Baggage fees are the airline surcharge that most fliers love to hate, but a new study shows that they have an unexpected silver lining: They’ve made it more likely for your flight to leave on time.
The study comes from the University of Kansas, where researchers discovered that the implementation of baggage fees encouraged fliers to check fewer bags, allowing baggage handlers to load planes more efficiently. Of course, it now seems to take longer for passengers to board, given that we’re all trying to find overhead bin space for our massive carry-ons, but this is apparently outweighed by the time saved on checked baggage. Says a University of Kansas researcher, “The below-the-cabin effect dominates the above-the-cabin effect.”
The time savings weren’t huge — the median departure time improved anywhere from 3.3 to 4.2 minutes, and delays went down 1.3 to 2 minutes — but they benefited all major airlines, including Southwest (which doesn’t charge for checked bags). The researchers note that some baggage handling responsibilities such as security checks are shared among all airlines, so the reduction in total checked luggage improved performance for everyone.
The biggest improvements in on-time performance came at large hub airports where layovers are common; fewer bags going through such massive handling systems led to fewer delays.
In other positive news, luggage-related complaints per 1,000 passengers have fallen since baggage fees were first implemented.
Do these findings make you feel any more kindly toward checked baggage fees?
Check out the travel stories you may have missed this week.
This Fee Could Triple the Cost of Your Reward Flight
The Washington Post reports that fuel surcharges could make your reward flight cost much more than you expect. Despite the low cost of oil, some airlines have surprisingly high fuel surcharges, and you have to pay them even if the base fare is covered by miles.
Travel Writer Thomas Swick on the Seven Joys of Travel
Parade Magazine interviews travel writer Thomas Swick, who recently published a book on what he sees as travel’s greatest joys: anticipation, movement, break from routine, novelty, discovery, emotional connection and a heightened appreciation of home. Discover which of these is his favorite and which destinations he visits over and over again.
I Lost My Job and My Husband. Then I Found Newfoundland.
We loved this New York Times essay about a writer’s impromptu trip to Newfoundland following the end of both her marriage and her job as a teacher at a summer camp. It wasn’t the most glamorous of trips, with several nights spent sleeping in a car and locals recommending a “local” brew called Coors Light, but it was full of the thrill of discovery.
Working Amid a Turbulent Few Decades in the Airline Industry
The Atlantic sits down with Paul Mozeak, a crew chief at John F. Kennedy International Airport, to discuss the changes he’s seen in 32 years of working in the airline industry. He explains the evolution of security regulations (especially since 9/11) and how airline mergers affect their employees.
As I prepared for an early-morning flight from Newark to New Orleans, I was excited to pack the JetComfy pillow, billed as the “world’s best travel pillow.” I hoped it would help me sleep through the entire flight.
JetComfy is a boxy pillow, built into a frame with an extendable pole so that you can bring the pillow closer to your head rather than the other way around. On the other end of the pole is a strap and clamp that you can use to attach the device to your seat’s arm.
The full pillow is fairly large, about half the size of a shoebox, so it’s not easy to take onto the plane if you’ve got a lot of carry-on luggage. I solved this issue by purchasing a bottle of water in an airport store and then putting the pillow into the plastic bag.
Here’s what I discovered about JetComfy:
It’s soft. I mean really soft. With two inches of memory foam, your face sinks gently into the pillow. The fleece-soft cover is also a pleasure to lay your head on.
It’s got phone chargers. Probably my favorite thing about JetComfy was the two USB chargers. I loved being able to power up my cell phone (even after I’d given up trying to sleep on the pillow). Note, however, that the chargers aren’t available with the standard JetComfy purchase; you’ll need to pony up an additional $29.99 for the Upgrade Kit, which includes two USB charging ports, an extra pillow cover and a stylus/pen/flashlight/pointer combo that fits into a slot in the base of the pillow.
It doesn’t angle well. Because it’s so soft, I couldn’t wait to rest my head on the JetComfy pillow and drift off into sleep. However, I found the ability (or lack thereof) to angle the pillow to be a problem. Though the pillow would start out angled, it would not remain so, and I’d wake up with a major crick in my neck. Because I was sitting in an aisle seat, there was nothing to lean the pillow up against to keep the angle in place. It’s possible a window seat would have solved this problem.
