04 February 2008

Pack light - or pay!

Or fly often. That's the message United Airlines is putting out today.

Starting May 5th, passengers with nonrefundable economy class tickets will get to check only 1 bag for free, and pay $25 if checking a second bag. Frequent travelers who put in more than 25,000 miles per year, either on United or a Star Alliance partner airline, still get to check two bags free. Passengers flying outside US and Canada also get to check two bags free.

Even though I book as much of my air travel with United and Star Alliance as possible, the most I've ever done in a year is 23,000 miles, so the frequent traveler exemption is not applicable to me.

For my upcoming Orlando trip, which is on United, this will be a non-issue. I'm checking only one bag, it's before May 5th, and I am upgraded to first class anyway. But all my future United flights will come under this new regulation.

While a normal traveler should suffice with one checked bag at most, there are circumstances (i.e. biking, fishing, and hunting trips) where the equipment will make up the second bag, and cause the $25 surcharge. It looks like another way to fleece the leisure traveler. United already fleeces the leisure traveler through two different economy cabins - roomy Economy Plus for frequent travelers, standard Economy (or Economy Minus, as travelers call it) with tight 31" seat pitch for everyone else. (Depending on availability, mere mortals like me can still fly Economy Plus - but yes, it costs extra.)

I will see if other airlines follow suit. I do realize that airlines have to constantly fight to keep their planes as light as possible - to save precious fuel. But ticking customers off, especially leisure travelers, may not be the best way to go. After all, today's leisure traveler may be tomorrow's frequent flier. And in any case, this is another move that makes air travel less and less tolerable.

United Airlines