Europe Considers Declaring Airline Carry On Bags A Basic Human Right

Europe’s parliament wants to ban airlines from charging for carry on bags. This would benefit large national airlines at the expense of discounters and drive up price, just like the push in France to outright ban the low prices that carriers like Ryanair and easyJet charge.

To the proposal’s advocates, it’s a matter of basic human rights.

“You cannot commoditize a right, nor have a business model that inflates profits by dint of trampling on consumer rights,” said Spanish Renew MEP Jordi Cañas, who pushed for the free-of-charge element to be included in the resolution and said he was frustrated by carriers “repeatedly carrying out abusive practices against European citizens’ rights.”

The notion that carry on bags are a ‘right’ is under-specified here. The claim is that is it impermissible to sell a ticket merely for travel between two points – that any ticket must sell a bundle of rights including carry on baggage.

But where does this notion of rights come from? For instance,

  • Divine Origin: Some believe rights are give by God.

  • Rationality John Locke and Immanuel Kant derive rights from reason, and these rights can be deduced from logical analysis.

  • Biologically-sourced: evolutionary outcomes fostering social cohesion and individual well-being – stemming from biological needs and instincts.

In each of these theories, rights predate the very existence of commercial air travel. So in the 19th century our rights were being violated! United Airlines née United Aircraft and Transport didn’t exist yet, and that in itself was violating our rights!

And if carry on bags are a right then being required to gate check bags because overhead bins are full violates our rights. At a minimum failing to install larger bins is a human rights violation. But since those bins can fill up too, isn’t the very design of an Airbus aircraft an affront to all of humanity? This notion of carry on bags as fundamental right gets real silly real fast.

In fact, though, this is already consistent with a ruling from the European Court of Justice which claimed in 2014 that carry on bags of “reasonable” weight and reasonable size are a “necessary” part of air travel, and anything necessary should be free.

Proponents argue that different airlines should not be able to have different policies for bags, which sort of undercuts the very idea of market competition (perhaps Europe should shut down its competition regulator, though if you do believe that a fundamental right exists it makes sense not to allow a ‘race to the bottom’ violating rights).

It’s fair, though, to complain that low headline prices lead consumers to think they’re getting a better deal – a function of how airfares are sold. There’s been insufficient innovation along these lines over the past several decades, but requiring product homogeneity won’t deliver greater product innovation.

Moreover requiring airlines to carry bags free, driving down the cost of bringing such a bag to zero, encourages bringing more onto an airline – which requires more fuel – and isn’t very on-brand for a European concern over minimizing fossil fuel burn.

Bad for the environment, good for Air France, and a tragedy for consumers and a connected world – all things that Europeans might think their governments are morally obligated to do, rather than to prevent it seems.

(HT: @s8mb)

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, 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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  1. It is a matter of fundamental human and passenger rights that Ryanair and easyJet offer a sufficient quantity of complementary toilet paper on every flight in their aircraft lavatories.

  2. Gotta love those Europeans!
    Ya think they would have focused on leg/knee room first…..

  3. “In each of these theories, rights predate the very existence of commercial air travel. So in the 19th century our rights were being violated! United Airlines née United Aircraft and Transport didn’t exist yet, and that in itself was violating our rights!”

    Don’t be ridiculous. Lots of rights emerge as new technology emerges. I would argue there’s a right to medical care, even though most of modern medicine didn’t exist centuries or even decades ago. I don’t personally think having a carry-on is a basic human right, but it’s really obvious that “basic human rights” evolve as technology evolves.

  4. Some passengers who show up at the gate at some European airports with tiny carry-on bags with wheels are told during boarding that they aren’t entitled to any cabin baggage even when the flights had plenty of overhead space. When they ask the airline agents what to do, some of the agents are less than helpful. This may be the airlines trying to train the customers but it’s annoying even to some of us for whom there is included cabin baggage allowance still.

    Personally, I welcome a move to require airlines to allow at least a certain minimum amount of cabin baggage per passenger. The airline monetization of cabin baggage just makes it more difficult for many consumers to know what they are getting when they see a ticket price advertised.

  5. Oh please Gary! It’s too early in the morning to be tilting at philosophical windmills.

  6. I don’t know if a carry-on bag is a right but if you are allowed one per your ticket and then have to check it, you should get compensation. Once it starts costing the airlines extra money, they will stop people from boarding with more than the published maximum sized carry-on and personal item.

