Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch



May 1, 1984 -- We get letters, and we’re not complaining. We’ve been getting your comments since the first issue back in September of 1980, and the flow has not subsided. I don’t believe there’s a single sign of a publication’s editorial health and focus more significant than a steady stream of unsolicited reader letters. Not only are our letters almost universally favorable to Frequent Flyer, but they are thoughtful, detailed and constructive. They are also decidedly on target and intelligent.

The December issues, at least until now, seem to generate the most response, a phenomenon I am inclined to attribute to the free time and relaxed spirits that the year-end holidays encourage. Whatever the reason or reasons, the December issues bring in the mail; a nice gift for us, incidentally.

Another factor in goading your response mechanism into gear may well lie in the coincidental timing of what we’ve been writing about in that particular month. In 1982 an UP FRONT column attracted a record response. The topic was one induced by reader letters: that the first-class passenger, especially on domestic flights, was not getting his full fare’s worth. Hundreds of you chimed in on that one.

Last December, David Martindale flew his typewriter into the treacherous shoals of carry-on luggage with a major feature, "All aboard the big-bin bandwagon," plus a sidebar on carry-on and safety. The readers jumped right into the fray with a growing tide of submissions to the FF FORUM, as you’ve probably deduced from the February and March issues. Unlike the virtual unanimity on the first-class value commentary, the views on carry-on luggage play both sides of the aisle. Almost every letter has its own nuances or variation beyond the pros or cons.

Here are some excerpts from several that caught our attention:

"…overhead bins have permitted the carry-on baggage to seize the initiative and literally turn the passenger cabin into a major cargo repository. It matters not, winter or summer, the volume of carry-on luggage is burgeoning, without regard to others’ needs…"

"My vote goes to the airline that has enough spunk that only garments (not garment bags), be allowed in the overhead compartments."

"In case of a cabin fire how much additional danger are we exposing ourselves to by having so much luggage and contents stored so close to the passengers?"

"Big bins or not, we support a rule…limiting the number and size of carry-ons…"

"…some business travelers simply are too important in their own eyes; they feel that waiting demeans them."

"People carried on everything but the kitchen sink. I saw suitcases almost as big as my three-suiter and garment bags at least two feet thick."

The baggage carry-on privilege is undoubtedly the one thing most abused by passengers."

I’m sorry that I can only glean a tiny percentage of the comments that we’ve received, but as you’ve read, they embrace a wide gamut ranging from indignation to anger, or hostility to resignation, take your choices. In addition to the excerpts above, our managing editor, Coleman Lollar, was kind enough to categorize the responses, and he came up with these additional insights:

Many passengers would accept iron-clad restrictions on the number and size of pieces to be brought aboard. While a lot of our readers like carry-on, they are getting very moody about other people’s carry-on.

Nonsmokers are angry because smokers are boarded first and they preempt all the overhead storage space.

First-class passengers are upset because economy class carry-on is spilling over into their storage space.

Just about everybody is getting angry that so-called hang-up bags are getting so large they really can’t be classified as garment bags.

Meanwhile, the bins are getting bigger and bigger.

As for me, being up front as I can be, I stand firmly on both—or all—sides of the case. (Just like Billy Martin.) I prefer not to check baggage and risk excessive waiting periods. But I will not carry more than one easily stowable overnight or airline bag into a cabin. Faced with the onerous option of being a pack-mule, I still prefer to take my chances and check the luggage.

There’s no question that the airlines have to take some steps: it’s not only uncomfortable in there, it’s dangerous. I’m referring to the war zone atmosphere that prevails both on getting in and out of the plane, the scramble to find space for the contraband, then the indiscriminate elbows that are used to vacate the overheads and flee once the flight’s landed. Flight attendants and passengers should get combat pay, plus helmet to protect the head and eyes. Ouch!

One partial solution, besides strictly enforced limitations, would be for the airlines to motivate their baggage handlers to get checked luggage to passengers more quickly. Seems to me the delivery time is getting longer.

Anyway, don’t wait any longer to drop us a note, on carry-ons, or anything else for that matter.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.