It’s bulky. Not only is the JetComfy a bit cumbersome to carry around and onto the plane, but it also takes a bite out of the space surrounding your seat. I quickly realized that using the pillow on the aisle-side seat arm wouldn’t work, as I’d just keep getting bumped by anyone passing by. But using it on the other arm wasn’t much better. Thankfully I was sitting next to my spouse, but he complained about the pillow bumping into him. I don’t know how you’d be able to use it next to a stranger. (Again, the window seat probably would be okay.)
My overall impression of the JetComfy pillow was mixed. I did sleep on it, and I loved how soft it was, but the pain in my neck from waking up with my head completely tilted to the side was not something I’d care to experience again.
The JetComfy pillow costs $49.99 and can be purchased at the JetComfy website (use coupon code INDY for a 10 percent discount, good through December 31, 2016) or at Amazon.com.
Want to give it a try? We’re giving away a JetComfy pillow. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the JetComfy pillow. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.
A recent bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama includes several consumer-friendly measures for U.S. air travelers, including refunds for delayed bags and a requirement that children be seated next to an older family member at no extra cost.
The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, which funds the Federal Aviation Administration through September 2017, includes a section that entitles passengers to an automatic refund of their checked bag fee if they don’t receive their suitcase within 12 hours of the arrival of a domestic flight or 15 hours of the arrival of an international flight. This would apply not only to U.S. airlines but to foreign carriers as well. The bill mandates that the Secretary of Transportation issue this regulation within the coming year.
Also on the way in the next 12 months: a policy requiring that any child age 13 or younger be seated adjacent to an accompanying family member over 13. It’s worth noting that the language around this policy in the bill is less definitive: “Not later than [one] year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall review and, if appropriate, establish a policy…” Parents, you may want to keep an eye on this one.
Other tidbits in the bill include expansion of the PreCheck program (which offers expedited passage through airport security), enhanced mental health screening for pilots and various enhancements to airport security, such as law enforcement training for “mass casualty and active shooter incidents.”
Your Awkward Family Travel Photos
Have a laugh over this slideshow from the New York Times featuring bad ’80s hair, goofy poses and kids having temper tantrums — all the stuff great family trips are made of.
Why I Love Being a Pilot
A pilot tells the Guardian about his experience of “place lag,” which he describes as the feeling of being immersed in one destination and then, after a few hours on a plane, having to suddenly adapt to a new place and culture.
The Ultimate Berlin Street Food
BBC Travel investigates the history and cultural significance of currywurst, which is said to have been invented in 1949 by a bored snack bar owner in West Berlin.
5 Changes That Have Made Flying Safer
Conde Nast Traveler highlights just how safe it is to fly these days — there were only 136 fatalities last year out of 3.5 billion fliers — and explains the policies and technology that have led us to this point.
Google’s Mobile Service Gets International Upgrade
Travelers who rely on their phones abroad should check out this article from Travel + Leisure, which describes improvements to Google’s Project Fi mobile service — including high data speeds in more than 100 countries. (One important caveat: So far the service is only available for Google’s Nexus phones.)
CT Scanners Could End the Liquid Ban, and They’re Coming to Phoenix This Year
Airline blogger Cranky Flier reports that American Airlines will be testing out CT scanners at Phoenix Sky Harbor International this year. Such technology is currently in use for checked bags, but if it comes to the airport security checkpoint it could conceivably speed up the line and possibly even keep us from having to pull out our bags of liquids and gels. Here’s hoping…
This week’s video is a twofer from Visit Norway, which has introduced a new campaign called Sheep with a View. First up is the video introducing the project, while the second one is a behind-the-scenes look that’s even cuter.
Catch up on what you might have missed in the travel world this week.
Meet the Husbands Who Fly First Class — While Their Wives Travel in Economy
Would you be okay sitting in cattle class while your spouse chills out in first or business? The Telegraph profiles a number of couples that regularly fly separately, with the husband at the front of the plane and the wife in the back. “In my opinion, everyone should travel this way. I think first-class is really rather wonderful — the only way to fly,” says one charming husband, who might feel that everyone should fly in first but won’t pay for his wife to do so.
U.S. Approves 8 Airlines to Fly to Havana Beginning This Fall
USA Today reports that the U.S. Department of Transportation has tentatively approved flights to Havana, Cuba, aboard eight American airlines. If these schedules are given final approval after the upcoming comment period, you’ll soon be able to fly to the Cuban capital from Los Angeles, Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta, New York, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, Houston and Newark.
