You pays your money and you takes your choice

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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Last month Emirates announced an increase to its free baggage allowances for all passengers.

It was a surprisingly unheralded story, which didn’t generate the headlines it deserved. For the move ran precisely against a worryingly strong trend among the airline community that increasingly sees passengers as ancillary revenue-generating units rather than paying guests – and we’re talking about revenue for basic services, not optional pleasures such as shopping. 

In contrast, Emirates knows who its customers are, what its obligations are to them, and how to look after them.

The carrier’s new allowances have been implemented across its extensive network of over 100 destinations globally- 30kg for Economy Class passengers, 40kg for Business and 50kg for First.

“Emirates has moved to these new free baggage levels to further demonstrate our commitment to putting the passenger first. By offering travellers the flexibility to carry significantly more baggage we will be allowing them to take more gifts for family and friends or take advantage of the outstanding shopping in Dubai and across the extensive network of Emirates destinations,” said Nabil Sultan, Emirates Divisional Senior Vice President Revenue Optimisation.

And there’s more. Gold and Silver Members of Skywards, Emirates frequent flyer programme, are entitled to an additional baggage allowance of 16kgs over their ticketed allowance for Gold members and an additional 12kgs for Silver.

Codeshare passengers travelling on Emirates-operated flights are even eligible for the revised free baggage allowances.

Compare the Emirates mentality with that of, say, Ryanair, which decided recently to force its passengers to pack all airside purchases into their single piece of hand luggage, with a maximum weight of 10kg – or face a €30 charge. 

Critically, any airside purchases have to be included in that single bag. So while, say, Luton Airport (more of them later) proclaims assuringly: “Shops, restaurants and bars are open as normal and all purchases can be carried on board your aircraft, although larger items may have to go in the hold of the aircraft”, that is mildly disingenuous as it would appear that “larger items” (if they don’t fit into your first bag) would include many travel retail purchases.

[Here’s the Ryanair policy in full – which certainly makes its position clear: Strictly one item of cabin baggage per passenger (excluding infants) weighing up to 10kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm is permitted (handbag, briefcase, laptop, shop purchases, camera etc.) must be carried in your 1 permitted piece of cabin baggage.]

Alas, Ryanair is not alone in reviewing its hand luggage policy in what is shaping as a major and growing headache for the travel retail sector.

Indeed it seems that many airlines around the world have decided to make money by charging for ‘services’ that were historically free. But while some in the travel retail and airport community understandably (and rightly) cry foul, the sector is not exactly whiter than white itself.

London Luton Airport, for example, recently launched its ‘Priority Lane’ – described as  “as a fast and efficient option for those passengers looking to take the quickest possible route through to security”. 

Or in other words an alternative to the disgraceful, snail-like pace of the airport’s woefully inadequate existing security channels for outbound travellers.

When I travelled through Luton on 27 December 2008, a peak trading day, they only had two security gates out of five operating. The queues were appalling; the impact on dwell time in the (impressive) retail zone a commercial disgrace. When I arrived back from Spain a week later the late-night immigration queue was an utter shambles.

And yet they dare ask for £3 to “enhance the flying experience”.  That is Luton-speak for being able to catch my plane on time or being able to do some duty free shopping before rather than after my plane has taken off.

I am all for encouraging the maximising of non-aeronautical revenues and for aviation industry stakeholders saving prudently on costs. But neither should come at the expense of the consumer’s goodwill nor the credibility of the sector.

Once you start charging consumers to avoid the disasters that are of your own making, or leveraging punitive fees from them for something as integral to the travel experience as shopping, you are on the road to ruin. Or deserve to be.

So let’s applaud those such as Emirates who still understand that they are in the business of transporting paying guests not cattle. Who understand that implicit in the fare that has been paid is a reasonable expectation by the passenger that they can carry a decent amount of baggage – both checked and hand-carried – with them.

The Ryanairs of the world are not full cost carriers, of course, so their checked baggage allowances are understandably modest. But with their attitude to travel retail purchases (made after check-in) they have crossed a line between passenger limits and customer contempt.

Emirates has gone in the other direction. They and any other airline of a similar philosophy deserve our support each and every time we have the option of flying with them. As the old adage goes, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

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