KU Professor Finds Airline Baggage Fees Are Actually Helping You

Sep 9, 2016

It may not seem like checked bag fees would help your flight experience, but a KU professor has found that it actually does.
Credit ivabalk / Pixabay / Public Domain

While some passengers may find the additional fees for carry-on bags to be an annoying part of traveling, a group of economists led by a University of Kansas professor found that these fees have actually had a positive impact on the flying experience as a whole.

Mazhar Arikan, who teaches at KU's School of Business, published the findings in this study

Arikan explained to guest host Brian Ellison on KCUR's Central Standard that his team used data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics to make the report. They looked at things like on-time departures, the number of baggage complaints and overall customer satisfaction before and after the baggage fees went into effect.

While some may expect that fees slowed down flights because more passengers brought carry-on bags, they found that the opposite was true. Checked-luggage fees resulted in fewer bags for airports to process, and loading the plane became faster and more efficient.

“Above the cabin, that’s what we observe,” says Arikan, “but below the cabin, what’s going on regarding baggage handling, security checks, all these complex systems — which are usually labor intensive — we don’t see that. So this is the below-the-cabin effect.”

The most noticeable difference in performance was the improved departure times. Airlines saved an average of two minutes with fewer bags to process. This amount sounds small, but has actually resulted in savings of about $1 billion a year.

Even airlines that do not charge baggage fees have benefited from the new system. Southwest also saw a small improvement in on-time departures.

Southwest shares resources with other airlines, so fewer security checks and fewer bags to handle overall meant a more streamlined boarding process. Arikan’s team estimates that Southwest could potentially save about $35 million a year by charging fees for checked luggage, but right now, the airline has a marketing edge.

Arikan says the new system is better for passengers too. Airlines are now reaching destinations and connecting-flights on time more frequently, and customer satisfaction is higher than it was before the shift.

Customers have changed their packing strategies, opting for more carry-ons over checked bags.

"The causal shift already happened, so wherever you travel, you always think about your carry-on luggage first, not your checked,” says Arikan.

Best of all, there is no reason for airlines to up baggage fees again, says Arikan, so charges can stay stable and customers can continue to reap the benefits.

Caitlin Troutman is an intern at KCUR 89.3.