Yo, mind your luggage manners!

Mentioning the words “airline” and “luggage” in the same sentence is one of the fastest ways to start an argument.

Maybe it’s enough to dredge up suppressed memories of your last flight, when an inconsiderate passenger stole the bin space above your seat with an overstuffed Rollaboard. Maybe you’re thinking of United Airlines, which recently announced it would crack down on oversize carry-on items.

Then again, perhaps Frontier Airlines, which said last week that it would start charging $25 for carry-on bags on certain fares, comes to mind.

Yes, the overhead bins are way too small. And yes, airlines want to check your bags because it speeds up boarding, and they earn billions in luggage fees.

But there’s a lot more to the luggage conflict.

We seem to have lost our way when it comes to airline baggage. True, U.S. airline passengers often have zero manners in the luggage department, particularly when it comes to their carry-on items. But air travelers have good reason for their lack of civility, and fixing the problem will require a concerted effort by travelers, airlines and agents.

Let me be the first to admit that my luggage etiquette is sometimes lacking. On a Southwest Airlines flight from Denver to Salt Lake City recently, I thoughtlessly shoved my son’s backpack over someone else’s seat as I boarded (I’m sorry). Going through customs at JFK a few weeks ago, my Delsey bag inadvertently rolled over another passenger’s feet (I’m really sorry about that one).

The former faux pas is one of Patrick Smith’s pet peeves, especially when the bag is stored in the first available luggage bin.

“That causes the forward bins to quickly fill, meaning that passengers seated toward the front are forced to travel backward down the aisle to stow their belongings,” says Smith, author of Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel. Result: The already tedious boarding and deplaning process becomes even more time-consuming.

Susan Foster, author of the book Smart Packing For Today’s Traveler, says rolling over someone else’s feet is a problem — for kids. “Very small children with cute little rolling suitcases are a danger to all who cross their paths,” she says. “They are simply too young to know how to control the bag and to understand they should watch where it is going.”

What makes us lose our minds over luggage? Airline passengers used to schlep everything but the kitchen sink on board, fearing their checked bags would get lost. But less luggage is being lost by domestic airlines. Last year, the Transportation Department reported that 3.22 bags were lost or misplaced per 1,000 passenger enplanements, about half as many as in 2007. Then again, passengers have been more reluctant to check their luggage since most airlines stopped including the first checked suitcase in their ticket prices a few years ago.

“This shift has led to limited space for carry-ons and a slowed-down boarding process as passengers attempt to avoid bag fees,” concluded a recent report on airline complaints by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

What’s the fix? As I thought about the circumstances leading up to my baggage-stowing and rollover incident, the answer became more complicated. See, I stole the overhead bin from another passenger because I felt rushed to board the jet so it could depart on time. A crewmember announced that the plane couldn’t leave until everyone was seated, prompting me to find a seat fast. I rolled over the passenger’s feet in New York because a throng of people behind me was literally pushing me through the terminal, not because I can’t control my rolling bag.

If I need a refresher on luggage etiquette — and I do — perhaps we all could benefit from one. Yet, airlines and travel agencies can help, too. How about informing customers of proper etiquette before they board? Airlines might, if checked bags weren’t such a moneymaker.

Losing less checked baggage is a good start, but etiquette expert Jodi Smith says there’s only one way to defuse the luggage conflict: “Have airlines include a checked bag in the price of their tickets.” Ah, but wouldn’t airlines lose money? Tell that to Southwest and JetBlue, both of which manage to include a checked bag and earn a profit.

Installing more luggage templates and threatening to send passengers who overpack back to the ticket counter to shell out $25 to check their bag seems to be the preferred route for airlines. But that probably will make an already bad situation worse.

Isn’t it time for a little luggage detente?

Do our luggage manners need an upgrade?

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How to lighten the load

Pack smaller. After Dana Berry was told her regulation-size bag was “too big,” she decided to downsize her carry-on. “There’s a payoff for economizing,” says Berry, who works for a Little Rock communications firm.

Board early. “Those poor unfortunates relegated to boarding group 4 or 5 often have to gate-check all their bags,” says professional speaker and frequent flier Barry Maher. “That causes all additional conflicts while they take out their frustration on the flight attendants and, in some cases, even delay departure.” To avoid that, board early if you can.

