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Airline News Update

We’ve seen a flurry of airline announcements over the last few weeks. And in this industry, when one big line announces some new initiative—especially when it’s a bad idea—the other giants are very likely to follow. Among the more important developments for consumers:

United to Enforce Carry-On Baggage Rules: United airlines announced that agents overseeing the boarding process will start enforcing the line’s longstanding rules on carry-on baggage size:

  • One bag, no larger than 9″ x 14″ x 22″ inches, to be stowed in the overhead bin.
  • One “personal item,” such as a briefcase, purse, or computer bag, no larger than 9″ x 10″ x 17″ and small enough to fit under the seat.

United will install more templates, both pre-security and at the boarding area, so you can make sure your bag will conform to United’s rules before you get on the plane. To avoid paying a checked-bag fee, some travelers have been gaming the system by deliberately schlepping an oversized bag to the boarding gate, where they know the agent will reject it and require a gate check but not require the traveler to pay the check fee. United warns that, in the future, travelers trying to board with oversized bags may be sent back to the bag-checking area, which means leaving and reentering security.

One of the reasons for the rule is to assure enough overhead-bin capacity to handle a full plane. And in my experience, the real problem is with the “personal” bag rather than the primary bag. I often see travelers board with “double-decker” carry-ons: a conforming wheeled suitcase, with another bag, almost as big—and far too large to fit under a seat—stacked on top. That bag, too, goes in the overhead bin.

Whether other big airlines copy is uncertain. Yes, they have similar rules, but they’re also loath to offend the many frequent business travelers who often exceed limits.

Lufthansa Adopts Premium Economy: Starting this November, Lufthansa will equip its long-haul planes with a premium-economy seating option. Lufthansa’s version will be one of the better ones: almost four inches of addition width and a generous 38-inch pitch. And travelers will enjoy upgraded cabin service and two no-charge checked bags. It will also be one of the more expensive ones, with fares somewhere near double regular economy fares; I couldn’t find any specifics online yet.

This is not an innovation by Lufthansa; it’s playing catch-up with its major competitors. Air France, British Airways, SAS, Virgin Atlantic, and other big lines already offer comparable products.

Delta’s New Mileage Award Chart: Following its earlier announcement of a drastically revamped system for earning frequent-flyer miles based on dollars spent rather than miles flown, Delta has now published its 2015 award chart:

  • Instead of the previous three levels, Delta’s program will now have five: the original three plus two intermediate levels.
  • Most awards will not change; a few will go down slightly, and the only increases will be in the top-level awards within the continental U.S., Alaska, and Canada.
  • One-way awards will be available for the first time.

Of course, the award levels don’t mean anything unless they’re coupled with availability of seats. Delta, with a reputation as being the stingiest major line with seats, says it will “improve” availability. Let’s hope.

Other big lines may or may not adopt Delta’s multitiered award system. But it’s hard to see how American and United, at least, won’t switch to dollar-based mileage earning. That system heavily favors business travelers on expensive tickets—and those are the travelers all the big lines are chasing.

American Drops Bereavement Fares: American will no longer offer special fares for travelers heading to funerals or hospital rooms of critically ill family members. Although this announcement got a lot of play, it’s really trivial: American’s bereavement fare provided such a small discount that it was hardly worth using. Instead, when you need a last-minute ticket—for any reason—go for a low-fare line, even if you have to drive a long way to the airport.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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