Bring on the Airline Baggage Fees!

Public Domain. MaxPixel

I'm a fan of any policy that discourages people from schlepping loads of unnecessary stuff around the planet.

Every time I enter an airport, I feel great pity for the people whose suitcases are so large and heavy that they can hardly move. Going to the bathroom, grabbing a coffee, finding a place to sit, even moving ahead in the lineup is a hassle, requiring physical exertion that adds to the already stressful experience of traveling by air.

To make matters worse for heavily burdened travellers, many airlines are now charging more for checked bags. In the past week, three airways -- Air Canada, Jet Blue, and WestJet -- have all announced that they're hiking baggage fees, and it's not insignificant. From The Points Guy blog, "Air Canada and WestJet are raising their checked baggage fees from $25 to $30 for the first checked bag and $30 to $50 for the second checked bag." That adds up fast if you're one of those people who just can't do carry-on (which I hear all the time) or if you're traveling as a family. Heck, it's a lot of money even if you're a solo traveler.

Some people are worked up about this, irritated at the additional expense, but I think it's great. Anything to disincentivize the schlepping of excess stuff around the globe (or anywhere, for that matter) I consider to be an improvement.

You see, there used to be a time when I paid those fees. Traveling with small kids and a babysitter on several trips overseas, I've spent enough on baggage fees to buy myself another plane ticket somewhere great, but alas, I fell for the ill-conceived notion that a considerable chunk of my wardrobe needed to go, too. Now I look back in horror and think, "What did I need all that stuff for?" It was far more stress than it was worth, trying to keep track of all those bags and having to hire taxis or rent cars to get around, and never again do I want to relive trying to find space for them all on an Austrian train. It felt like my suitcases were in charge -- as though they were taking me on a tour of Europe, not the other way around, as it should've been.

Then, after a disastrous experience trying to navigate cobblestone alleyways in the rain in old Jerusalem while pulling a wheeled suitcase (read about that here), an epiphany struck. Never again would I be a slave to my luggage, and now you'll never catch me with anything more than a medium-sized pack on my back, no matter where I'm going, no matter for how long. Small enough to take into a bathroom stall, to fit beneath a seat, to chuck into the overhead compartment, to carry while riding a bicycle or catching a public bus, to run up flights of stairs and navigate rough ground (and fit hands-free into a bathroom selfie!), it is truly liberating.

Katherine's backpack

© K Martinko -- Travelling in England and Italy earlier this summer, with all my possessions on my back

My hope is that the increase in baggage fees will encourage more travellers to do the same, to reevaluate what they take and realize that, instead of paying to cart stuff around the globe, they can use the free option (yay, frugality!) and fill their backpacks with only the most useful, versatile items of clothing they own.

Admittedly, the baggage fee issue is complicated. The fact that there are additional fees means that the fares themselves are lower, which makes air travel more accessible to the general public -- and that's something I do not support for environmental reasons. If buying a plane ticket cost us an arm and a leg, we'd buy fewer of them and look for alternative modes of transportation that also happen to be less harmful.

But that's not likely to happen anytime soon, so I'm looking at the positive side of a negative situation. Charging people for their baggage has a simple and logical outcome: they will bring less of it. Nobody wants to fork out an additional $80 on the spot when that could represent a quarter of their entire last-minute ticket price. They're going to pack lighter and discover how much easier it makes everything. Just give it a try; you won't regret it.