American Airlines and two of its labor unions want the government to step in and impose some discipline on the airlines and their customers by enforcing a strict limit on carry-on baggage. As American put it to the Federal Aviation Administration, "We do not believe that individual air carrier policies regarding carry-on baggage should be a factor in airline competition."

According to American, the airline industry "creates great confusion for the traveling public, flight attendants, pilots and ground personnel" by consistently failing to enforce its own baggage limits. My, my. Isn't that too bad?

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We do not believe for a moment that an FAA regulation is going to stop airline gate agents and flight attendants from making exceptions for high-mileage frequent flyers, or from simply giving in to public pressure (time is of the essence!) and letting people slip by with all sorts of cargo if there are lots of empty seats (and bins).

We are skeptical when American claims that it wants to make this a safety issue rather than a matter of customer service. It occurs to us that if American truly has the courage of its convictions on this matter, it should be willing to take airline employees out of the loop entirely.

Suppose the security contractors at the X-ray screening stations were required by the FAA to pass each bag through a measuring box and limit each passenger to two pieces, regardless of what airline he or she is ticketed on, what class of service, mileage status or the anticipated load factor. No exceptions. No arguments. No competitive pressure to look the other way for a platinum frequent flyer.

Assume for the sake of argument that airports could deal with the logistical consequences of adding to the X-ray bottleneck caused by the measuring boxes and ask yourself this question: Do you think any major airline would be willing to go that far in elevating "safety" over service? Good question, huh?

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