Do airlines actually enforce their boarding procedures?

Can I combine two bags to dodge a fee? Do airlines really enforce boarding order? What's the deal with excess valuation? We answer these nagging airfare questions.

Can you dodge extra fees by strapping two bags together? 

Q: I recently took a flight on Jet Blue. When I checked in I was told my second bag would cost $40 each way!  It used to cost $10 each way. First let me say I believe that fees this high should be included in the cost of the ticket instead of trying to hide them from you when you do comparisons on websites.  On the return flight, the nice lady at the counter said she would turn the two bags into one. And with that I started thinking. I asked her to weigh both at the same time They came in at 50 pounds total, so no overweight charge.  So why we can’t strap two bags together and call them one? No fees!

A: Sounds like a great idea, as long as you don’t go over size limits, after which extra fees kick in anyway. If your combined bags measure more than 63 linear inches (width plus length plus height), you’ll start racking up enormous fees. On Delta, for example, that fee will be $175 each way. So it’s not just weight that you need to worry about. So as long as your bags are too big and you’re carrying some duct tape, go for it.

Why doesn't it seem like airlines enforce their boarding procedures? 

Q: Southwest and United these days have boarding groups (I always seem to end up in the last group, for some reason). I also just recently flew Air Canada, and they still board their planes via an automated voice dictating what rows should go after they board the "priority" passengers. I am always shocked at how many people are "priority" passengers (and suspect many of them are not) and I have actually seen plenty of people who board before their group is called or before their rows are called, and yet they are allowed to board whenever they approach the podium. Why do almost all airlines not actually enforce their boarding procedures? I'm okay boarding a little later -- I'm a cheap passenger and don't pay to board earlier -- but I don't like being edged even further back in the process because some people are lying and the people in charge don't call them on it! In the interest of fairness, what can I do? And why does this always happen?

A: I have seen airline personnel enforce these rules, but they don’t make passengers remain seated until their boarding group or row is called. So eager passengers crowd the boarding area, making it difficult for passengers who need to board. I suspect that employees just don’t want to make a scene and the airline doesn’t have the personnel to enforce common courtesy at the boarding area. And you’re right, more and more people have priority boarding, now that you can buy your way to the front of the line with various credit card perks and extra fees.

What is "excess valuation" and is it worth it? 

Q. How does “excess valuation” work when checking a bag on an airline and is it worthwhile to buy it?

A: Excess valuation is basically extra insurance that you can buy when you check in your luggage. It’s over and above any liability that the airline is required to pay if your bag and its contents are lost or damaged. On domestic U.S. flights, the airline’s standard liability is no more than $3300. By paying a relatively small fee, you can up the coverage to $5,000 on most airlines. Delta, for example charges $40 to boost coverage from $3300 to $4000 and an additional $50 for coverage from $4000 to $5000. For most people, it’s not worth buying on domestic flights. But where it’s very useful is for international flights, because airline liability is much less when traveling outside the U.S. Delta, for example, charges $10 for each $1000 of coverage up to $5000. Beware though: you’re still not covered for cash, camera equipment, commercial effects, electronics, jewelry, works of art or other valuables, and the coverage only extends to a Delta destination, the first Delta stopover, or your point of transfer to another airline. You need to buy the coverage each time you check a bag.

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