Last month I wrote an article about the growing trend of stricter rule enforcement in carry-on bags. The article grabbed the attention of many readers who, as expected, carried a diverse set of opinions ranging from complete support to total outrage at the airline policies.
Now that it's been a little over a month since Air Canada implemented stricter carry-on bag enforcement, there are reports coming from the front lines about how passengers and employees are reacting.
One month later
Understandably, passengers that used to bring carry-on bags that marginally exceed the size limits are the most annoyed by these bag rules changes. CBC reports that Air Canada service agent and union representative Sheila Fardy has noticed some of the problems resulting from the policy.
As Fardy puts it, "Passengers can be quite aggressive and swearing and stuff like that." Air Canada service agents are bearing the brunt of abuse from angry passengers, and according to Fardy, "People push by them, are rude, they invariably give you a list of all the other times I brought that [bag] on board an aircraft."
That's not to say all passengers with oversized carry-ons are abusive, with Fardy noting that this group is a small minority but still enough to cause a problem.
It must be said that Air Canada is far from the only carrier implementing stricter enforcement of carry-on bag rules. United Airlines (NASDAQ:UAL), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL), and American Airlines Group (NASDAQ:AAL) have also tightened up enforcement over the past several months.
At these carriers, passenger reaction has also been mixed. While some passengers support the enforcement for the overhead bin space freed up, those with oversized carry-ons have been complaining of inconvenience and the extra costs of checking a bag.
In a New York Times article written shortly after United Airlines began stricter enforcement, reaction from flyers was mixed with some flyers supporting the rules, others complaining about the bag sizers targeting oddly shaped bags, and one flyer claiming the rules were being selectively enforced with travelers in business attire being exempt.
What the public thinks
It can be difficult to gauge public opinion on the subject of the carry-on bag crackdown, but a YouGov poll released shortly after United implemented its enforcement changes sheds some light on the situation.
The poll asked: "United Airlines has started a crackdown on the size of carry-on luggage allowed on their planes. Passengers now need to prove that their bag is smaller than the maximum allowance. In principle do you support or oppose this?" When presented with this question, the poll found that among all adults surveyed, 32% supported the increased enforcement while 24% opposed it.
However, among people who had flown within the past year, 50% supported the change while 29% opposed it. Considering airlines cater to those who are more likely to fly, this poll indicates that the carry-on bag crackdown is generally favored by the most valuable customers of airlines.
Will the crackdown continue?
While airline policies do have a habit of changing frequently, I expect tighter carry-on bag enforcement to stick around for a few key reasons.
First, airlines do make extra money from this policy. A carry-on bag is free with the major airlines but they can collect a checked bag fee when that carry-on is found to be oversized. In fact, this is one area that has those who oppose the new policy so angry, since they see this as another way to nickel and dime passengers. Of note here is that Air Canada's timing was particularly suspect, as the carry-on bag tightening almost perfectly coincided with the airline introducing its first checked bag fee for domestic Canada flights.
Second, the data available shows that flyers generally support these changes or are at least not overwhelmingly opposed. It's very difficult to convince airlines to give up a revenue generating policy.
Third, as much as flyers may complain, revenue-generating airline policies are rarely reversed. We can all remember when checked bags first started costing us, but that policy is now an industry standard and most frequent flyers think nothing of it. As tighter enforcement of carry-on bags sticks around for longer, incidents of abusive passengers are also likely to fall since the change will be a surprise to fewer people.
While the debate between those who support and oppose the changes will continue, I expect such enforcement to continue and become a regular part of airline policy due to a combination of current passenger support and financial benefits for airlines.