which flying was far more expensive.
  • by ottffssent (18387) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:22AM (#21063165)
    Yes, I'm sure this will increase the long-term profitability of Mr. Tilton's business enterprise. Imagine the happiness one must feel settling down into an industrial bank of chairs at the gate, knowing that for just a few dollars more per ticket, one has secured the incalculable benefit of a different colored baggage tag. Much like a different-colored credit card or checks with pictures on them, the knowledge that one is, in actual fact, a big shot must be splendid. Why, I'm nearly overcome with joy knowing that for just a few dollars more on my taxes, I've summoned into existence an entire army of highly trained professionals who are ensuring that rather than the coffee I've brewed at home, I am enjoying, while seated in those industrial chairs, only the finest brew, made from beans blessed by a bored TSA agent who languidly waved through a man he's met every day of his job, pushing the same cart of restaurant supplies to the same place. As a happy side-effect, I'm protected from the dangers of e. coli in my juice and cryptosporidium in my water.

    This sense of serenity is surely not measurable by such pedestrian metrics as dollars and hours.
  • by smurfsurf (892933) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:11PM (#21063561)
    It was probably a question mandated by the TSA. You know, no pork or vegetarian = terrorist red flag.
  • Airport clothes shop (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chapter80 (926879) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:19PM (#21063619)
    I like flying into Cincinnati. They have that shop just off the main terminal that you can get all your clothes and a piece of luggage to carry it in. Sure, the clothes are slightly used, but all are clean and in great shape.

    I pack my underwear and toiletries, and don't bring a single stitch of clothing, other than what's on my back. I'll stop at the shop and pick up a few USED dress shirts, a few casual shirts, pants, sometimes a suit. Everything's organized, in style and well marked. It takes me far less time to pick up my clothes than it would to pack at home, check my luggage, pick up my luggage, etc.

    I leave a credit card imprint for the deposit on the clothes. When I return them, I usually get my full deposit back, less the cleaning and usage fee, which is far less than a typical laundry and dry cleaning bill.

    OK, I made this service up, but doesn't it sound like it would appeal to some class of traveler?

  • by penguin_dance (536599) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:22PM (#21063645)
    It's called "carry on" learn it, live it, love it.

    Seriously--lest some idiot thinks I'm trolling: After seeing so many of my more well traveled friends dealing with lost luggage--not to mention having to put on locks rigged so that baggage people can open and paw through your stuff--I take carry on luggage and haven't had a problem stowing it. You don't need half the things you think you do on trips (and restricted to small amount of carry on liquids now saves space.) And if you forgot or need something, unless you're going to 'outer Mongolia', you can usually purchase it at your destination. I haven't lost a bag yet! And I can just grab my bag and head out of the airport instead of hanging out in baggage claim.

     
  • by Vellmont (569020) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:25PM (#21063661)
    I have a basic disagreement with much of your argument. Much of it seems to rely on the assumption that consumers are rational actors and will find the information on "good apples vs bad apples". In general people aren't rational actors, they're driven by desire.

    For cars in particular, you only need to spend a couple bucks on a Consumer Reports subscription to find that many luxury cars are extremely unreliable. So in this case, those luxury cars are really "bad apples" as far as reliability goes. I happen to be a subscriber, and it only took me about 2 minutes to find out what the "bad apples" are.

    So why do people buy luxury cars (or any unreliable car)? Because they're buying an image, not transportation. Luxury car makers understand this. They don't make cheap versions to avoid the chance of creating a "bad apple" (a trip over to consumer reports reveals there's plenty of really crappy luxury cars), they don't make cheap versions because they know it will dilute the "I'm a really cool rich guy in a great luxury Cadillac" image that people are buying.

    Cellular and Internet providers advertise the low-low price because they want to get over that initial psychological barrier of price that people have, and get them to start WANTING the cell service. Once they actually want it, they'll be more willing to accept the REAL price later.

    The other guys who advertise the "real price" and "no hidden fees" are appealing to a different segment of the market, either those people who've gotten tired of the crappy price they're now paying (and have caught on to the whole "low-low-prices" racket), or who are already jaded about those kind of services through friends/family experience.

    So the examples you gave have really little to do with bad apples or good apples, and everything to do with psychology.

    I suspect the "get your luggage first" is really more of the same thing. The first class passengers get to feel they're more important than the other passengers (and will keep buying first class tickets), while other people will be able to buy that same importance. In reality, you're probably only buying 5-10 minutes of time. Not really a hell of a lot of value to anyone when plane travel takes hours.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:5, Interesting)

    by johnw (3725) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @12:46PM (#21063849)
    I used to fly around small airports in Europe quite a lot (places like Salzburg) and I habitually used a very odd-shaped bag. This seemed to work very well, and I more than once saw it travelling to or from the plane perched on top of the baggage trolley and it usually seemed to come out first on the carousel.