A Longtime Concierge on Hotel Tipping, Online Reviews and More
Conde Nast Traveler interviews a head concierge at the Stafford, a five-star hotel in London, and gets his perspective on the importance of responding to online reviews, the difference in tipping between the U.S. and the U.K., and his number one tip for hotel guests.
Shrinking Pool of Future Pilots Keeps Major Airlines on Edge
Bloomberg reports on an alarming problem in the airline industry: not enough people to fly the planes. Within 10 years, U.S. airlines are expected to be understaffed by some 15,000 pilots, thanks to many older captains retiring and not enough people interested in taking up flying as a career.
Catch up on the travel stories you may have missed over the past week.
The TSA Is a Waste of Money That Doesn’t Save Lives and Might Actually Cost Them
Vox makes a provocative case against the beleaguered TSA, which has been under fire in recent weeks for extra-long lines. Not only does the TSA not ensure our safety, the author argues, but it actually causes more deaths (because travelers elect to drive instead of fly to avoid the hassle of security, leading to more road accidents).
The World’s Most Polite Country?
BBC Travel investigates the Japanese concept of omotenashi, a combination of “exquisite politeness” and “a desire to maintain harmony and avoid conflict.” From toilet seats that spring up when you enter a bathroom to people wearing masks to protect others from catching their colds, politeness is a Japanese way of life.
EasyJet Develops a Vibrating Smart Shoe to Help You Navigate a New City
This European discount airline won’t just fly you from one city to another, reports Travel + Leisure — it’s also trying to get you from one neighborhood to another using vibrating sneakers that tell you when to turn. The shoes, called “Sneakairs,” sync up to your smartphone to help direct you with GPS.
Malaria Vaccine Protects Half Who Try It
NBC News reports that an experimental new malaria vaccine protected 55 percent of the volunteers who tested it — which beats out the performance of the current vaccine on the market, which protects just 30 percent. This could benefit future travelers to malaria-stricken regions, but the new vaccine is still years away.
Life on the Other End of an Airline Reservations Line
An AFAR writer got a chance to work as a customer service agent for Delta Air Lines, and discovered the most efficient way to raise a complaint, what the agent can see about you when your call pops up on his or her screen, and how much power a phone agent actually has.
This Is 2016. Why Can’t We Still Book Specific Rooms in a Hotel?
Skift raises a good question: We can book a certain seat on a plane, so why can’t we choose our own hotel room? The answer is that we can … sometimes … and that there are a couple of sites out there that are working to make this capability more widely available.
How Travel Insurance Saved My Life
If you skip buying travel insurance on some trips, you may change your mind after reading this piece from Conde Nast Traveler. After coming down with dengue fever on a trip to Vietnam, the author didn’t get adequate medical treatment until her travel insurance company stepped in to advocate on her behalf.
In the face of government warnings against travel to Iran, these travelers show another side of the country in this thought-provoking video.
How do you really know if the cost of an airline ticket is on the money? A new formula came out late last week, providing travelers with a gauge to determine whether the airfare you’re considering is a good deal.
If you book a U.S. domestic roundtrip airfare, the total cost of the ticket should come to less than the total number of miles you’re traveling, times 3.2 cents, plus $230, according to Adobe Digital Index’s 2016 Travel Report. In other words: roundtrip miles x $0.032 + $230.
For international flights, the formula is this: roundtrip miles x $0.08 + $200.
These seemingly simple calculations are based on months of “slicing and dicing” more than 15 billion pieces of data from Adobe’s travel industry clients, explained Luiz Maykot, a data science analyst with the Adobe Digital Index.
“It always seemed to me that the price of tickets was random. But I had a feeling there was a connection,” Maykot told us in an interview.
For example, the 828-mile roundtrip flight between San Francisco and Las Vegas averages $256.50, according to the Adobe formula — which means the $87 United fare we saw in a recent search is a real steal.
While the formula isn’t intended to perfectly predict airfare costs, Maykot explained, it does show that there is “a basic structure to airfares” that can help you judge whether you are getting a good deal.
Adobe Systems Inc. has a cloud-based marketing system used by seven of the 10 largest airlines in the world, nine of the 10 largest hotel groups and countless other travel industry companies. That data, plus the results of a 1,000-person survey in March, guided the analysis, which is one of the most exhaustive in the industry.
Other interesting facts uncovered by the Adobe team:
-The cost of U.S. domestic airfare is down 6.6 percent this year over last year; international flights are 1.8 percent lower. Interestingly enough, more than four out of five people said they think airfares are the same or higher this year.