Ship it. Shipping services such as FedEx and UPS, or baggage services such as, can help you bypass airline luggage altogether. LugLess has even publishes a useful cost calculator to help you determine whether shipping your bag makes sense.

A worthwhile airline fee program? Don’t buy it

Dragon Images/Shutterstock
Dragon Images/Shutterstock
The introduction of a new airline fee program is reigniting an old debate about the true cost of air travel.

Earlier this month, United Airlines unveiled “subscriptions” that let you prepay for a year’s worth of baggage fees, seat upgrades or airport club access. The plans start at $349, for which you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation may check up to two bags per flight, and cost up to $500 or more for annual access to United’s 45 airport club locations and other select partner lounges worldwide.

“Our customers tell us that they value comfort and convenience, and our subscriptions enable us to provide both year-round,” said United spokeswoman Karen May. “We intend for these subscriptions to be long-term offers.”
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Oh no! JetBlue breaks guitars, too?

jetblueAdd the word “breaks guitars” after any company, and everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about.

“Breaks guitars” is synonymous with terrible service, bureaucracy and corporate arrogance. And you’d expect an airline to be particularly sensitive to it.

For those of you who missed the whole United Breaks Guitars episode, here’s a recap: Back in 2009, United Airlines destroyed country musician David Carroll’s checked guitar and then basically ignored his damage claim.
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New luggage blocks ID theft on the road

At some point between the time she disembarked from a recent cruise in Miami and returned to Carmel, Ind., someone decided to go shopping with Jody Tzucker’s credit card. “They bought cigars and other odd things in Miami,” says Tzucker, a retired manager for a nonprofit association.

She suspects that the criminals may have skimmed her Visa account information while she was filling up her gas tank in South Florida. Or maybe not. Nowadays, hackers don’t even have to see your credit card to access the information on it. They can scan it from a safe distance.
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If you’re in Zone 5, here’s why you should pack light

Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Next time you find yourself with a boarding pass that says Zone 5 or Group “C,” or whatever designation your airline uses to say you’re the last to board, please remember this story.

It comes to us by way of Kathleen Colduvell and her boyfriend, David Dimm. A few weeks ago, they were flying from Philadelphia to Tampa on US Airways.

“We were only going for the weekend, so we each had one cabin-approved carry on,” says Colduvell.

Alas, halfway through the boarding process, a gate agent announced that the overhead bins were completely full. By the way, there’s a good reason for that: Passengers carry more onboard now in an effort to avoid the $25 fee for the first checked bag. Also, they don’t want the airline to lose their luggage.
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Should I have been charged extra for my checked luggage?

Question: I traveled to Europe on a codeshare flight between Delta Air Lines and KLM. Before I left the United States, I carefully checked the size and weight restrictions for my two bags on both the Delta and KLM websites, because I’m an artist and I needed to take rolls of paper with me. I made sure my bags complied.

The trip from Portland, Ore., to Copenhagen, Denmark went off without a hitch; I paid $50 to check a second bag. However, on the flight from Toulouse, France, to Portland, Ore., I had to pay 200 Euros for the second bag. When the gate agent saw my second bag, she declared it “too long,” she never measured it. Although the flight was on KLM, the airport staff worked for Air France. There was no KLM or Delta presence that I could find in that airport.
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Their luggage went missing, but does anyone know why?

By all accounts, Maddy and Phil Handler liked their October cruise on the Riviera, one of the new mid-size ships in Oceania’s fleet. There was just the matter of the Handler’s luggage — and reams of correspondence between the couple and a vice president at the cruise line, bickering about what happened to it.

The cruise line claims another passenger inadvertently took the Handler’s suitcase and that it tried to help them retrieve it. But these passengers are unhappy with the way in which their claim has been handled, and they want answers about their missing luggage. They want me to step in and get a clear explanation from Oceania.
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Spirit’s Baldanza: “We don’t force customers to pay for services they don’t want or need”

Spirit's Ben Baldanza. / Photo courtesy Spirit.
Spirit Airlines is at it again — first denying a dying war veteran a ticket refund, then announcing it would raise its fee for carrying a bag on its flight to $100. Passengers are outraged. A Facebook petition to boycott the carrier is gaining momentum.

At a time like this, I like to hand the mike over to Ben Baldanza, the airline’s CEO. I did this morning, but his handlers said he couldn’t answer my questions by phone. Here’s a transcript of our awkward email interview.
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