Airlines trying to limit passengers' carry-on baggage Move targets leisure fliers, not business class


After years of complaints, the airlines are moving to clear out their increasingly crowded baggage rooms in the sky by limiting the number of bags passengers may bring on board with them. But they are likely to face a new round of complaints from infrequent leisure travelers because most business travelers apparently will be exempt from the baggage restrictions.

Northwest Airlines is limiting many passengers to one carry-on bag on its routes, and United Airlines will try similar restrictions on some routes on Monday.

Meanwhile, the rest of the industry is keeping close watch. So are airlines from Singapore to Switzerland: Carriers that fly international routes are doubly bedeviled by carry-on woes because of the duty-free purchases that are jammed into overhead bins or wind up in passengers' laps.

"My guess is that if Northwest's policy doesn't create too much opposition, all the carriers will go that route," said Lynn Hayes, chairman of the Association of Retail Travel Agents, whose observation is seconded by many other travel-industry and airline officials.

Although safety considerations also underlie the move to tighten restrictions on carry-on baggage, the main reason the airline industry is acting now is economic.

After losing $13 billion from 1990 to 1994, the industry is finally flush, with planes often nearly full and business fares at record levels. So airlines are betting they can risk angering some of their lower-paying customers by tightening their carry-on rules, with little fear of losing business.

Moreover, the jammed overhead bins in airplane cabins have long been an irritant to full-fare business travelers -- the airlines' most valued customers, who typically pay three to four times the fare of leisure passengers on the same flight and who account for as much as 60 percent of an airline's revenue.

In addition, the airlines have become more aggressive in dealing with delayed departures, which cost them millions of dollars a year. One source of those delays has been passengers jostling to find space for their carry-on items.

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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