Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Game

United Airlines has decided to charge $15.00 per bag checked on their flights. This might have seemed like a good idea to the company, but after my recent experience at the airports, I think they should review their policy.

Since $15.00 is just above a comfortable threshold to pay to not have to lug a bag and deal with lost luggage and lines at the baggage claim, most people seem to be taking two carry-ons on the plane when they ordinarily would have checked one. Unfortunately, most people don't follow the 14"x24" policy for bag size so all shapes and sizes of bags get passed as "carry-ons." Even more unfortunate, the planes really are not built to allow over 100 people to have two carry-ons. This means there is now a huge hassle trying to get bags to fit into overhead bins. This in turn delays flight take off and increases the amount of problems the flight attendants have to deal with. It also has led to the creation of "the Game."

The Game is an interesting phenomena. It begins with seat sections. Theoretically, the flight attendants call each section (1,2,3,4) in turn and the people sitting in those sections line up to board the plane. This should be an orderly operation that allows everyone to board efficiently and get the plane out on time. What really happens is this:

When the flight attendants call all passangers sitting in Section 1 to board the plane everyone stands up and starts shuffling towards the gate. The passengers not in the called section pretend to stand patiently while they really start edging closer and closer to the gate. The reason for this is that everyone wants to get on and get their bag into the overhead compartment before they are full. Inevitably, by the time Section 4 is called, all the overhead compartments are full, the plane is on the verge of being late for departure, and a flight attendant has to run back and forth frantically trying to check all the oversized bags (with no fee) of all the people that didn't want to pay $15.00 to check their bag. It's really quite a mess.

I found myself playing the game this last week when I flew to New York and back to Spokane. It's all about strategy. While on the way to NYC I didn't understand the game but by the return journey, I had this figured out. In LaGuardia, I casually lined up towards the front of the line when seating area 1 was called. As the different sections were called, I started edging closer and closer to the front of the line so as to optimize my odds at getting to put my bag in the overhead compartment. Other people tried to finagle their way to the front of the line too, but I kept in front of them. As soon as "Seating Area 4" burst from the flight attendant's lips, I was standing in front of him, boarding pass in hand and boom! I was on the plane, bag stashed overhead. Score!

My luck didn't quite work in Denver. The different sections of people filed onto the plane. As I waited, I noticed three older men were playing the game too! Shoot! The four of us were chomping at the bit, ready to race to be the first on the plane from section 4. We eyed each other, trying to size up speed, agility, and desperation to get the bag into the overhead. I, however, had the advantage. Section 4 was announced, and in a moment of indecision by the three men, I cruised in front of them and kazam! was in line to get on the plane before them. My advantage was that I am a woman, and they, being older, were trained to let women go ahead of them.

My advantage quickly ended, however, when the compartments were filled by seating area 3 and a frantic flight attendant came running at me to snatch my bag to stash as a checked bag. She looked like a chicken with her head cut off and kept repeating to get the plane off on time she needed to check my bag RIGHT NOW! I tried to engage her in conversation to see if my theory (people bring stuff on plane instead of checking them because of the fee) was correct. She didn't listen and instead spouted off, "NO! THERE'S NO $15.00 FEE! YES, YOUR BAG GOES TO THE BAGGAGE CHECK! NO, IT'S NO HASSLE! GET ON THE PLANE!" I finally gave up and just boarded the plane and enjoyed watching other people struggle with their luggage for a change.

That's the way to do it, wait till the plane's overhead bins are full and get your bag checked for free. Nothing like sticking it to the Man.


Marion said...

Way to go! Great Tips!

Anonymous said...

'Sounds like that lady had an stink-eye patronus. Good advice. I love the downfall of airlines: no seat numbers, only sections, you have to pay $3.00 for a bottle of water, no food, etc. Good times.