-Booking flights 90 days in advance will get you the best rate, except if you’re flying over the July 4 or Labor Day weekends. In those cases, you need only book 40 days in advance.
-In all cases, hotel rooms should be booked 30 to 40 days out.
-Waiting till the last minute can hurt; once you hit 20 days before your trip, airfares tend to rise by 3 percent a day up until six days before the flight. This is just on average, Maykot points out; flights to California go up at a higher rate than flights to Florida.
-Though travelers say they plan to spend 20 percent less on travel this year, the data tells a different story. Spending is expected to go up 5.5 percent.
I’m sure there are still plenty of people simply staring at their phones the whole time, or curled up on an uncomfortable bench trying to catch a snooze. But there are a lot more interesting things to do at airports these days during a long layover.
Learn CPR. Chicago O’Hare International is the latest airport to introduce free kiosks where you can learn CPR. The video arcade game-like tutorial shows you how to do hands-only CPR and practice on a rubber torso attached to the machine. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive,” the tutorial advises.
And if you ask one University of Dayton student, the tutorial is time well spent. He learned CPR during a three-hour at Dallas/Fort Worth international. The lesson took 15 minutes, and he ended up saving the life of a fellow student two days later.
Take a free city tour. A number of airports offer free city tours to airline passengers with layovers, writes Jennifer Dombrowski of Luxe Adventure Traveler in 5 Things to Do at an Airport During a Layover. Tokyo Narita, Singapore Changi and even Salt Lake International Airport are among those offering free tours.
Icelandair launched a new program called Stopover Buddies this winter to pair up travelers with airline employees who take you skiing, ice skating, out for a spectacular meal, horseback riding or for a dip in a thermal pool, among other activities. The sky’s the limit, depending on how much time you have. The Stopover Buddies program concludes on April 30, but I hope they continue it again later this year.
Get sporty. As this Lonely Planet article details, you can go to the gym at Changi Airport in Singapore, ice skate at Seoul Incheon International, go surfing — actual surfing, not on the web – at Munich International or do yoga in a studio at Dallas/Fort Worth International.
Hang out in a first-class lounge. You don’t have to be a first-class ticketholder to pass your layover in an airline lounge. According to the website Sleeping in Airports, more than 190 airports around the world have 300 lounges that you can access by prepurchasing a pass. Or check with the airport information desk to ask about lounges that allow you to purchase access. For more information, see 7 Ways to Score Airport Lounge Access.
Be a foodie. So many airports have specialty or themed dining options that you could design your own eating tour. Travel Pulse suggests a Latin food tour at Miami International by sampling Cuban and Venezuelan dishes at various eateries. Likewise, you could go on a wine tasting tour. Two dozen U.S. airports have outposts of the winebar Vino Volo.
Rent a day room. I’ve hit the age now where trying to nap in an airport has zero appeal. So I love the concept behind Hotels by Day, in which hotels offer unsold rooms for day use at lower rates. There are a number of airport hotel options if your layover doesn’t afford enough time to travel into a city but you still want a chance to shower, take a nap or watch television.
You’ve arrived at your destination, but your luggage hasn’t. It’s annoying enough to have to buy new clothes and toiletries to get by before your bag is delivered by the airline (if it comes at all). It’s even more annoying if you paid a nonrefundable fee of $25 or $30 for the privilege of checking that bag.
The newest bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration includes language that would require airlines to refund baggage fees in cases when your checked suitcase is delayed, reports the New York Times.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but as the author of the Times piece notes, there are numerous barriers that currently keep you from getting your money back. First, many airlines, including United, Spirit and American, declare that their baggage fees are nonrefundable. (United’s Contract of Carriage does note that baggage fees will be refunded if your suitcase is lost — but makes no such comment in the case of delays.)
If you do get a refund from the airline, it may be in the form of a voucher to be used on a future flight, often with a one-year expiration date. For people who don’t fly often, such a voucher may be pretty much worthless.
No luck with the airline? You can try contacting your credit card company to dispute the charge — a strategy that is sometimes successful, but can take some persistence.
Travelers should cross their fingers for the Senate version of the reauthorization bill to pass; it would require airlines to give an automatic refund of baggage fees to anyone who hasn’t received their luggage within six hours of arrival on a domestic flight or within 12 hours of an international arrival. The House has a more lenient 24-hour deadline and would not mandate automatic refunds.