    My theory to explain its early arrival was that its odd shape caused handlers to put it to one side each time they were stacking something and then pop it on top of the trolley at the end. Worked for me anyway.
  • by jbwolfe (241413) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:12PM (#21064079) Homepage
    I'd like to address these points one at a time:

    "These days, if it's under 500 miles each way, I'll drive it" I completely agree. The flight would be less than two hours, but you'd spend three hours per leg futzing with security, ground transportation, etc.

    "I used to wish for the airlines to all go out of business" Anyone ever said to you: be careful what you wish for. One good reason the fares are so cheap is because there are so many available seat miles. Just imagine if there were no AMD to counter Intel. Fares will rise as capacity is constrained.

    "we (US taxpayers) were forced to bail them out after 9/11" I have no idea what you are talking about here. If you are referring ATSB loans, you will find this enlightening: Bailout or boon? 9/11 loan guarantee program generates profit for taxpayers [usatoday.com]. To summerize, That program made money for the government. Incidentally, of the $10B pledged to the program, only $1.6B were granted. There were far more rejections than approvals and this ensured the resulting Ch.11 filings (more likely good for the corporations and taxpayers, bad for employees). JFYI, on average 25% of every dollar of fare is sent to government entities as tax.

    Yes, the airlines are plagued with problems, but the most common issues consumers have about airlines' problems lie with the unrealistic expectations they have when they buy a seat. I know you're thinking I'm suggesting people just lower their expectations, but travelers complain to me all the time about problems that are beyond our control. We don't make the weather, we don't control ATC (they have been doing stuff the same way for decades- remarkably UNmodernized!), airplanes are well maintained but sometimes break (they aren't lawnmowers), crewmembers are human (not superhuman)- we have federally mandated work limits and we get sick, really.

    No, I'm not asking people to lower their expectations, just align them closer to reality.

  • Re:EasyJet/RyanAir (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jobsagoodun (669748) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:50PM (#21064379)
    The airports have started doing this too. At Liverpool John Lennon you can either go through the security queue, or pay for the 'Fast Lane' through security. Just wait 'til theres an emergency or a fire - "Could all passangers with Priority Emergency cards please make their way to the fire exits. Everyone else please wait in the lounge, you will be called soon".
  • Re:Can it get worse? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jay L (74152) <<jay+slash> <at> <jay.fm>> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @01:57PM (#21064429) Homepage
    I'm glad it's not just me that thinks that... why do I even care? The horrible part of baggage claim is waiting for the bags to show up in the first place, and trying to wrench them off the belt with no elbow room, not the delay between first bag and last bag.

    And the horrible part of flying is living 20 minutes from the airport, but still having to show up three hours early in case there are traffic delays... inside the airport! Not baggage claim. It's line after line after line, where I'm always mentally alert for *something* I have to do next. If I could somehow just sit in a seat, and start reading a book or using a laptop, and in three hours I'd be slowly but magically transported into my plane seat, I wouldn't even care about the lines.

    Pre-9/11, I used to take the Washington/NYC shuttles, where you could show up three minutes before departure and still board. I used to be able to time that within 5 minutes at National. Zip into the parking lot, which at the time was about 50 yards from the terminal doors, dash through the terminal to the gate, holding my one carry-on, get on the plane and sit down.

    But baggage claim? Frankly, I'd rather my bag be last. We reach the gate, and everyone rushes to sort-of-stand-up for ten minutes. We get off the plane, and everyone rushes to the claim so they can crowd around it, wait, and jostle. Meanwhile, I relax on the plane till the crowd leaves, I go grab a drink or a snack at a concession stand, make a phone call or two, and saunter down to the carousel, at which point my bag is one of the few that's left, and the crowd is gone. Easy peasy.
  • Re:Not a dump truck (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tompaulco (629533) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @02:33PM (#21064707) Homepage Journal
    Southwest, the only airline making money, is usually only a bit more expensive than the cheapest airline. The employees seem to be treated very well, because they are almost always happy, giddy even. They keep maintenance costs low by only flying one type of airplane (granted the 737 has a large number of subtypes). They don't punish emergency flyers by jacking up the prices in the last two weeks. If you arrive to the airport early or arrive for a connection early, they will try to get you on the earliest flight for free. Southwest understand that delays are cumulative, so getting you out of the airport and to the next stop is a priority over keeping everyone in their appointed seat on their appointed flight. Late night flights on Southwest are therefore sometimes nearly empty, so that flight undoubtedly loses money, but in the grand scheme of things, they make more money by not having to spring for hotels for lots of stuck travelers and making people happy by getting them where they wanted to be, perhaps even ahead of schedule.
  • by amyhughes (569088) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @02:35PM (#21064729) Homepage
    shareholder value (v) - 1. To reduce the value of a product or service to increase profit. The box was shareholder valued to increase profit 0.2% by reducing its size by 10%.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MorePower (581188) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @03:59PM (#21065453)

    If I was the god of airlines, I would rip out the overhead bins entirely. Tons of time is wasted as everyone tries to squeeze past eachother in the crowded aisleways to find space to stuff in their giant (bigger than my checked luggage) suitcases. Then at the end of the flight you've got to wait for the same people to squeeze their way around to get the bags back down, often dropping their 50 pound suitcases on eachothers' heads in the process.

