When you think about it, maybe airlines have it backwards. They shouldn't charge for your first checked bag and let you bring a carry-on bag for free. They should charge you for bringing a carry-on bag instead.
I say this even though such a policy would negatively impact me.
As a rule, I only travel with carry-on luggage. There is of course the cost savings of not having to pay for a checked bag, but that's a secondary concern. Without having a bag to check, I can check-in online to receive an electronic boarding pass and head straight to security once I get to the airport. Depending on how many people are in line at the check-in counters, that saves me anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour.
I also don't have to worry about losing my luggage, since it never leaves me. I once had an airline misplace my checked bag on the way to my destination and on the way back. I vowed never to check another bag.
Another bonus of travelling with just a carry-on is that once you arrive at your destination, you can avoid the wait at the baggage carousel.
The bottom line is, if I check my bag, I'm looking at a longer travel time, on average. By travelling with just a carry-on bag, I can save time and pay less money.
If I stopped right there, you could see how paying for carry-on versus checked makes sense from a convenience perspective. You could choose to pay to save time.
As it turns out, I have had a heavy business travel schedule over the last few months, right as the two major Canadian carriers announced and implemented a change in baggage fee policies.
Until recently, your first checked bag was almost always free. Now, when you fly some of the lowest-fare classes, a fee applies for your first checked bag. So you would assume that some passengers would avoid checking in a bag and go the carry-on route instead.
Leading up to the implementation of the policy, which was late in October for WestJet and early in November for Air Canada , there was a bit of a pre-emptive crackdown. Fliers were asked to prove their carry-on bags met the size restrictions by placing them into those little testing templates. People in airports are strange at the best of times, but the arguments that ensued as some tried to squeeze and stomp their bags into the testers was something to behold.
After the new rule kicked in, another problem popped up. So many more people are bringing carry-on bags onto the plane that almost every flight I've been on has been delayed at the gate as people struggle to find space in the overhead bins. Imagine getting to your seat to find that all the overhead space in the vicinity is taken. Sometimes, bags end up being checked into the hold at no charge because there is no room left on the flight.
Now imagine the policy was reversed: you get your first bag checked for free, but you have to pay to bring a carry-on bag.
Some people would rather pay the extra fee to save time. But probably more will balk at the cost and check their bag. That would mean less bags to shove into the overhead bins – boarding the plane would be a breeze.
Normally, checked bags are much larger than a carry-on so all of this is moot if you're determined to lug around your entire wardrobe for a trip, as some people do. In that case, it's easy to see why checking a heavier bag would carry a premium. Extra weight means extra fuel.
But if you spend just 10 minutes studying the art of packing for air travel, travellers without children seldom need more than what they can fit in a carry-on.
The more I think about it, the more this reversal of baggage fees makes sense.
But I have a funny feeling that if airlines ever do start charging for carry-on bags, it will just be in addition to charging for the checked bags.