How to get people on to planes is something we have covered many times on this blog. However, it is always interesting when some airline tries something new. That gets us to Delta’s Early Valet (Airlines try to save time with speedier boarding process, Associated Press, Jun 1).
Delta’s Early Valet service will offer to have airline employees take carry-on bags at the gate and put them in the bins above assigned seats. The airline wants to see if its own workers can load the bins faster than passengers.
The service began Monday on about two dozen flights, and that number is expected to rise steadily during June, Delta spokeswoman Morgan Durrant said.
Early Valet will be offered through August on some departures from Delta’s busiest airports — Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle.
It will be available only on flights that typically have a high number of vacationers. Presumably, business travelers know how to board a plane efficiently. Specially tagged bags will be stowed on the plane before boarding begins, Durrant said.
So does this make sense? Clearly if many passengers already have their bags stored before they board, they should more quickly get to their row and into their seats. That is, once bags are aboard, getting people on should be simpler. Indeed, American has experimented with letting those without carry-ons jump the queue.
The devil, of course, is in the details. While a plane sits at the gate, there is some competition for use its aisles. Loading carry-on bags while the cleaning crew is still aboard is likely problematic. That alone trims down the window in which to pre-load bags without inconveniencing passengers.
The next question is who will do the loading. A domestic flight often just has two agents working the gate handling upgrade requests and such before boarding starts. They will be needed to tag bags that are dropped off. That leaves flight attendants and ramp workers to do the heavy lifting. How much slack do they currently have in their duties to turn around a plane? This valet service shifts work onto the airline and the question becomes whether less time at the gate has a sufficiently high pay off to offset higher labor costs.
A final issue here is whether this is about operational efficiency or revenue extraction. The article does not say whether Delta charges for the service or whether they provide out of the goodness of their hearts. This gets back to the question of whether the service speeds up airplane turnaround time sufficiently. If the gains are big, then it may make sense to provide it for free just to assure that as many people as possible use it.
However, Early Valet doesn’t address the fundamental problem of loading a plane: Space for carry-on bags is finite. If there are more bags that passengers want to put in overhead bins than will fit in overhead bins, departure will be delayed as someone hunts for that last open spot only to have to gate-check their bag. Pre-loading the bags doesn’t change this. If anything, it puts pressure on everyone to participate since if all of a late boarding group surrenders their bags, then everyone in the group in ahead of them should also give up their bag because now they are the one’s likely to have no space left. But then Delta is looking at handling every carry-on bag. That will take a lot of labor. Further, it will create relatively inelastic demand and I cannot imagine them passing up the opportunity to charge for that.