August 05, 2008
On Sunday, Sibylle and I purchased two new Eddie Bauer backpacks to use during our trip to Europe this year. We gave them a "Dry run" yesterday during our trip to Chicago; one that they both passed with flying colors.
One of our concerns was their size when filled. All the airlines publish the size limits of your carry on luggage, and they all restrict you to one carry on and one personal item. Of course these restrictions and limits rarely seem to be enforced.
The outward size of some of the wheeled luggage on our flights was clearly beyond what would fit in the little sizing stands by the jetway doors. And many people bring two or three pieces of luggage each onto the plane. The problem isn't the standard, but rather the expectation of the airline that the person or persons working the gate be the "bad guy."
Unless the gate agent is willing to force each person to test the size of their bag, and to force each person to their one carry on plus personal item limit, then there is no hope for the rules to work. The gate agent can't easily single out the egregious offenders, as those people will then point to the less egregious, but still over the limit offenders. Increased security, long lines, short connection times, weather and mechanical delays have already increased the stress level in the crowd of people waiting to board a plane. A gate agent who tries to enforce the carry on policy risks getting an earful or worse.
I certainly don't want a job that requires I be respectful and polite to a potential stressed or angry customer, much less a job that requires I do this for hour after hour, day after day. My hat is off to those people who work in those customer facing positions; by and large they do so with courtesy, professionalism, and often a smile. That the airline expects these people at the front line to bear the brunt of whatever ill-will policy enforcement may generate says a lot about the gap between management and employee.
What the airlines need to do is setup, between security and the first gates, a luggage check station where travelers can quickly and easily measure their carry on items for proper size, and check any that are over the limit. Then the gate personnel can, and should, turn away any luggage that is outside the published limits. Until the airlines enforce their requirements across the board and without fail, people will take advantage of the possibility of getting away with one extra bag, or a bag that is too large. And until the requirements are enforced well before boarding time, the gate personnel will have to deal with the rudeness of people lashing out when caught doing something they new was in the wrong all along.