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AirplaneTired of airline luggage fees? Here's a way to fight back

By Jim Bray
August 6, 2015

(a special TechnoFile rant)

It may not save you money, but if you're looking for a way to fight back at the airlines that still charge baggage fees now that fuel prices have dropped, I have a strategy that may help - a way to get your bags where you're going without paying the pound of flesh to the airline, while making it even easier to deal with airport hassles.

Here in Canada, WestJet - the former little airline that could that's now become basically just like every other big airline - was, if I remember correctly, first to inflict such fees on baggage. They assessed a minimum fee of $25 per suitcase stored in the belly of the airliner thanks, they said, to high fuel prices. This move ended up not only ripping off and "peeving off" many air travellers, it also - in my observations - led to overcrowding in the overhead and under seat storage bins as people tried to get around the airlines' greedy grab.

It was bad enough then, but now that fuel prices have cratered, you'd think they'd be quick to knock those fees off again if that was really the rationale behind the money grab. Have you seen it happen? I haven't.

WestJet actually opined publicly back then that the new fee was also a way for them to offer better deals to those who don't want to bring luggage aboard - a kind of no frills thing. I could be wrong (it's happened before, frustratingly) but I figure that rationalization might carry a bit more weight if the base ticket prices were lowered to reflect that supposed fact. I mean, if you're trying to entice someone to fly "bagless" because it's cheap, wouldn't it make more sense to offer them a deal, rather than merely not flaying them of another pound of flesh via a luggage levy that everyone else has to pay? Or is that too logical?

In other words, it was a straightforward price increase they chose to lie about so people wouldn't be so upset. Meanwhile, on my last two WestJet flights, the plane had seat back TV's that didn't work.

Anyway, my wife - genius that she is - suggested to me last Christmas that we should look into using a courier to ship my Dad's suitcase for his annual trip west. Dad's 95 this year and the thought of him dragging his heavy bag from the house to the taxi, then to the airport check-in, bothered us and I guess it took the baggage fee to finally spur us into action.

So we were spurred. I called Fedex (because I like them the best of all the couriers I've used over the years) and arranged for them to pick up my Dad's suitcase at his home in Ottawa and ship it to my home in Calgary via their ground service. Overnight service would have been quite expensive, but the ground service was pretty affordable when you consider the airline's fee would have to be paid otherwise anyway. I arranged for the pickup from my end (my Dad doesn't have Internet) and, while I had the suitcase's measurements, I didn't have its actual weight for the rate calculation. Fedex quoted me about $35 for the shipment, which was more than WestJet charged us for our suitcase last time we flew, but not much more, especially considering the difference in convenience.

The bill ended up being closer to $50 last Christmas, though it was slightly less for the return trip (I had the luggage's weight then, which undoubtedly helped). That's obviously quite a bit more than the airline charges for its baggage fee, but considering the fact that Fedex picked up the suitcase right at my Dad's front door and dropped it off right at mine, it was well worth it. Heck, not only did we get to thumb our collective noses at WestJet (and of course this isn't only an issue with them), it also allowed my Dad to merely saunter into the airport terminal, get his boarding pass at the little digital kiosk rather than standing in line for check-in - and then head straight to the rectal exam at Security.

He was ecstatic at the ease of flying, especially in this current age in which taking a commercial jet is becoming increasingly annoying.

So with him arriving at my place tonight (August 6) for a family reunion in celebration of his 95th birthday, so we had Fedex ride to the rescue again. This time, I had more hassles arranging for the pickup, because of Murphy's Law as it applies to websites, but I ended up doing an online chat with one of their representatives and he had the shipment arranged in an acceptably short time. And this time, they promised three business days service instead of five - and they delivered. The smiling Fedex dude showed up at my Dad's about 10:30 a.m. last Wednesday (July 28) and another smiling Fedex guy delivered his suitcase to my front step at about 8:30 on Friday, July 31. I took the suitcase up to our guest room, where it sits patiently waiting for my Dad's arrival. How convenient is that?

Sure, it's slower and pricier than dragging your bag into the airport, but if you plan ahead there should be no issues with running out of clothes or whatever, and the convenience of not having to carry a heavy bag sure makes it worthwhile, especially if you're elderly or otherwise challenged by a heavy bag.

I pass along this strategy because when I or my family members have mentioned our little scheme to people, almost all of them were excited about it and planned to look into it themselves. Will we start a populist uprising? Probably not, but at least we feel better (and isn't feeling good about yourself the most important thing these days - at least according to the Left?) and have helped my Dad travel more easily.

Look, I'm as free market as the next guy (perhaps more so), so I have no issues with airlines setting their own fees; it beats having the government do it! But it's also part of the free market to vote with your chequebook and to pursue alternatives - and this courier idea accomplishes that. Maybe if more of us took advantage of a scheme like this - and told the airlines about it - they might start to notice.

I know, and Skittles will fall from the sky…

We can only try!

Maybe it's time to look at divesting airline stock and investing in couriers.

Copyright 2015 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

We welcome your comments!