Fees for carry-on luggage make much more sense.
"With record-breaking fuel prices, we must pursue new revenue opportunities while continuing to offer competitive fares, by tailoring our products and services around what our customers value most and are willing to pay for," a United official explained.
On the surface, that seems like a reasonable rationale and business strategy. But anyone who flies regularly knows what a disaster this will be.
Many passengers will simply avoid the fees by stuffing more and more of their belongings into the cabin. With overhead compartment and seat space already scarce, this policy could turn many flight boardings into a running of the bulls.
The new fees are also bad PR at a time of economic uncertainty. In most cases, they won't even apply to laptop-toting business travelers and first-class patrons. Instead, they'll end up being a heavy tax on families and other economy-class travelers.
It doesn't have to be this way. Instead of charging for checked bags, airlines could probably raise more revenue and improve the quality of the flight experience by doing just the opposite: charging for carry-on luggage.
Under this arrangement, flyers determined to keep their bags within arm's reach can pay a premium to do so. And those who want to save money can do so by checking bags free of charge.