BUSINESS

Air Canada begins carry-on clampdown in Toronto; extend across country June 8

05/25/2015 06:41 EDT | Updated 05/25/2016 05:59 EDT
Air Canada began its promised crackdown on oversized carry-on baggage on Monday, beginning with passengers checking in for flights in Toronto in a program it plans to expand across the country in about two weeks.

Passengers leaving on early flights from Pearson International Airport faced short lineups to get carry-on bags checked for sized and weight.

Those whose carry-on items met the criteria received a red tag, which the airline says helps reduce wait times at security. Those with articles that exceeded the guidelines faced being stopped at security and sent back to check-in where "standard fees will apply."

Renee Smith-Valade, Air Canada vice-president for customer experience, said extra staff were on hand at both check-in and security checkpoints and passengers moved quickly through the delay.

"Most European, international and U.S. carriers already have a system like this...so we're just coming into line with what most other airlines are already doing," she said in an interview.

The airline declined to say how many customers were turned back for having oversized carry-on luggage but that wait times were five minutes or less and by Monday afternoon not a single customer had missed a flight due the new process.

As the busy summer travel season is set to begin, Smith-Valade said the goal is to efficiently board planes so flights can leave on time. The airline says surveys have shown that on-time departures are the biggest driver of customer satisfaction.

Reaction to the crackdown was mixed on social media.

"It's about time! So many people took advantage of taking too much space in the storage bins," N. MacRae wrote on Twitter.

But someone else said the problem would be solved if the airline raised the ticket price and allowed free checked bags. "Just raise the ticket price by $25 and check-in bags are free.....problem solved," wrote ytzpilot.

Air Canada plans to begin checking and tagging carry-on bags at most other Canadian airports around June 8.

Airlines around the world have seen the number of carry-on bags rise as they implement checked baggage fees.

Air Canada (TSX:AC) began charging a $25 checked-bag fee last fall on its lowest-class domestic flights and on flights to and from the Caribbean and Mexico. Air Canada has charged for a traveller's first checked bag on U.S.-Canada transborder routes since 2011. The fee applies to about 20 per cent of passengers.

"They don't love it understandably," Smith-Valade said of the checked bag fees. "But they understand that we have a competitive industry, that other airlines are doing it, that our domestic competitor introduced it and in order to remain competitive we needed to introduce it as well."

Transport Canada rules allow passengers to carry on two unchecked items.

Air Canada specifies that a personal item can include a backpack, briefcase or laptop computer measuring up to 16 by 33 by 43 centimetres and a standard item such as a suitcase measuring up to 23 by 40 by 55 centimetres, including wheels and handles. The weight limit its 10 kilograms per item.

Those travelling with an infant on their lap can carry on an additional standard article.

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