Nicholas Beaudrot defends the (second) bag fee against Atrios’s opposition to any fees, and against Matt Yglesias’s defense of all fees for checked luggage. Atrios rightly notes that the fees are part and parcel of the generally crappy air travel experience, Matt argues that the fees discourage excessive packing, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of travel. Nick replies that Matt’s economic analysis fails to consider shifts from checked luggage to carry-on:
bag fees on the first bag encourage two behaviors:
Travelers pack the largest bag they think they can carry on to the plane. This results in higher boarding and de-planing times as they struggle to put their bags in overhead compartments. …
Travelers pack a large bag and expect the flight attendants to deny them the chance to carry it on. But, they don’t (can’t?) charge you for bags they force you to check at the gate. As more and more people figure this out, it will become the norm, and airlines will either be forced to abandon the fee for the first bag, or start charging people at the gate, which means they’ll have to start charging you for checking the stroller, which means the airlines hate children, Congress will intervene, &c.
Air travel would be faster (and therefore better for the airlines) and more pleasant (and therefore better for the airlines) if airlines charged fees for checking the second bag. Charging fees for checking the first bag is probably a loser for the airline.
Because planes are least efficient during takeoff and landing, short flights (less than 300 miles, say) are up to three times more carbon-intensive than longer flights (transcontinental or transoceanic flights). Flying from San Francisco to LA is almost surely less carbon-efficient than driving, and probably takes no less time. Bring a colleague, friend, or family member, and it’s sure to be cheaper and to have a lower per-capita carbon footprint. Such short-haul flights are typically short stays, and anything that raises the price of such short, inefficient flights, is a good thing. As is Supertrain, which we can hope to get big federal dollars to help construct. A high-speed rail line would be about as fast as a plane, and would get you from downtown to downtown, making it potentially faster door-to-door. Much lower emissions, fewer baggage restrictions, and no onerous screening for nail files and scissors.
As Nick observes, charging for a second bag makes plenty of environmental and economic sense. It really does add to the cost of flying, and there’s no reason that people traveling for a week should subsidize the few people traveling for longer, or traveling with lots of stuff (touring musicians, families with small kids, people moving).
And he’s absolutely right about the overhead bins. The hassle and danger of checking luggage was always a disincentive to check bags. How long did you have to wait to heave your bag off the belt? How many people would you have to elbow to get to the belt when your bag arrived? Would you have to elbow them again to put it back when you realized it was someone else’s black rollaboard? Would the zipper have been destroyed by the TSA screener investigating (and perhaps borrowing) your clothes?
So the overhead bins always filled fast, but now it’s simply a race to get onboard and put your bag in the bin. Someone will surely have to gate-check a bag, and no one wants to be stuck waiting on the jetway to get their bags. So it takes longer to get on the plane, the bins are overstuffed, and getting off the plane takes longer, too. Especially if someone at the front of the plane had to leave their bag at the back.
It’s a simple truth that people travel with luggage. You need clothes, at least. If people are doing the responsible thing and restricting their air travel to long trips to places too far away for car travel to be time- and carbon-efficient, we shouldn’t force them to pay extra just to avoid being stinky.