Delta Is Testing Free Checked Bags. Could They Start Charging For Carry Ons Instead?

Delta is testing free checked bags. They are “sending texts to passengers departing from its Boston (BOS) hub the day of their flight, urging them to check their carry-on bag … for free.”

The month-long test began this week. And, according to a Delta spokesperson,

“Select customers who have shared contact information with Delta will receive a text message before arriving at the airport with a proactive offer to check their carry-on bags. Customers will not be required to pay any additional bag fees associated with checking the carry-on bag.”

U.S. Airlines reported nearly $5 billion in annual checked bag fees before the pandemic. However that’s not really $5 billion more than they’d have earned without charging for these fees,

  • Ticket prices may be lower as a result of the unbundling, it’s really moving money out of the ticket and into fees, while saving the 7% domestic excise tax on ticket revenue on the money

  • And these fees encourage more people to carry more bags on planes which slows down boarding, and especially when passengers board and then need to gate check bags (a major impetus for larger overhead bins)

  • These delays are costly, and also lead to less-efficient aircraft scheduling when boarding and thus total aircraft time per flight is longer.

This makes analyst Henry Harteveldt wonder if Delta could actually stop charging for checked bags and start charging for carry on bags instead.

Delta has been testing premium services for years to try to reduce the time carry on bags add to boarding, remember their effort in 2015 to ‘valet’ the bags and preload them over passenger seats?

Delta’s Early Valet service will offer to have airline employees take carry-on bags at the gate and put them in the bins above assigned seats. The airline wants to see if its own workers can load the bins faster than passengers.

…Early Valet will be offered through August on some departures from Delta’s busiest airports – Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle.

It will be available only on flights that typically have a high number of vacationers. Presumably, business travelers know how to board a plane efficiently. Specially tagged bags will be stowed on the plane before boarding begins, Durrant said.

Southwest’s free checked bags and unassigned seats speed up boarding, with everyone organizing themselves in the boarding area, as a result they board 30 minutes prior to departure rather than 35 or more. In 2011 Gary Kelly argued “It would cost us approximately 8 to 10 airplanes of flying per day if we were to add just a couple of minutes of block time to each flight in our schedule.”

Their on time stats aren’t always the best, but shaving a few minutes per flight can them some extra viable flights each day (since you can’t just add a flight at the end of the schedule, so late no one wants to fly). That’s good for both revenue (selling more seats) and cost (fewer planes needed for the same schedule).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I hope it changes. Not only will it speed up departures and deplaning but also speed up the TSA security lines and gridlock throughout the terminal.

  2. I get my checked bags for free so I always take advantage of that; however there have been times when getting my luggage from baggage claim has taken an extremely long amount of time. I am always jealous of the road warriors who I’ve seen boarded with their luggage and think “why not just check it?”; one long wait at baggage claim, and I can see why!
    Standby passengers too.
    If they get separated from their luggage; they may never get it in a timely manner.

  3. ‘testing’ free checked bags? You know, there was a time when you could check bags for free regardless of fare, then I assume they ‘tested’ charging for checked bags, then ‘tested’ for having different fare classes to include checked bags. So now we’re testing going back to the original plan, except now we’ll charge for carry-on bags. Yes, charging or carry-ons is a great idea [sarcastic]. It definitely won’t lead to people trying to bring bags on the plane that were not paid for causing more gate drama and disputes. Does nobody see that coming?

  4. If Delta Airlines did start charging for carry-on bags this would be a good reason to stop flying this airline. I have not checked a bag on a flight be it domestic or internationals in the past three years. I do not want to waste time at the baggage claim area waiting for luggage.

  5. I think this is great idea to test, particularly for DL and AS that have a checked bag time-to-deliver metric at destination airports to meet and, shockingly, mostly meet even at the NYC-area airports.

  6. So how would a counter agent tell the difference between a carry on and a bag you were going to check anyway?

  7. Everything here says “check their carry-on bag for free.”, not simply “check a bag for free. This suggests it only applies to carry-on size bags, and checking a full size bag would still cost. Unless you’ve heard otherwise?

    Airlines frequently make the same offer at the gate for full flights, letting you check the carry-on for free, to expedite boarding. So I’m thinking this is nothing much new, except that by moving the checking process from the gate to the ticket counter, which is a win-win, lighter work loads for busy GAs, and letting pax get rid of the bag before clearing security.

