Having created the problem of too many passengers lugging their suitcases aboard airplanes by charging for checked bags, the major airlines are now planning to make checked bags even more unpopular. The are testing various methods for making bag-checkers do their own checking instead of giving their bags to attendants with the attendant putting tags on the bags and sending them on a conveyer belt.
Charging for bags became standard procedure in 2008 for most airlines (Southwest is an exception) when they figured it could contribute to the profits that had long eluded them.
Human nature being what it is, more people then decided to tote their bags aboard. Alas, many aircraft don’t have enough bin space. For example, the 737-900 has 180 seats but only bin space for 125 roll-on bags. Result: a last-minute rush before takeoff for flight attendants to tag the surplus bags for stowage in the cargo bay.
At a recent symposium, Virgin America’s CEO David Cush said, “We give away the most valuable space on the airplane—the overhead bin (but) we charge for the least expensive space—the belly.” A simple solution would be to reverse this arrangement. It would reduce hectic bin stuffing and chaos just before takeoff. If that is too radical for the airlines, another solution would be to forego some of their now solid profits and drop charges for checked bags.
Back on the ground, there are new inconveniences for travelers booking hotel rooms. Call them reservations intermediaries. These online companies book reservations for many hotels, taking a cut of the room charges. Supposedly this gives the traveler maximum ease in booking space. One website may provide access to many hotels in many cities, displaying available rates and room configurations. So far, so good.
If, however, you want to change a reservation you have made, the flaws in this system quickly become apparent. We had such an experience recently, going online to book a hotel in New Orleans in mid-October. We received confirmation for two nights, although it was a surprise to learn that our credit card was being charged for the entire amount right then.
Soon thereafter, we learned that the friends we were meeting in New Orleans would stay for another day. We called the online company’s “800” number to add a third night. The answerer asked why we wanted to add a third night. I stifled the impulse to say, “None of your business.” Instead, I said, “Because we want to spend one more day there.” He said, “Oh.”
He then put me on “hold” so he could call the hotel to see if they had a room for the extra night. I asked, was he not on the hotel staff? He said, “We provide support for them.” So “hold” it was, for 10 minutes. When he came back, he said they could not accommodate our request. All this for a reservation four months in the future.
It crossed my mind to cancel, then book at another hotel. I mentioned this.
He said, “You have crossed the penalty deadline and would lose all the money for the two nights.” I was incredulous and asked him if this was his firm’s policy or the hotel’s. “The hotel’s,” he replied. End of conversation.
Common sense took over. I called “411” for the hotel’s telephone number. The woman in reservations took my request and said it could easily be accommodated. I asked her about their cancellation policy. She said that with certain exception (such as Mardi Gras) it was 72-hours in advance, not four months!
So, buyer beware. The third-party outfit in this case is called “Reservations. com.” Lesson: To be sure you get what you want—and with a normal cancellation policy—call the hotel direct and ask for “Reservations.”