    If it doesn't fit under the seat in front of you, it's not a carry-on! If it has wheels, it's not a carry-on (that would be a roll-on)! Surely you're carrying at least on prohibited item anyway (I mean are you going to shave at your destination? Sharp objects like razors were never permitted even before 9/11) so you have to check a bag anyway. Just check everything you possibly can.

  • Re:Less is more (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tesen (858022) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @04:06PM (#21065497)
    None of those examples have anything to do with the question. What was faulty with their business model exactly and why was it working before?

    Nothing was wrong with their business model, but like the RIAA they failed to adapt to changing markets. Sure, different markets and reasons, but their model did not keep up with the "Jack's small puddle jumper of the west" airlines that popped up.

    Continual reduction in fees, continual raise in cost of fuel, plus all the other stuff of having to maintain ones fleet and replace aging aircraft caught up with them. Capitalism demands that competition evolve to survive, they did so for a long time by competing to lower prices, but one can only do that for so long. I also believe capitalism is the ultimate destruction of your competition (in the longer run). Unless the competition goes awry you are stuck competing with them at every attempt to beat you in to submission (read: out of business).

    Now the new incentive to fork out more money to get your baggage a head of someone elses is something that as a business they are allowed to try; it is not immoral, nor is it unreasonable to expect more for express service (FedEx does the same, they charge differently to get your package to your destination in 24 hours as opposed to 3 days etc. Though I have to admit, they end up expending resources to make this happen). The problem I have is how do they make sure my baggage is not the last off the plane? For example, 125 passengers (total flight compliment) purchase this service, if I am lucky 125 I did not get the service I paid for, so like what the fuck? What do I do then? What are -THEY- going to do about that?

    The next question is going to have to be how do they intend to counter-act lost luggage? (all those that have had stuff go missing raise your hands!). If this new "fee" implies that your luggage gets special attention, exactly what do they promise to Joe traveller that decides "Ohhh to hell with more fees!"?

    Okay, I've had a few to many beers - be gentle :P

    Tes
  • Re:Not a dump truck (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hazem (472289) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @04:37PM (#21065669) Journal
    What happens when the air carriers decide to charge for not holding your baggage for an extra 15 minutes (without reason other than to charge you)?

    I suspect Amazon does this to me. For a long time while using Amazon, even when I picked "free shipping" my stuff would show up in the mail within a 3 or 4 days. But, in my last 5 orders or so, the orders spend several days in "getting ready to ship" mode.

    My guess is that they are now holding the orders to make sure the "free shipping" doesn't get to me as fast as one of the for-pay shipping options. And given that, I'm more likely to shop for books elsewhere.
  • Re:TANSTAAFL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LinuxInDallas (73952) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @04:48PM (#21065751)
    Interesting theory. I flew through two airports in Sweden last summer and they had an interesting scheme. They have a "no mans land" taped off around baggage claim so that people couldn't get up right against the belt. You were only supposed to cross over the tape if you saw your bag. That way if you see your bag you are assured that you can actually get to it. A good idea I thought and I'm not sure why I haven't seen it elsewhere.
  • by dsstao (855537) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @08:27PM (#21067335)
    So, no people for the most part say they want everything but time again have proven through actions that they will only buy for the most part on price.

    Bullshit.

    I'm glad we have a poster who actually works for an airline because I want to tell him exactly why people "only buy for the most part on price". The reason? Because they can't see what's included in the price. Airline travel isn't simple - there are different places you can sit which give more leg room. There are meals, pillows, headsets, baggage "priority", and a dozen other quirks. Be like McDonald's. PACKAGE IT.

    I'm serious - when I go to united.com, orbitz, travelocity, etc... I'm seeing only one thing... this is your price from A to B and it's non refundable unless you bend over and grab your ankles. Oh and that airport tax and fuck-you-osama tax is included.

    Back to the point - I want a list. If I see a set of rows offering price, I want to see columns for what's included. Do I get a meal for example? What's my leg room look like?

    How about:

    OPTION A

    Includes Economy seating in rear half of plane.
    Includes cold snack food.
    Includes ability to use toilet.

    OPTION B
    Upgrades Option A by adding:
    Pillow
    Blanket
    Warm towel for your face
    Hot Meal

    OPTION C
    Upgrades Options A & B by adding:
    "Economy Plus" - 2.3106 inches of extra leg room!
    Free coffee, soft drinks and up to 2 alcoholic beverages.

    OPTION D
    Business class (list perks here).

    OPTION E
    First Class - we'll make your socks roll up and down.

    I think if consumers had choices like these, 1. They'd know exactly what they'd be getting and not getting and 2. The $5 "loss of demand" goes away because now people are making an informed decision on something they can SEE - benefits/features/upgrades and not just price.

    Just my $0.02.

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