  8. I’ve said it for years: inverse the fees, charge for carry-ons. Business travelers who dislike the baggage claim wait will have status/cards which grant free carry-ons. Inexperienced/leisure travelers will care less about the wait time and more about saving the bag fees; they’ll now check more often than carry-on.

    Something this simple would speed up TSA process, unclog congested airport areas of excess bags, and most importantly expedite boarding times.

  9. So if AA went this route it would add an additional hour hanging around baggage claim after you already departed an hour late.

  10. As someone who normally checks bags, mainly because hauling bags through a connection is not great for my back, I wish people would check their steamer trunks more often. But the problem I see with potentially charging for carry-ons is how are you going to do that, especially if you allow elites to do so for free? If the idea is to free up gate agents, now you’re going to turn them into revenue agents who need to collect payment from everyone who showed up at the gate with their bag and no elite status. Chaos ensues.

    The best idea I could see, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea, would be if the price of a carry-on bag were built into the ticket, and if you don’t bring on a bag that goes in the overhead bin, you get a QR code for credit on a future flight. They simply hand you the coupon as you scan your boarding pass. Or they could trigger something to your FF account when you board if they wanted to avoid the paper. But that makes the airlines tickets appear more expensive, which defeats the purpose.

    Talk about the law of unintended consequences, charging for bags is a prime example.

  11. As someone who on-bag travels, I’d actually welcome this change. Not because I’ll be switching to checking my bag (I always ensure my bag is small enough to meet the most restrictive carry-on measurements), but rather, I’d be gaining the peace of mind knowing I won’t have to fight for overhead bin space. Or be told to put my bag under my seat (even though I paid for a full class seat with ensured overhead storage) in order to make room for someone elses “extra” carry-on (that they possibly didnt pay extra for in the first place). Plus, deboarding should be more efficient with less carry-on luggage to account for. Which might save you time trying to make it to your connecting flight.

  12. As someone who normally checks bags, mainly because hauling bags through a connection is not great for my back, I wish people would check their steamer trunks more often. But the problem I see with potentially charging for carry-ons is how are you going to do that, especially if you allow elites to do so for free? If the idea is to free up gate agents, now you’re going to turn them into revenue agents who need to collect payment from everyone who showed up at the gate with their bag and no elite status. Chaos ensues.

    The best idea I could see, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea, would be if the price of a carry-on bag were built into the ticket, and if you don’t bring on a penis that goes in the overhead bin, you get a QR code for credit on a future flight. They simply hand you the coupon as you scan your boarding pass. Or they could trigger something to your FF account when you board if they wanted to avoid the paper. But that makes the airlines tickets appear more expensive, which defeats the purpose.

    Talk about the law of unintended consequences, charging for bags is a prime example.

  13. @Swag is absolutely correct. This might be new for DL, but has been in place for at least one of the other Big 3 for some time.

  14. Delta could be just moving complimentary checked bags at the gate as part of the boarding process to the ticket counter – but I suspect they are looking at dropping bag fees in at least some markets and for some customers – without charging for carryons.
    As someone that flies Southwest and Delta, the speed of boarding and deplaning on Southwest is noticeably faster. Since Delta overblocks its flights (adds alot of time to the schedules to ensure they are on-time), gaining time is not likely the reason to drop at least some bag fees.
    The real motivation is likely competitive. Delta knows how much other airlines get in bag fees and they also know how much loyalty Southwest generates by having free checked bags. Being able to tout free checked bags in a market like NYC or Boston or Los Angeles would have huge competitive implications both for potential customers but also for other airline finances.
    Of course Delta is also going to figure out how it can generate more revenue if they drop some bag fees so there is another shoe – but don’t underestimate the power of upending what is one of the most hated parts of the travel experience and which Delta practices even if many of its customers don’t like it.

  15. When flying with Delta Airlines or American Airlines, please remember there are two types of passenger baggage. Carry-on and lost.

  16. This is genius. Business travelers will expense the overhead ‘pass’, and the leisure travelers can decide whether it’s worth the extra 20 bucks per overhead bag.

    Game changer

  17. I’ve often thought that checking bags for free and charging for carry-on’s would speed up the boarding process.

  18. Great idea.

    I typically check bags. I love when i can put my small personal bag in the overhead bin, that frees up tons of space for me and makes my flying experience so much better!

