Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Jetset: Excess Baggage

Deciphering travel policy to get the most from your flight

Air travel used to be a much simpler affair – the only baggage you carried was in your hands, not in your mind. These days you have to worry not only about frequent flight delays, cattle-like treatment, and whether or not your bags will arrive at their destination, but whether they will even get on the aircraft!

Airlines are just getting stingier when it comes to checked baggage allowances. The latest blow comes from British Airways’ “enhanced” excess baggage policy. BA has become stricter in enforcing its policy of one checked bag per economy class passenger – and that bag’s weight limit is now 23 kilograms, down from 32kg. Want to check a second bag? That would be GBP 120 (USD 235) for most long-haul international flights! They call it a simplified fee structure – most passengers seem to prefer the term “rip-off.”

Those familiar with airline PR spiel know by now that any “enhancement” in this industry almost inevitably ushers in a new, lower service standard. So many things we once took for granted – meal services, pillows, blankets, headsets, exit-row seats – have also been “enhanced” out of the freebie category.

Fortunately, Chinese airlines haven’t followed this international trend just yet. After I got so used to that tiny pack of free pretzels on those five-hour, coast-to-coast flights in the States, it still feels surreal every time to get asked “beef or chicken” flying Air China down to Shanghai. Whether or not the food is edible, of course, is the subject of a future column.

But things don’t look much rosier for road warriors who fly with only carry-on luggage. Ever since last summer’s foiled a terrorist plot to blow up airliners above the Atlantic, aviation authorities around the world have been tightening their grips over carry-on bags – and China has finally caught up. Beginning May 1, airline passengers in China will be allowed to bring onboard no more than one liter of liquid. For international flights, all liquids have to be placed in a re-sealable plastic bag, and single items must not exceed 100ml (baby food and medications are exempt).

While the new rules bring China’s carry-on restrictions in line with those of the US and Europe, dare I predict that they will snarl the lines at airport security checkpoints during the May Day holiday week even further? Confused-turned-cussing travelers throwing their toiletries and drinks into those big trash bins is perhaps not the best way to start the break. Steven Jiang

This article was originally published on page 146 of the May 2007 issue of That's Beijing magazine.

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