What? You’re still paying the airlines to carry your bags?

Now that the airlines have raised, yet again, their fees for checked bags, it’s time to take another look at the alternative: shipping your bags, or better yet (if you’re staying in one place once you arrive) just the contents of your bag ahead of your arrival using economical ground shipping services.

Why deal with the airlines, when UPS Ground and FedEx Ground offer better tracking, insurance and security, can be much cheaper in some scenarios, and will actually refund your shipping fee if there’s a delay or loss? No waiting in line at the airport! No pilferage! No schlepping!

Airfarewatchdog.com has looked at four domestic route scenarios (short, medium, and long haul) and compared three shipping services and two airlines (one with high bag fees, and one with low fees) to see how much you can save by not entrusting your bags to the airlines.

As you can see from the chart, depending on route and method, the cost savings achieved from shipping vs. schlepping range from little or nothing to dramatic. But as we explain, even if costs are the same, dealing with a company like FedEx
can be much less stressful than with an airline.

Consider: a single 25-pound suitcase or shipment from Boston to San Francisco by FedEx Ground costs about $31 vs. $23-$25 on Delta or nothing on Southwest.

But once that suitcase weighs over 50 pounds, excess charges kick in on the airlines, even on Southwest: you’d pay $56 for a 55-lb. bag using USPS on that same Boston-San Francisco trip, but twice that on Delta, which adds an extra $90 fee each way for bags weighing over 50 pounds. Even Southwest will charge you $50 each way.

And if your bag is both heavy and oversized (larger than 61-62 linear inches), you’ll get hit with triple jeopardy on some airlines: a fee for the first bag, plus an overweight fee, plus an oversized fee. Such a bag might cost nearly $300 on Delta on a trip from Los Angeles to Seattle vs. under $40 via FedEx Ground.

Also of note: the typical 22-inch rolling suitcase weighs 9-10 lbs. and airlines will shun responsibility for what they consider “normal wear and tear” if the suitcase or its wheel mechanism is damaged in transit. If you’re staying in one place once you arrive, do you really need a suitcase at all? Put your clothes and other personal items in a sturdy box and you’ll pay ground shippers even less than the prices shown in our chart.

But even if the costs are the same airline vs. ground shipping, consider these advantages of shipping:

  • Better tracking: You can track your shipment online step by step. Try that with an airline.
  • Safer: There’s less chance of something going missing or getting damaged.
  • Convenience: you can breeze through the airport without waiting in line to check bags.
  • Responsibility: If an airline loses or delays your bag, they’ll keep your fee and play the blame game. FedEx and UPS will at least refund your shipping fees. Plus, airlines refuse to take responsibility for losing or damaging anything they consider “valuable,” such as electronics or business items. You can insure these items with the shipping services for a small additional fee.
  • Less schlepping: True, you have to either drop off your shipment at a post office, UPS office or store, or FedEx or Kinko’s location (or you can arrange for pick up for a small fee in some cases), but let’s face it: fighting for overhead space is no fun, and lugging luggage through mile-long airport concourses is no fun either.

Clearly, we’ve only given examples for domestic shipping, but USPS Priority Mail rates for international shipping are surprisingly competitive with the airlines’ fees for checking bags on international routes.

And even if you’re the carry-on type, shipping on your next trip may reveal the joys of not fighting for overhead space and saving yourself a shoulder injury from hoisting a heavy bag into same.

Give shipping vs. checking a try next time you fly. You may never pay bag fees again.

George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog™, the most inclusive source of airfare deals that have been researched and verified by experts. Airfarewatchdog compares fares from all airlines and includes the increasing number of airline-site-only and promo code fares.

Southwest and FedEx planes bump wings

A Southwest Airlines jet bound for Albuquerque clipped wings with a Fed Ex cargo jet Sunday at the Salt Lake City Airport. A spokesperson for Southwest said the jet was about to pull back from the gate when it was bumped by the cargo plane. The pilots had not yet started the engine when they felt the “jolt” of the impact, which sliced off a 6-foot section of the plane’s wingtip.

No one was injured, though there was some initial confusion as to what caused what one passenger said felt like “a mini-earthquake”. The passengers were able to move to another plane for take off; the affected jet was repaired and put back in service.

While on the ground collisions between planes are rare, they do happen. A different Southwest plane clipped another passenger jet with its wing back in March.

Plane Answers: How pilots pick an airline, choose their ‘legs’ and avoid DVT.

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Julie asks:

Hi Kent, I love your blog! You have mentioned before the importance of a pilot staying with one airline throughout his career because seniority is everything. Recently, you also noted that some airlines like Air France will even pay for a pilot’s training, which sounds like a nice incentive to try to become their employee.

It seems like there are many different factors to seriously consider before joining an airline, especially since you are hoping to be with the airline for several years.

