United CEO Weighs Fees For Speedy Luggage Delivery

United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton is determined to wring added lucre from his now-profitable airline. Tilton is considering 250 unpopular ideas, such as charging economy-class passengers a fee to avoid receiving their luggage last, and spinning off United’s already wounded frequent flier program, Mileage Plus.

United appears to be following a strategy set by Air Canada, which gained billions of dollars after it emerged from bankruptcy in 2004 by spinning off its maintenance division and frequent-flier program into separate businesses, analysts say.

“Every management team needs to address it,” said Kevin Crissey, senior analyst for U.S. airlines with UBS Investment Research.

The Chicago-based carrier is also the first in the U.S. to navigate the disquiet, even anger, that these strategies engender in employees. Many United workers are dismayed that the company didn’t explore the spinoffs during its bankruptcy, when the proceeds could have been used to fund pension plans that were terminated.

Passengers who refuse to pay the baggage extortion fee can at least mill around confident that their bags will appear within twenty-five minutes.

United chief chases change [Chicago Tribune]
(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

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  1. shamim316 says:

    woow! i never expected any airlines to hold my luggage hostage for a few extra $$

  2. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    Go belly up already, United! And stop asking Congress for bailout money, fire your CEO’s ass WITHOUT severance, and hire someone who can bring the airline around!

  3. MercuryPDX says:

    I actually don’t mind waiting for my bags when I DO travel with more than a carry-on. I usually call whoever is picking me up the second I get off the plane, then go wait for my bags while they drive over to get me.

  4. vision646 says:

    What happens if everyone pays to get their bags first… Somebody still ends up last and then they paid for a service they didn’t get. I feel lawsuits would probably ensue from some pissed off person.

  5. redknight says:

    @MercuryPDX:

    A lot of people are the same way. Airlines can try to sneak more inconvenience into travel, but honestly, people find clever ways to adapt. Hence why more airlines need to realize it’s not worth it trying to nickel and dime the customer, who will always win, and rather should focus on providing such a great product people will pay for it.

  6. XTC46 says:

    Im wondering how this kind of thing can work. Wont they just need to spend more time sorting who paid the fee and who didn’t? Which means its just making things take even longer than chucking them all onto the belt at the same time.

  7. jamar0303 says:

    @IRSistherootofallevil: Yes- preferably hire in someone from one of the Asian airlines.

  8. erratapage says:

    I’d pay just to get the idiots from crowding the baggage carousel. I’ve never noticed that blocking the carousel helps my luggage come down the shoot any more quickly.

  9. StevieD says:

    Has anybody ever heard of UPS?

    I just ship my suitcase(s) to my destination via UPS. Most major hotels will hold packages for their registered quests, and of course there are friends, relatives, and work associates that may be willing to accept your package.

  10. XTC46 says:

    @StevieD: that would be very expensive if you are flying over an ocean (like I do since im in hawaii) not sure how UPS ground rates are.

  11. FLConsumer says:

    $15 to ship my 70 lb bag via FedEx… worth every penny.

  12. YerBuddy says:

    @FLConsumer:
    How do you do that?

  13. mdkiff says:

    I flew first class to Peru this past summer, and they (Delta) put a special orange/red tag on your bag so it will “come off the line first.” Didn’t happen – my bag – and those of many fellow 1st class travelers – came off towards the end. They have little to no control over their baggage handlers, so paying for a chance to get your bag early would be ridiculous.

  14. sleze69 says:

    Can you say – Waste of money? I fly first class on US Airways a lot and get the special priority tag on my checked bags. I have yet to be among the first 50 bags this year atleast. Unless the other 11 people in first class always check 4-5 bags each…

  15. shan6 says:

    I can’t wait to see airlines scramble to stay in business once one of them realizes that providing outstanding service to passengers (first class AND economy) is the way to build an empire.

  16. Chairman-Meow says:

    Wow. Only United.

    So, they expect me to pay more money for my luggage just so they can enrich their already their already bloated shareholders ?

    No wonder why I go out of my way just so i do NOT have to fly United. I can’t wait for the day that they, and Delta go the way of Pam-Am and Eastern Airlines.

  17. pkrieger says:

    Unfortunately, United is the only airline that can get me where I need to go. It takes 45min to an hour to get your baggage at Dulles, even if you are first class. I feel no desire to pay to have my baggage fly first class when I can wait another 5 minutes.
    United and I aren’t friends since they time they cancelled my 10am flight at midnight – then tried to book me for a flight that would have left Dulles an hour after my return flight would have landed.

