Reader Lane E. passes on a new US Airways baggage policy that I do not like one bit.
As a result of a new mandate by the Department of Transportation, US Airways has made the following change (effective 8/1/12) to the interline baggage check procedures:
Interline through baggage check discontinued
Effective July 24, the DOT has mandated new baggage rules requiring that airline passengers must pay the same published baggage fees and have the same allowances for their entire itinerary. As a result of this new policy, effective August 1, 2012 US Airways will no longer be through checking passengers’ bags when they have been ticketed on separate tickets. For interline itineraries where the passenger has his/her entire journey on one ticket, we will continue our practice as it is done today, but when the tickets are split (e.g. ticket 1 US PHX-HNL // ticket 2 HA HNL-LIH) we will only check the bag to the destination on the US ticket.
To be clear, the Department of Transportation is not mandating this change. A government rule limits US Airways’ ability to charge its own baggage fees when interlining bags on separate tickets, so they will simply no longer interline bags on separate tickets. The customer pays more baggage fees. The customer has to pick up and re-check bags.
On the one hand, it’s an unintended consequence of well-meaning regulation, and perhaps we ought to scream at DOT. On the other hand it’s hard to be sympathetic with US Airways when they’re simply inconveniencing their customers (and when the marginal cost of interlining the bag is pretty much nil, once they’re set up to interline at all, and when they’re better positioned to fight DOT rules than affected passengers are).
This may seem like it’s pretty obscure but for the times that it matters, it really matters.
Say you use US Airways miles to book Charlotte – Munich – Istanbul on Lufthansa in business class. You’re actually flying out of Tampa, but there were no award seats available for Tampa – Charlotte, so you buy a US Airways ticket for that segment.
US Airways won’t through-check your bags onto Lufthansa, even though both trips are on US Airways tickets. You have to check your bags Tampa – Charlotte (and if it’s a coach ticket and you have no status, pay baggage fees), collect your bags in Charlotte, and re-check them in with Lufthansa.
Which also means that you need to increase your connection time in Charlotte to allow for baggage claim, checking back in, and re-clearing security.
And it’s increasingly the case, as flights are full, that you need to buy a short domestic segment when booking an award ticket rather than finding every segment you want available. It’s usually worth doing so — you get business class long-haul for your miles and may have to come out of pocket a couple hundred bucks, but far less than the cost of a paid coach ticket, while flying in a forward cabin. Full flights make award seats harder to get, so customers have to pay the airline more for part of their trip than before, and pay more for checked bags, and have to be inconvenienced by US Airways refusing to transfer their bags to the next carrier even when that carrier is a Star Alliance partner.
Sometimes as well I’ll buy part of a trip, and ticket the rest later. Maybe it’s an award with British Airways Avios points, and they charge for each segment. So I grab the major portion of my trip but I’m going to ticket the rest separately since I’d have to pay more miles anyway. If I’m checking bags I don’t want to ticket the connecting flight (maybe from Washington’s National airport, my home airport which US Airways dominates, to the international gateway city) on US Airways.
Or there might be a good business class paid fare originating from a particular city, but you can’t price it with add-on segments from where you’re starting your journey so you have to ticket that separately.
This is a terribly customer-unfriendly move and one which would cause me to book away from US Airways. It’s also something that the median traveler would have no idea to expect, since it’s not a standard policy for a major airline, it’s a change in policy that isn’t even currently reflected on the US Airways website, and isn’t something that you’ll learn from Expedia or Orbitz either. How many travel agents will even be on top of this sort of thing?
Doug Parker claims that consumers are clamoring for a merger between US Airways and American because of the significant benefits that they’ll get. I haven’t seen any data at all to suggest that’s true. But even if it is (it isn’t), it would be based on a misunderstanding of what they’re getting.
The last time I flew US Airways cross country, admittedly a year ago, I had plastic cups for wine in first class. This is an airline that charges a change fee for any change to an award ticket, including upgrading a reservation to business class when you’ve already paid business class miles but that class of service wasn’t available on a single segment of an itinerary but opens up later. (Ok, you can often call back and avoid the fee by finding an agent who won’t charge it, but that’s another ‘feature’ of US Airways — agents who have no idea what they’er doing.) They allow no changes to awards after departure of first segment, and it’s not possible to book a one-way Star Alliance award with them either.
Granted they’ve improved their on-time performance, they’ve added first class to a good chunk of their regional fleet (a product several notches below their competitors), and will finally be getting inflight wifi.
But their policies are frequently closer to Spirit’s than to American’s, this new one is a good example, and a reason why I dread their taking over their larger competitor.