Air travel, something that used to be a luxury for the affluent, has become a chaotic experience for the multitudes. I was just in O’Hare and LaGuardia where oversold flights, insufficient airport seating and understaffed ticket counters contributed to a harried boarding process for all.

But what really made it mayhem was the illogical policy airlines have regarding checked baggage. It makes no sense to me that airlines charge people to check their bags – thus encouraging carry-ons – but have inadequate space to accommodate them. On several legs of my trip, the final boarding group was mandated to check their roller-boards at the gate, thus doing for free what would have cost $25 if the passenger had done it in a timely fashion, but now doing it at the worst possible time and place from an efficiency perspective. It seems crazy that airlines push a practice that delays the process and requires much more manual work by the airline without generating revenue. The last-minute free checking further discourages people from checking their bags for their next trip when they are guaranteed to pay to do so; instead, many people will take their chances that they’ll get a free pass at the gate.

Wouldn’t airlines rather have people check their bags? It would expedite the boarding and deplaning processes and avoid all the last-minute gate checks. It seems to me that they are incentivizing the wrong thing: checked bags should be free and carry-ons that don’t fit under the seat should incur a charge.

The next time you implement a policy, think through what would happen if it worked. What if your policy to encourage one set of behavior was wildly successful: what implications would that have? What are the downsides to a shift in practice and how can you mitigate them? All policies have inherent baggage inherent in their implementation. Your job is to check the negatives and carry on with the positives instead of doing the reverse by default.

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