On a recent trip to the United States, several experiences of air travel made me think about the absurdities of seemingly clearcut decisions that lead to unanticipated results. Economists call these unintended consequences.
Air Canada now charges for checked baggage on flights to the U.S. This is standard practice for U.S. Airlines so, to remain competitive, Air Canada keeps fares lower, but charges for checked baggage.
That, of course, leads passengers to minimize checked luggage which, I suppose, is a good thing, since you pack only those articles that are essential.
This frequently means, however, that gifts you might bring are left behind or reduced in size to meet the limitation on space. I left B.C. wine at home.
Another unintended consequence relates to carry-on baggage. That baggage is not subject to a charge and, as a result, it it is maximized as a means to avoid extra costs. But, while the acceptable dimensions of carry-on baggage are clearly stated, the actual size of much of the carry-on baggage has grown in volume.
This can generate a confrontation between the airline and its customers. When the carry-on is obviously oversized and the clerk at the boarding gate decrees it must be checked and generate a baggage charge, the atmosphere can get rather heated.
Another consequence for rule-abiding passengers is that unless you are able to be among the first into the plane, you may find all the space in the overhead bins filled with carry-ons. There is nothing quite as uncomfortable as having your carry-on articles stowed under the seat in front of you when the trip is lengthy. This is especially so when you stand over six feet.
I think the solution is to have right at the gate, not in some other place in the departure lounge, a box of the maximum permissible dimensions and every carry-on has to be put in it. If the carry-on is too big then it must be either checked or left behind.
The other unpleasant feature of air travel is the security inspection. Empty all your pockets. Take off your watch and jewelry, and belt if it has a metal buckle. Take any laptop out of its carry-on case and don't forget your jacket and, in many airports, your shoes as well.
Do all these rules really increase our safety? Do the vast quantities of information about every passenger crossing the border supplied by the airlines to the Department of Homeland Security serve any useful purpose?
Moreover, would a cost-benefit analysis show a positive number? I doubt it, but the lengthy and unpleasant process provides tangible proof that security is a priority and the travelling public is protected even if it is over-the-top expensive.
The greatest absurdity of it all was a sign in the San Francisco airport. People born before this date in 1937 need not remove their shoes
I can only wonder who came up with that ruling. Do 75-year-olds suddenly become unacceptable candidates for carrying out terrorist attacks? And does this miraculous transformation take place before or after the day of your 75th birthday? What happens if your birthday date is uncertain? Can the security types really detect a difference if you declare your birthday several days before it arrives? Do the officials have access to a database that will allow them to verify the accuracy of your birth date? Or, does this silly sign provide clear proof that people 75 and older complain so much about taking off their shoes that the security gurus decided feel letting them pass still shod is worth the risk? Which just shows the whole shoe bit is a sham.
Certainly the worst unintended consequence is that air travel has lost its appeal. I think we should all stay home and drink B.C. wine.
David Bond is an author and retired bank economist. Email: