The Traveller, The Suitcase and the Airline

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The Traveller, The Suitcase and the Airline

For my part I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.
— Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey

The announcement came just in time to brighten the holiday season for United Airline travelers. It had to do with baggage.

Once upon a time airline companies thought that transporting people from point A to point B together with their baggage, all in reasonable comfort, was the reason for their existence. Then they discovered that people were like sardines and could be fit in much smaller spaces than had once been thought possible and so they made the seats smaller and eliminated most of the space between the rows of seats. Then it occurred to them that people would continue to fly even if they were not given food on flights and so they eliminated food. There was, however, one thing about people flying they left untouched. Bags.

Airlines knew that most people traveled with at least one suitcase in order permit toilet articles, a change of clothes and the like to accompany them. They knew that it was almost as important for the suitcase to be on the airplane with the traveler as it was for the traveler to be on the airplane with the suitcase. The two were believed to be inseparable even though they traveled in different parts of the airplane. Of course things did not always work out as planned. Occasionally the traveler and the suitcase found themselves going to different destinations without that having been part of the plan. When that happened the company that owned the airplane on which the baggage had gone astray would locate the bag and eventually return it to the traveler thus creating a joyful reunion between traveler and bag.

Notwithstanding the airplane company’s awareness of the attachment travelers had to their bags, in 2008 they decided that they could make money by charging extra if the suitcase wanted to travel underneath the passenger compartment, as it had grown accustomed to traveling, instead of with its owner, in the passenger compartment. This enabled the airline company to make more money for providing a service it had formerly provided at no charge. If the airlines thought that passengers would like the new system, they were disappointed. Passengers resented being asked to pay for the privilege of checking their suitcases. One airline, mindful of its passenger’s discontent and anxious to please its customers, has come up with a way to restore happiness to traveler and suitcase alike.

In advance of the 2008 holiday travel season this airline sent an e-mail to select passengers advising them of a brand new service it is offering with FedEx Express. The idea is brilliant and plaudits are due United for having been the first to think of it. The e-mail informs the recipient that: “United is the first airline to save you time and money with this simple and convenient service.” The way you save money with this “simple and convenient” service is this.

You pack your suitcase two days before you intend to travel. You then go to your computer, log on to and request that FedEx pick up your suitcase and ship it to your destination. Once it’s in FedEx’s hands it will be shipped to wherever you are flying and will await you on your arrival. When you are ready to return home, you repeat the process.

Not having to schlep your baggage around is not the only benefit of this great new service. United also advises that you have “Convenient online tracking.” Thus, if you arrive at your destination and your suitcase doesn’t, you won’t have to bother the airline with questions or complaints as you do now. Instead, you can locate it online just the way the airplane company does when it misplaces your bag. The e-mail also advises that you can print your own shipping label, which will save you a bit of time. You can also request a refund right on line although it does not describe the event that would entitle you to a refund.

It is easy to see why United is so proud of having finally come up with something to help the traveler instead of depriving the traveler of another amenity to which the traveler had become accustomed. Saving the traveler the time and the effort required for “lugging your luggage around” is not the only benefit of the new program. As pointed out, the e-mail says the new program saves the passenger money (in addition to time..) A future e-mail will probably go into more detail about that. The initial e-mail simply said the service was available “Starting at 149 USD per bag.” The price for doing this on a round trip can be as low as $298. And to top it all off, you will not have to pay the $30 you would have to pay if you checked your bag on a round trip flight. It sure sounds like a good deal. I confess, however, to waiting with a bit of apprehension on what United will conjure up next to make flying an even more pleasant experience.

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at For political commentary see his web page at

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