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Air Canada starts trial crackdown on carry-on bags

Passengers wait inside terminal one at Pearson airport.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Air Canada has begun cracking down on passengers with carry-on bags to make sure their luggage fits in overhead bins as it prepares to start charging domestic passengers $25 for their first checked bags next month.

The airline began a trial program at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Tuesday to make sure carry-on bags meet the 10-kilogram weight limit and regulations on size.

Extra personnel were added to departure gates in Toronto Tuesday to help customers check in and make sure bags were the right size and weight, Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said.

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"This will also facilitate an orderly transition to the implementation of a domestic first checked bag fee beginning in November," Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

The change to a fee is widely expected to mean passengers will try to bring more carry-on bags.

That in turn, could lead to delays in take-offs as luggage gets measured and then sent out to be added to the belly of the plane instead of the cabin.

If the carry-on luggage is too big, "the gate staff tag the bag, that bag has to be manually taken down the jetway stairs to the tarmac, into the plane," said Robert Kokonis, president of AirTrav Inc., Toronto-based airline consulting firm. "All that takes time."

Mr. Kokonis said he's in favour of the move. He takes a carry-on bag, but sticks to the limits.

"Nobody wants to hold up a flight, especially their own," he added.

Industry observers said the policy has not been strictly enforced.

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"They need to be strict on cabin baggage because they have crammed so many seats in there that they need to do whatever they can do to give people space," said one travel agent.

The airline allows passengers to carry what it calls one standard article and one personal article on to its planes, such as carry-on luggage, knapsacks, camera bags and some garment bags.

Each of these articles has a weight limit of 10 kilograms. Standard articles have a maximum size of 23 by 40 by 55 centimetres, while personal articles are limited to items 16 by 33 by 43 centimetres.

Analysts estimate the fees could generate revenue of between $40-million and $100-million for the airline.

Air Canada is following on the heels of WestJet Airlines Ltd., which announced the baggage fee last month. Air Canada followed a few days later.

The two airlines have estimated that the baggage fees will apply to about 20 per cent of their passengers. Air Canada already charges for checked bags on trans-border flights.

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WestJet said it isn't stepping up surveillance of what passengers bring on board its aircraft ahead of the introduction of its own checked baggage fee Oct. 29.

"No change for us," said spokesman Robert Palmer. "We have always made the announcement about carry-on needing to fit in the sizing devices, and we do ask people to put their bags in the device to make sure it will fit."

WestJet chief financial officer Vito Culmone recently said it expects the new fee could reduce checked bags by 20 to 30 per cent, based on experience of other airlines.

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