From ‘hand baggage lite’ express lanes to reduced costs for checked luggage, why doesn’t the industry do more to alleviate pain points?

If, like me, you had the dubious pleasure of flying out of a UK airport over the summer, you will probably have queued at security behind someone embarking on a two-week holiday in the sunshine with all their belongings crammed into one bulging wheelie bag.

No doubt this is driven by a desire to avoid paying easyJet £40 each way to check in a suitcase – and to ensure they still have their luggage when they arrive at their resort.

According to SITA, last year saw a ten-year peak in baggage mishandling with more than 26 million bags lost (the equivalent of eight in every 1,000 bags going astray). So, in many ways, you can’t really blame people. However, those of us who have recklessly splashed out on a checked bag are left wondering why we bothered.

In their wisdom, most short-haul airlines now offer a significantly cheaper fare if you sacrifice your traditional right to check your luggage into the hold, meaning passengers are encouraged to carry luggage for their annual fortnight in Greece onto an aircraft.

Sadly, this is gradually choking airport security systems. Thousands of inexperienced passengers going through security with forgotten liquids secreted at different ends of their wheelie bags are going to take measurably longer than a frequent flyer with a single handbag. The overall effect of this is horrendous peak hour queues at airports like Gatwick and Heathrow, with ensuing delays to flights throughout the day.

The problem of ‘hand baggage only’ passengers is not only limited to the security channels.

The knock-on effects can also be seen come boarding time. Unless airline boarding staff are ruthless in enforcing the rules regarding the size and number of carry-on items (which they seldom are), the problem moves from the terminal to the aircraft. We have all witnessed frustrated cabin crew trying to find overhead bin space to accommodate the endless stream of wheelie bags, some of which are clearly not designed for aircraft cabins. More often than not, those of us who have checked a bag find our only modest carry-on either crushed under the weight of a 20kg Rimowa shipping container on wheels, or crammed underneath the seat in front of us.

Hand baggage lite

So what can be done? Assuming that the hand baggage only brigade are not going anywhere (except on holiday on the same day as you) and that these packhorses of the skies may also be using the priority security channels for business class passengers and frequent flyers, there is no way of avoiding them within the current system.

Why not create a dedicated ‘hand baggage lite’ channel at security for those who are travelling with a single, small, zero-liquid carry-on bag? In other words, a channel for those of us who’ve checked a bag and are carrying the minimum onboard – the day tripper with a briefcase. Not only would this provide a much faster route through security for ‘low-touch’ passengers, but it would also be a revenue boost for airlines, as this would provide an extra incentive to pay to check a bag.

Another solution might be to encourage airlines to reduce the cost of checking a bag. This would perhaps increase the take up of checked bags and take the pressure off security. Frequently, airlines are giving away this facility anyway. In the run up to three of my last six short-haul flights, I have been told that the flight on which I am booked is very busy and invited to check my carry-on bag free of charge. Charges for checking in a bag on a short-haul flight departing the UK currently range from £25 to £65 each way, so there is some scope for a reduction.

Tracking your luggage

Finally, a reduction in baggage mishandling and enhanced customer-enabled systems for the location and recovery of lost bags would also have a measurable impact on passengers’

propensity to check their luggage. It is now possible to insert a GPS tracker into your suitcase, but trackers contained within airline baggage tags are still very rare. Another case of the passenger often having more information than the airline in question.

The ability for a passenger to wave goodbye to their luggage at check-in for a reasonable price, and be confidently reunited with it a few hours later, should be a basic feature of every flight. The days of waiting behind a fellow passenger who is unpacking his entire suitcase at security to locate an errant 100ml bottle of aftersun, or arguing with the officer over whether a corkscrew is a lethal weapon, must be brought to an end.

Richard Tams is an airline consultant and executive coach