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Checked-Baggage Fees May Be Doing You a Favor

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Between long lines, totalitarian shampoo restrictions, and the disappearance of in-flight meals, air travel has never felt like more of a hassle. But researchers say one common frustration may be worth it: Their study of domestic flights, published in the journal Management Science, found that charging baggage fees makes domestic flights more likely to depart on time.

The baggage-fee concept began in early 2007 when discount carrier Spirit Airlines started charging passengers for their second checked bag. A few months later, they expanded the policy to include all checked baggage. Other airlines took notice, and by December 2008, almost every major domestic airline had jumped aboard the luggage-fee bandwagon.

Passengers were understandably irritated. Charging additional fees on top of already expensive ticket prices felt like adding insult to injury, and for what? So corporations could squeeze even more money out of helpless travelers?

Partially, yes. In the first year alone, U.S. airlines raked in more than a billion dollars in baggage fees. But listen, the airlines protested as they swam through piles of money like Scrooge McDuck. We’re doing this for your own good. They claimed the fees would discourage people from checking their baggage. With a lower volume of suitcases to transfer between flights, baggage handlers could work faster, thereby getting flights off the ground closer to their scheduled departure times.

Consumers weren’t buying it, a fact the few remaining fee-free airlines decided to exploit. Southwest Airlines launched an ad campaign that declared, “Fees Don’t Fly with Us,” followed by “Bags Fly Free.” Critics argued that discouraging checked baggage would lead to overstuffed carry-ons, which would result in more delays, not fewer.

As it turns out, the fee-positive airlines were right. A team of researchers from four U.S. universities analyzed airline profits, flight delays, and customer service complaints from May 2007 to May 2009 (the period before, during, and after most major airlines started charging fees).

They found that luggage fees reduced flight delays for all domestic airlines—even those that didn’t charge—by 1.3 to 2 minutes. Airlines improved their median departure time between 3.3 to 4.2 minutes. "Because passengers changed their behavior, less weight went into the plane below the cabin," co-author and management expert Mazhar Arikan said in a press statement. "This offset any changes in carry-on luggage, and it helped airlines improve their on-time departure performance. The below-the-cabin effect dominates the above-the-cabin effect."

Because flights were more likely to leave on time, the implementation of baggage fees also decreased the number of customer service complaints.

Sadly, Southwest’s smug ad campaigns came back to bite them in the rear compartment. While they did experience a boost in on-time departures, their boost was smaller than other airlines. Anybody with baggage suddenly had an incentive to fly Southwest, and regular Southwest passengers still had no reason not to bring luggage. The researchers say the delays are costing the airline about $59 million each year.

It’s still true that airlines are looking out for their own bottom lines. But in this case, that may not be such a bad thing.

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Hate Waiting at Baggage Claim? Here's How to Make Sure Your Suitcase Arrives First
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Air travel involves plenty of waiting, from standing in long security lines to preparing for takeoff. And even after you land, your trip is stalled until you locate your luggage on the carousel. Luckily for impatient fliers, there are several ways to game the system and ensure a speedy suitcase delivery once you step off the plane, according to Travel + Leisure.

To score true VIP luggage treatment, ask the representative behind the check-in counter if they can attach a “fragile” sticker to your bag. Suitcases with these kinds of labels are often loaded last and unloaded first. (Plus, they receive the type of kid-glove treatment that ultimately helps them last longer.)

Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need a new tag each time you fly. If it looks old, or was issued by a different airline, the crew might not pay attention to it, according to Condé Nast Traveler. Also, consider upping your suitcase game, as quality, hard-shell bags look like they contain delicate or important items. Their appearance—along with the fragile sticker—will inspire baggage handlers to give them special treatment.

Another trick that can shave a few minutes off your wait time is making sure you're the last person to check in, instead of rushing to be first. If you can't resist getting to the airport early, try asking if you can check it at the gate. This could make your bag one of the last on the plane, and thus one of the first taken out. This method isn't surefire, however, as loading and unloading systems vary among flights.

And if all else fails, Thrillist advises that you try upgrading your flight. Some airlines give priority to bags that belong to elite travelers and business class, meaning they’ll be stored separately from other luggage and come out first. Good luck! No matter what happens, at least you can't have it worse than the lady who had to wait 20 years for her bag to show up.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Google Maps Is Getting a Makeover With More Icons and Colors
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Prepare to get used to some big changes to your Google Maps app. The tech giant announced in a blog post that it’s changing the tool’s design to better highlight information that’s relevant to your journey.

The first update can be seen when switching between modes of transportation. If you’re driving from your home to work, for example, Maps will show you gas stations along your route, but switch to public transit and train stations will pop up instead.

The app’s color scheme has also been given a makeover. All points of interest (POI) that appear on the map are now color-coded. Looking for the nearest restaurant? Food and drink POI are orange. Need some retail therapy? Shopping icons are blue. Hospitals (pink), churches (gray), outdoor spaces (green), and more are included in the new system.

Within the larger categories, Google has introduced dozens of specialized icons to indicate subcategories. Banks are marked with a dollar sign, cafes with a coffee cup, etc.

“The world is an ever-evolving place,” Google Maps product manager Liz Hunt wrote in the blog post. “Now, we’re updating Google Maps with a new look that better reflects your world, right now.”

This overhaul is the latest way Google Maps is evolving to make life more convenient for its users. In the past year, the app has rolled out features that allow you to locate your parked car and to check how crowded attractions are at certain times. The new design changes will start appearing over the next few weeks.

Phones with maps app open.
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Color key for Google Maps.
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