The Gate-Check Line Dance Debacle

Of all the terms associated with airline travel, one of the most apropos these days has to be “gangway.” The gangway, of course, is the narrow passageway through which passengers board and exit the aircraft. Thanks to ever-increasing checked baggage fees and liberal gate-check policies, the gangway has literally become the place where gangs of impatient business travelers gather to snatch up their bags as they are offloaded—one-by-one—by a single, orange-vested airline employee. Indeed, on one recent, regional flight, I counted over 30 passengers—more than half the airplane’s capacity—lining the walls of the gangway, awaiting their gate-checked luggage. It was a scene more reminiscent of a classic Soul Train Line Dance than an efficient model of 21st century travel.

While the impatient business traveler in me would hate to see gate-checking restricted, the PR pro/marketer in me has some serious reservations about the evolution of gangways from boarding hallways into a primary baggage claim areas. 



1. Space. When I first began flying over two decades ago, I only recall gate checking luggage when the cabin’s overhead bins were full. Today, however, the proliferation of smaller, regional aircraft and $25+ checked baggage fees have created incentives for every traveler to gate-check their luggage. As a result, gangways are now crowded with luggage as passengers board and with passengers post-flight. It’s a bit like a poorly designed cattle chute that trumps the intended the brand experience. Calling Temple Grandin

2. Safety. As the number of passengers in the gangway post-flight has increased, so, too, has the number of nicked shins, stomped toes, and aggravated faces. Gangways are simply not designed to accommodate two rows of passengers and an aisle for exiting passengers. At some point, this load is going to cause something—or someone—to snap. Woe to the airline who inherits that PR nightmare. 

3. Delay. At a time when flights are filled to capacity and flight delays the subject of passenger and governmental scrutiny, it’s worth questioning whether the wait for gate-checked luggage on the gangway is negatively impacting flight turn-around times. I certainly can’t think it’s increasing the next flight’s boarding efficiency. 

4. Abuse. I feel for the flight attendants who have to deal with traveler after traveler who utters the line, “But it fit on my last flight.” Their jobs have become infinitely more difficult thanks to checked baggage fees because they’re now having to play bad cop to every passenger who tries to skirt the rules and board with too many bags or a bag that’s too big. They then have to swim upstream, through a narrow aisle to gate-check the passenger’s bag—which is really no punishment at all as it will be waiting gate-side when they arrive. Frankly, with such confrontations awaiting them every flight, it’s surprising that more flight attendants don’t crack open a cold one, inflate the emergency chute, and slide off into the sunset. The baggage policies are facilitating their constant abuse. 

At a time when social media makes every employee a marketer and every passenger a potential reporter, it’s high time for airlines to reexamine the gang activity on their gangways. They are a brewing recipe for disaster—which makes them a marketing and PR problem. Sadly, the only question is whether it’s going to take a major incident to facilitate the change. 

In the meantime, I guess it’s up to passengers to crank up the Curtis Mayfield, and enjoy the complimentary gangway line dance offered free at the end of every flight.

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