USAir sizing up overloaded passengers


March 04, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

A three-dimensional plexiglass apparatus might be a passenger's first clue that USAir is doing things a little differently these days at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

As part of its new Project High Ground to move passengers and planes more quickly, USAir is cracking down on travelers who violate rules about carry-on luggage.

Travelers laden with art objects, portfolios, pinatas, overstuffed garment bags, musical instruments and carefully wrapped baby gifts are being required to slip those items into a baggage sizer, located on Pier D between Gates 15 and 18. Oversized items get checked as baggage.

Begun Feb. 16, the High Ground operation is designed to use aircraft and workers more efficiently, keeping planes in the air more so USAir can compete with low-cost carriers.

Cleaning crews move onto the plane, picking up behind departing passengers in less than 10 minutes while new passengers are lining up in the lounge to board. Underneath, baggage handlers load luggage and freight more quickly.

As a resuit, planes are landing and taking off in 20 to 25 minutes, compared to 40 minutes for most flights. So far, USAir says the 22 aircraft in its High Ground program are in the air a total of 48 hours longer each day, meaning 3,500 more seats are available for sale without adding new planes.

To make money, though, the discounted Project High Ground flights need to be full. And USAir surveys show that when planes are more than 80 percent full, passengers can slow the operation considerably when they're struggling to stash oversized carry-on items.

"When the plane is 80 percent full, bags became a very big issue," says Andrea Butler, a spokeswoman for the Arlington, Va.-based airline. "High Ground was the impetus for deciding that we need to enforce carry-on baggage rules."

Currently, the baggage sizer is used only with the 90 High Ground daily flights -- including 18 at BWI -- to East Coast and Midwest cities. But starting April 4, USAir will use the sizer for all of its 2,500 daily flights nationwide.

Regulations allow carry-on items no larger than 8 by 16 by 21 inches under the seat and 8 by 16 by 24 inches for the overhead. Folded garment bags -- the most frequent culprit -- can't be more than 8 inches thick.

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