Can banning carry-on luggage really speed up boarding?

Is it time to ban carry-on luggage on planes? Would that speed up the boarding process?

Some say the answer to both questions is “yes.”

Devin Lidell, a principal brand strategist for Teague, claims its “Poppi” boarding model, which eliminates carry-ons, can reduce boarding time by 71 percent.

Lidell notes that no carry-ons means TSA security could move far more swiftly than it does today, with all those roller carry-ons out of the picture. He suggests the banning could allow passengers to arrive at the airport much later than is required now. I think we can agree that both claims, if true, would be a plus.

Teague points out that eliminating carry-ons doesn’t mean eliminating personal items, such as computer bags and jackets. They’d still be allowed in the cabin.

Speeding up airport security, boarding and even deplaning sound like great ideas, don’t they? What passenger would say no to those improvements? Certainly not me, though I’m not convinced those improvements could be accomplished as easily as Teague suggests.

I believe banning carry-ons is far more complex than it first appears. A variety of factors affect carry-ons and whether they should be allowed or banned.

Central to whether or not carry-ons can be eliminated are airline baggage liability, standards, checked luggage handling quality, flight duration, and airline food and drink policy, including accommodation of dietary restrictions and family travel considerations.

Airline baggage liability. Business and leisure travelers often travel with equipment and belongings that far exceed the total liability airlines are willing to accept. More importantly, there are classes of belongings for which airlines accept no liability, including, but not limited to, computers, general electronic equipment, fragile items, medicines, cash, photographic equipment, jewelry and items considered valuable or irreplaceable.

The Poppi plan allows laptops, tablets and cellphones in planes’ cabins, but other electronic gear — such as extensive camera gear brought on trips by many professionals and leisure travelers — would have to be checked. There isn’t enough room in small personal items for all the objects for which airlines won’t accept liability. If carry-ons were banned, it would be essential for the airlines to accept liability for all passenger belongings and raise their liability limit to at least $10,000.

Passengers can purchase travel insurance to cover these items, sometimes for replacement cost, but that substantially adds to the cost of travel.

Checked luggage handling quality. Checked bags are often handled roughly enough by airlines and airports to break virtually any fragile item in the bags. I’ve personally seen luggage dropped 15 feet or more to the tarmac. Camera equipment and other breakables are unlikely to survive such handling. Even if covered by the airlines, if an item is broken you won’t be able to use it during your trip.

At more than a few travel destinations, items normally in carry-ons, if lost or broken, might not be able to be replaced until the traveler has returned home. That’s certainly happened to me.

Flight duration. On short flights, it would generally be easy to get along without the items in your carry-on. On longer flights that’s unlikely. My carry-on and personal item hold my camera gear, laptop and accessories, valuables, breakables, toiletries, a shaver, medications (many of which I take daily) and a complete change of clothes. On long flights, access to my medication, laptop and accessories, some toiletry articles, and other items is important. For example, I found access to a change of clothes was twice critical after flight attendants spilled beverages on me during 10-plus-hour flights.

Airline food and drink policy. In U.S. domestic economy class, even on transcontinental flights, food isn’t served, and more than a single soda, juice or water is rarely offered. You can purchase it, but that can be expensive and often doesn’t meet passenger dietary restrictions. In first class, while food is served on longer flights, it’s often lousy. With carry-ons eliminated, it’s unlikely passengers will have the ability to bring aboard beverages or their own food brought from home or purchased before boarding.

Family travel considerations. When traveling with children, especially young ones, the carry-on needs of parents increase almost exponentially. If they wish to survive the flight, parents need to bring games, books, toys, and children’s personal items, plus food and drink for their youngsters. There isn’t room for all that in personal bags.

I believe the issues are far more complex than the Poppi concept and Teague suggestions. Without major changes in airline rules, limits of liability, baggage handling quality, as well as the realization that some flexibility is essential, banning carry-ons won’t help passengers.

I believe the airlines and aircraft designers are on the right track by improving carry-on storage capacity. Rather than making major policy changes and adding to long term airline costs by substantially increasing airline luggage liability, if airlines increase carry-on storage capacity, enforce carry-on size limits somewhat flexibly and restrict carry-ons to one piece and one personal item, boarding will improve dramatically.

Would banning carry-on bags speed up the boarding/deplaning process?

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About the Author
Ned Levi has traveled the world as an engineer and business executive. He is the founder of NSL Associates, a technology consulting company, and is a professional photographer specializing in travel and wildlife photography.
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