Last week's news piece on British Airways' new baggage policy which comes into force this October (see Online news, June 15) predictably drew a flood of emails. Most premium travellers condemned BA's decision to adopt a maximum luggage weight of 23 kilos per piece even though there will be more routes on which they can take two pieces rather than one.
Readers are protesting because on long trips they prefer to take one piece of checked luggage (typically weighing around 30 kilos) plus a separate piece of carry-on baggage. It must be stressed that where BA's rules differ from other carriers is that 23 kilos per piece is the absolute maximum. Passengers with a few kilos excess won't be surcharged or waived through as they are now. Instead they will have to put the extra kilos into another suitcase. And the system which BA check-in agents will use will be programmed not to allow staff to override or waive charges.
As reader Peter Phillips wrote, "Whether I'm travelling alone or with the family, we want to keep the number of cases to a minimum. These new luggage restrictions play straight into the hands of BA's competitors."
Adds reader Pete Morris, "As a big BA fan this is so wrong. I have a trip to Australia and New Zealand in October with numerous stopovers. I am flying out in first but back in Club. For the flights around Australia and New Zealand I am travelling in economy class and expecting to have one suitcase. As it's a five week trip I don't want to carry two suitcases !"
But there is one way to circumvent the new rules – by booking a connecting flight. Buried in the small print of BA's baggage policy is the rule that "Where journeys involve mixed classes of travel, or connecting flights, the greatest allowance will apply for the entire journey."
A spokesperson for Oneworld (whose members include BA, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Iberia) confirmed that if a passenger were to fly business class with Iberia from Madrid to Heathrow to connect with, say, a BA flight to the Gulf or Asia then BA must honour Iberia's 30 kilo baggage policy.
It's a similar scenario if the connection to BA is made with a Star Alliance carrier when the passenger holds a through ticket and is booked in business class. Star Alliance quotes the example of where a passenger might fly Bmi from Edinburgh to Heathrow to connect with BA to Dubai. This ruling should also apply when transferring from BA to another Oneworld or Star carrier. So if you fly London-Sydney with BA the piece limit would be 23 kilos. But flying London-Perth means taking BA to Singapore plus a connection to Qantas for the onward leg. In this case it's expected you would be governed by Qantas' 30 kilo allowance.
So far BA is the only carrier which has opted to bring in such a baggage policy. An airline spokesperson (who wished not to be named) told Business Traveller, "All airlines are looking at reducing costs and now it seems that some carriers are focusing on baggage. But in my opinion BA's idea of a weight concept has taken it to extremes."
Some readers told Business Traveller that BA would be "shooting itself in the foot" were its new baggage rules to go ahead. They point out that Star Alliance Gold tier loyalty members are allowed an additional 20 kilos of baggage in addition to the normal rates of 20 kilos for economy, 30 kilos for business and 40 kilos for first class (however, no single piece can exceed 32 kilos and some members may have different limits on routes to North America, Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria).
Travellers using other airlines can breathe a sigh of relief. At this stage spokespeople for Oneworld and rival Star confirm that their members are not looking at following BA. Says a spokesperson for Oneworld, "It's up to each individual carrier to decide its own baggage policy. Competition in key countries means that airlines cannot liaise in issues like this – even if the airlines concerned are in the same alliance. Some may argue that it may actually make life easier for their passengers if all airlines in an alliance developed a common baggage policy. But the lawmakers regard such activity as anti-competitive, so it's 'off limits'."
For more information go to ba.com/baggagepolicy
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Report by Alex McWhirter