    I hate, even on Southwest where i am a-list, seeing the last people boarding the plane dragging so much crap that i know won’t fit. Convince these people to check more by charging them more.

  19. What a welcome change. Stop forcing vacationers to bring all their stuff with them clogging boarding and deplaning, and charge business people on expense accounts.

    Everyone who has traveled in Asia knows just how much faster and more pleasant it is to travel when people don’t bring all their stuff on board. A full widebody is loaded in 15 minutes flat.

    Airplanes stuck on the ground because people take forever to load and unload don’t make any money, and are just costs down the drain.

    Delta is definitely the only large US airline with a clue about what matters. BTW Spirit has been doing this for ages…rolleyes…

  20. Delta guarantees 20 minute checked bag delivery.

    Now they will also make going through TSA and getting on and off a plane pleasant again.

    A game changer that will put even more distance between flying with them vs. AA/UA.

  21. If people think their flight will take off faster it won’t. If that was the case your current flight will pull out of the gate within 10 minutes of everyone boarding. But logistics ensures that doesn’t happen.

    Faster deplane is likely but I doubt it will be faster by more than 15 minutes and that’s for people in the rear of the plane assuming everyone checks their bag. But that won’t happen because people travel with valuables and they will never check those bags. And I’m willing to bet 1st class, business and status fliers will be exempt.

    The people who will love this the most will be slimy baggage handlers of which there are many. Ultimately I don’t think your dream of speedy onboard and onboard will change in any meaningful way but airlines will have succeeded in sneaking in another fee.

  22. Gotta love all the tough guys saying they wouldn’t fly Delta. Guess what? You wouldn’t have a choice LOL. It’s like saying you’d get your power from somewhere else or find a different gas provider. News flash, these are monopolistic cartels. You have no choice. Oh, and the airlines have already proven all this blah blah blah “I’ll switch airlines” is BS. Remember when United was cancelled because they bloodied that Dr. Yeah, no one remembers or cares at this point.

    Although, there is one demographic that can throw a wrench in any plan and that’s the business traveler. They control the market. If companies reimburse their employees for this fee and build it into their traveler budget, then this will succeed; however, if they dig their heels in, then this won’t last at all. The economic truth hurts.

    tl;dr: No gives a rat’s @ss about the opinions of whiny soccer moms/dads

  23. Interesting. You know there is quite a bit of logic to that — I have seen 777s board in 20 minutes in East Asia, yet Americans struggle to board a 737 in 40 minutes. One key difference is that they usually only have a laptop bag and duty-free (and checked bags are treated with care and speed), whereas we carry-on a whole wardrobe.

    As for the concern about “chaos when boarding” if they introduced paid carry-ons, Spirit handles it pretty easily: paid carry-ons get free priority boarding, so GAs know if you board in a later group, you better have paid for the bag. But, then, I think everyone flying Spirit understands that even the seat costs money.

  24. Know that long list of things that cannot be out in checked bags? So now we are to pay to carry them on board.

    Anybody mind if I check the large number of lithium batteries I carry for all my photography gear?

    AA regional refused to let us carry on even in FC. But kindly gave us a “plastic bag” to drag on multiple lithium batteries in our hands.

  25. So, basically most, if not all, women are going to possibly be charged a carry-on fee (if Delta plans on charging for carry-ons) because they carry a purse? How is that even fair? Besides, I had recently started using a small rolling luggage because of my slightly heavy (too heavy to carry around) camera gear and I’m sure as heck not going to put that in my checked luggage.

  26. Almost forgot to add, they should start weighing people if it’s a weight issue, but we know it’s more of “how can we bring in more money”? A person’s weight, plus carry-on luggage is an unknown amount so there you have it.

  27. Well Julie, you can have your precious camera stuff shipped under separate registered cover and the purse? Your choice. Men don’t get a free mamny bag!
    Equality for all!

  28. If I’m not mistaken, I think United’s cheapest ticket already prohibits carry-ons, no access to the overhead bins, you’re only allowed the area under to seat for small carry-ons like purses. This may be Delta’s experiment to duplicate that.

    Now that I think about it, that’s how Delta would determine who has and hasn’t paid for carry-on status – you’d be assigned a boarding group that is for all the no-carry-on passengers. Elites and those who have paid for carry-ons would board first, those who are in the later groups who try to sneek large carry-ons without paying will have them seized and shredded.

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