  18. ColdNorth says:

    @shan6: It’s called Sun Country. It’s a teeny-tiny little airline based out of Minneapolis (Northwest’s HQ, too). After going belly-up in the wake of 9/11 and then SARS, a local billionaire bought them out and decided to try just what you are suggesting.

    While you have to fly out of the secondary terminal, and they have a limited list of places to go (JFK, LAX, SFO, IAD, and many, many sunny vacation spots), the airline surprised me on a number of counts:

    (1) The employees seemed to genuinely enjoy working there, which meant that they gave pleasant, efficient, polite service.

    (2) All seats are leather. 1st Class seemed to give more room, but the coach space was not nearly as cramped as US Airways or Northwest like to cram people in.

    (3) They served HOT FOOD to everyone. While the food in coach was nothing spectacular, it was complimentary AND they cheerfully OFFERED seconds.

    (4) Their frequent flyer program gives you a free flight after 10. No points and no black out dates. If there is a seat available on the plane, you can book it with your free ticket.

    (5) Their ticket pricing was LOWER than any of the majors. Upgrades to 1st class are only $75 from their coach price, and can be bought at any time. Including, I believe, at the gate.

    This wouldn’t be a perfect option for many business travelers, but it sure is nice to have a pleasant alternative out of MSP for a change.

    So… there is at least one airline that seems to be trying to bring back customer service. I think there are others, too. Midwest Express comes to mind, but I’ve never flown them.

    Any others?

    Oh, and in case you’re wondering. No. I have no interest whatsoever in Sun Country (they’re wholly-owned by a billionaire) apart from the fact that I am really hoping their business model can survive the dirty tricks and withering assaults by Northwest.

  19. @redknight: Because people won’t pay more for better service. Or there is not an airline that gives such great service its considered worth it.

  20. kimsama says:

    @Moonshine Mike: Sorry to disagree, but I gleefully pay more to not fly United. Have for 6 years.

    I love to give money to their competitors, in the hopes that it will drive them out of business if more people who hate them do the same.

    I always fly an Asian carrier if I can (usually ANA, but also Korean, etc), even though they are a little more $, because the service is fantastic. I’m flying coach, and spending my own money, but I’ll be damned if I won’t pay $200 more on a 30-hour flight to have good service and no delays.

  21. Bye says:

    United recently charged me $50 for my checked bag that weighed in at 53#.

    I weighed the bag on my mom’s doctor’s scales after she picked me up from the airport and it weighed 51#.

    Either United stole 2 pounds of my luggage or their scales were off. Either way, the fee they charged was ridiculous. I asked the woman who hated her job how long they’ve had this lower-weight as a policy and she said, “Oh god, it’s been YEARS.” (I know that it hasn’t been YEARS.)

    Either way, I’m now convinced that United for some reason just wants me to break up with them and they keep engaging in this bad behavior just so I’ll leave without them having to ask me to go. It’s not me, it’s them.

  22. erratapage says:

    I recently flew Midwest and had a very pleasant experience. I’ve also flown Sun Country (and have reservations to do so again in December) and have been generally happy with my experience. They are usually not the lowest cost, but I’ve learned that value trumps cost. After United stranded me in Chicago in February without a winter jacket (we were going to Orlando) or any help getting a hotel reservation, I don’t fly United under any circumstance.

  23. jamar0303 says:

    @pkrieger: Where do you go and could you go there by alternative means (train/car)?

  24. Geekybiker says:

    @Rey: Those policies have been in force forever. However enforcing them is a newer development. Mostly you’d get by with your bag. Still a bit of a crapshoot if your agent will charge you.

  25. PracticalMagic says:

    Seems to me that they’re not thinking about the employees involved. If employees have to go to extra work to earn more dollars FOR THE COMPANY, but they have not received a raise, then………..well, you do the math. Either they’re not going to care, or they’re going to care enough about compensation that they may resort for theft.

    Either way, it’s only going to work if the employees entrusted with this “first class baggage handling” do what is expected of them.

  26. YerBuddy says:

    @FLConsumer:
    No, seriously. How do you ship luggage via FedEx for only $15? I thought that would be closer to $100.