With all of these factors to think about, how did you choose which airline you wanted to work for when you were just starting out?
Thanks Julie,

It’s nice to be able to target the airline that you want to work for and land that job, but often we don’t usually have that luxury. Generally, you take the first offer you get.

I was incredibly fortunate to get noticed and successfully navigate the interview process with the airline that I most wanted to work for.

Often the airline of choice will vary and today, the freight operators like FedEx and UPS are at the top of most pilots list. Southwest and Alaska have always been favorites of applicants as well.

For me, I wanted the opportunity to fly internationally and to fly more than one type of airplane. I might not be typical of most pilots, but I actually enjoy going to school to learn a new aircraft.

Since we don’t have any large airlines in the U.S. that do the ab initio training (where they take a person and provide all the flight training, from zero time to line pilot), it’s really your flight experience and ratings, along with your work history and education, that the airlines scrutinize.

Fred asks:

I know that on long flights there are relief pilots. Who determines who flies first, who lands the aircraft and are the relief crews required to get shut eye? Also do the flight attendants have relief people?

The captain will occasionally ask the co-pilot which ‘leg’ they’d like, but more often than not, he’ll take the first leg of the trip and we’ll alternate legs after that.

Who’s leg is this?

On flights requiring a relief pilot, unless that pilot hasn’t had a landing in a few months, there are usually just two legs to share, so the relief pilot doesn’t get to fly a leg. When flying as a relief pilot all month, it’s possible to trade for a co-pilot trip every now and then to maintain the requirement for three landings in 90 days.

With regards to the breaks, it’s usually the relief pilot who goes back for the first break. The flying pilot will take the second break so they’re prepared and not rushed to prepare for the approach. The non-flying pilot will then take the last leg, arriving back in the cockpit at least thirty minutes prior.

We’re not required to get some sleep, but the option to sleep if we’re tired is at least provided. Occasionally, when I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I’ll do a little blogging or in the past–before writing for Gadling–I’d catch a movie.

That’s why the FB and the FC, the second relief pilot used on the flights over 12 hours, are known as the “Food Boy” and the “Film Critic.”

The flight attendants don’t have relief crews per se, but after the meal service is complete, and before the second service, they’ll divide up their breaks which may be as little as thirty minutes for a 7 hour flight.

Hey Kent, Regarding DVT, or Deep Vein Thrombosis, is it a concern for pilots? Do you guys have much room to move around up front? Are there measures you take to avoid DVT? Do you really need to?



Hi Ben,

After this became such a public issue, we did give some thought to the ramifications to sitting in an airplane for so many hours at a time.

Most pilots try to drink enough water during the flight, and we occasionally stand up in the cockpit for a moment at cruise and stretch. All of our airplanes have enough room for us to at least stand up.

After September 11th, it’s become a bit of a hassle to use the lavatory, so we try not to overdo it on the water.

Since we have three pilots on the flights scheduled to be 8 hours or more, we’re lucky to get a two hour break in the cabin, which probably helps curb the DVT potential. It’s the transcons that have the potential for pilots to sit for extended periods at a time.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Friday’s Plane Answers

3.5 million bags mishandled last year. Beat the odds.

Here’s a tidbit of news from Today Show travel editor Peter Greenberg — 3.5 million bags were mishandled January to November by U.S. airlines in 2006. No matter the reason, it happens.

Luckily, I’ve never had a bag get lost. Late? Yes. Lost? No. These days, though, more things are ending up where they are not supposed to be because of the airlines. It’s the volume of bags. More people are checking their bags instead of carrying them on in order to get their lotions, toothpaste and other liquids on the plane.

Greenberg’s luggage doesn’t get lost because he ships them ahead via FedEx. He said that the hours he saves not waiting for a bag is worth the money.

Here are highlights of the tips Greenberg recommends to help you keep track of your bag.

  • Put a name tag inside your suitcase as well since tags on the outside can get pulled off.
  • Take a picture of your bag so you can give a better description of what it looks like.

Here are tips from me:

  • Tie a bright ribbon on your suitcase so it stands out from the others. My mom found her bag in a huge pile in a storeroom this way. If you want a high brow look, here is a link to Wishing Fish.com luggage tags featured on Oprah and In Style. They are big and bright.
  • If you are going on a smaller carrier, take you larger carry-on bag with you to the plane’s door. At this point, your bag will be hand placed into the cargo hold and will be given back to you when you step off the plane. This method also works with strollers and car seats. At least it’s worked for me.

If your bag is lost, Greenberg advises that you get the phone number for the baggage claim office at the airport so that you can contact them to check up on your bag’s location. Otherwise, you’ll get the airline’s phone tree — and we know how that goes. Lots of luck with that.