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British Airways Will Use Subtle Subliminal Messaging in Attempt to Manage Mountains of Hand Luggage

British Airways Will Use Subtle Subliminal Messaging in Attempt to Manage Mountains of Hand Luggage

a group of airplanes on a runway

British Airways has a problem on its hands. Okay, it’s juggling far more than one problem, but one of the many issues vexing leaders at the embattled flag carrier is the mountains of hand luggage that passengers increasingly try to bring onboard with them.

Critics could well argue that this is a problem of BA’s own making. After all, like many airlines, British Airways has introduced basic economy fares that don’t include a checked bag, while even passengers with a ticket that includes checked luggage might not want to do so because of BA’s reputation for losing bags.

Photo Credit: British Airways
Photo Credit: British Airways

The problem with so much hand luggage is that on most single-aisle jets that are more than just a couple of years old, there’s simply not enough space in the overhead lockers for all this baggage that passengers are trying to bring onboard with them.

And even when there is, technically, enough space, boarding turns into a time-consuming game of Tetris as passengers and crew try to fit everything into overhead lockers while arguing with passengers over whether any more of the little legroom they’ve been afforded should be taken up by rucksacks, coats and shopping bags.

It’s time that British Airways, or any airline for that matter, doesn’t have. No doubt, there are plenty of airline executives who enviously look on at Japanese carriers that manage to board a widebody jet in just 15 minutes (sometimes even less), but that is a mere pipe dream in the West.

While such speedy boarding might not be realistic in most other cultures, some airlines have attempted to address the root cause of the interminable boarding process that seems to afflict European and U.S. carriers.

And that means getting tough on the mountains of hand luggage. Ryanair springs to mind for its ability to enforce strict hand luggage limits, which, while unpopular, mean passengers can board quickly and still have space in the overhead lockers for an on-time departure.

Last week, Finnair became the latest carrier to clamp down on hand luggage because punctuality was starting to slip further and further. The measures will involve gate agents keeping a watchful eye over how much luggage passengers have with them and challenging anyone who dares to bring more than their allotted amount.

It’s a policy that, while well-intentioned and clearly with purpose, is bound to end in arguments and resentment. That’s possibly why British Airways is going to try a different approach.

The airline isn’t going to reduce its generous hand luggage allowance, but there will a very subtle change in how gate agents manage bags that aren’t meant to go in the overhead locker and those that BA would rather passengers put under the seat in front of them.

In the past, gate agents tagged smaller bags that were meant to be placed under the seat in front of them. The subtle change will see gate agents instead tag means that are allowed to go into the overhead locker.

The idea is that the messaging will subliminally indicate to passengers that only tagged bags can be placed into the overhead lockers. Will it work? Well, BA plans to run a short trial on a handful of routes, including Amsterdam, Barcelona and Madrid, in order to find out.

The other obvious but far more expensive solution to this issue is to fit out aircraft with supersized lockers that can swallow up hand luggage – enough for one carry-on per passenger.

Brand-new aircraft usually come with these lockers as standard, but aircraft can have a useful lifespan of between 20 and 30 years. Thankfully, some airlines are spending the money to retrofit these older jets with modern-day amenities – United Airlines is one of them. Finnair and British Airways are not among them.

View Comments (4)
  • Great, so as someone who checks a bag, packs lightly and takes the bare minimum on board, my bag will have to go under the seat, costing me my legroom, whilst everyone else saves a few quid by taking onboard everything but the kitchen sink, which only fits in the lockers. At least with the yellow tags I could remove them. BA are disincentivising the right behaviours here and it’s making it an unpleasant choice to fly with.

    • The smaller bag is meant to go under your seat like it does with any other airline . It shouldn’t be put into the lockers only wheelie bags should. This will only be a change on busy flights to enable them to get away on time . Your legroom will not be affected by a small rucksack it’s about on time performance which is key

  • Delta sent me a text message asking if I would be willing to check my rolling suitcase carry on for free prior to tsa. security, free of charge. The message was sent a few hours before flight. You could reply yes or no to the message. This was on a flight out of Tampa airport.

  • Tagging hand luggage that can go into the overhead bin will ENCOURAGE larger bags instead. Who wants to sacrifice their leg room to allow larger bags in the bins?

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