  7. @Dave – your theory of rights is pretty under-articulated, though. A right to medical care is an obligation to, say, a doctor to provide it. So you need to explain in your theory how your right doesn’t just protect you from someone, but makes them subservient to you, right?

    And how much of themselves does each doctor have an obligation to contribute to satisfy your rights and those of others? How much of their talent belongs to them and how much belongs to others?

    There are gradations of obligations that are below that of full rights! Health care may fall within that.

    Now, I did not lay out all possible theories of rights! And there are theories where health care is a right, but I find the logical implications of those troubling. If we must go there…

  8. I sympathize with your attempt to have a semi-serious discussion about what really constitutes a human right, Gary, but you are wasting your time trying to do this with the current crop of our “elite” university grads. They are only capable of regurgitating what they learned during the years of socialist indoctrination during their time in school- and if they want something that others have, it is someones else’s responsibility to give it to them (and right now)

  9. Carrying a bag in someone else’s car/train/plane is absolutely not a human right. Left side politics over-controlling business to “help the consumer “ will bring disastrous long term effects. I can’t freaking believe governments are trying to claim a bag is a human right.

  10. Consumer protection laws — including those about what is to be included with some goods or services sold and how drip-pricing — have not all brought disastrous long-term effects for market participants.

  11. What a foolish article. “Consumer rights” are not “human rights” and no one quoted in the article makes that claim.

    Positive law creates innumerable rights that are neither divine nor deductible from reason nor derived from biology.

    There is no human right to own assault rifles, but at least the Supreme Court believes that such a right is conferred by the Second Amendment.

  12. JetBlue from JFK to UVF. The Not European FA jells at me I must put my second cabin lunge under the seat. It was my wife’s cabin luggage and I was just trying to be the European gentlemen I am.

  13. Burke. Rights exist in law (with a view toward what has traditionally been determined to be a right).

  14. That title is one of the worst clickbaits I’ve ever seen and is the cause for the flame in comments.

    Of course no one wants to declare carryo-ns a human right. They simply want to mandate including them in the ticket price.

  15. Weird, to me charging for carry-on is a competitive advantage to low cost carriers.
    I actually like several European ULCC’s as the bins are not cramped full, I can choose a seat up front for a modest cost and they have limited service with carts so don’t bump me sitting in an aisle seat. Terrific for a 1-2 hour intra European flight.
    In North America if we only had good regulatory measures for on time performance- that is something that should be examined as airlines advertise to get you somewhere and then are delayed by hours…. that is the biggest issue facing consumers

  16. I thought the EU already did regulate carry-on limits, I recall about 10-15 years ago they ruled that all passengers should be allowed to have one bag of purchases from the airport in addition to the usual baggage allowance for the airline. It was presumably to protect revenue for businesses at the airport rather than for the customer, but it was still welcome.

  17. Leftists think if they declare it a right, then it just magically appears. Here’s a clue: if your so called “right” is dependent on somebody else doing something for you against their will, it’s not a right.

  18. Rights arise from laws and regulations and arguably even perceptions, if they aren’t natural rights to begin with. And rights that become memorialized as part of the body law may indeed be dependent upon somebody else doing something for you against their will but having to do so because a law or regulation legally requires them to do so.

  19. @GUW
    You seem to think if someone calls something a right then it’s a right. No right for one individual can be the responsibility of another to fulfill… otherwise what then of the other’s rights? Sure you can pass laws that force people to do things against their will, but calling that a right is just spin.

  20. No, Mantis, it may seem that way to you but if you read my words carefully and understood them you would see it’s more complicated.

    One of the first steps for there to be a right memorialized in the body law is for some to identify what they want as a right and refer to what they want to be a right as a right.

    Some rights do force others to do things against their will because the law requires it be done or risk punishment. For example, the right to use privately-owner public accommodations without being subject to unlawful discrimination does infringe upon what some biased property owners/managers would otherwise do if not for laws and regulations prohibiting such discrimination.

  21. The idea that charging for something that was once free is “innovation” is a rather disturbing comment on the system in which we live, and, to use your term, pure homogeneity. You’re so far into it, convincing yourself that it’s “market competition” when in reality it is, as you also said, a race to the bottom. The consumer always loses out to the profit of the shareholder; a fundamental flaw in the corporate structure. God forbid someone tries to reign in greed.

  22. They got it wrong. It’s the checked bag should always be included (yes, as a right).

    Regulating “optional” extras is nothing new: restaurants attempted to charge for tap water, and all US States have laws against that. Thank goodness the deregulation zealots haven’t (yet?) overturned this right.

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