Delta Is Experimenting With Free Checked Bags. Could It Help Speed Up Boarding?

Say goodbye to the fight for overhead space

Suitcase or luggage with conveyor belt in the international airport.
Mongkol Chuewong / Getty Images

The fight to find empty overhead space on a jam-packed flight has long been one of the most stressful parts of air travel, often causing significant delays in scheduled departure times. Now, Delta Air Lines is throwing their weight behind a new pilot project intended to speed up the boarding process: free carry-on bags.

This week, the Atlanta-based carrier launched an initiative prompting more Delta customers to check their carry-ons, avoiding the messy aisle traffic jams caused by lugging bags to their seats. Over the next month, Delta will be sending texts to passengers flying out of Boston Logan International Airport the day of their flight, urging them to check their carry-on bag at no additional cost. Currently, the test is only rolling out to Boston-based passengers.

"Just as we've tested other airport experience modifications over the years, we are conducting a month-long test on select flights from Boston starting the week of Jan. 31, 2022," a Delta spokesman shared in a recent statement. "Select customers who have shared contact information with Delta will receive a text message before arriving at the airport with a proactive offer to check their carry-on bags. Customers will not be required to pay any additional bag fees associated with checking the carry-on bag."

The airline has not yet provided details on how they are selecting the pool of customers who are being offered a free carry-on. No timeline has been provided for the possible expansion of the pilot project to other cities. But it's not the first time Delta has been testing new ways to speed up boarding. In 2015, the carrier experimented with collecting carry-on bags before boarding—a sort of valet service, if you will—and pre-loading them above passenger seats.

The quest for a smoother boarding process doesn't come without risks for airlines. According to a report by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, bag fees contribute a significant amount of revenue to carriers' bottom line: Delta made more than $1 billion in bag fees in 2019.

Still, the benefits could outweigh any gamble. Slower boarding times due to ongoing carry-on struggles could lead to more delays and fewer flights per day. With travel industry turbulence not expected to end anytime soon, finding a solution to ensure a fast and efficient boarding process could provide ample opportunity to ramp up service and profitability.

Article Sources
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  1. Thrifty Traveler "Delta Is Trying Out Something New to Speed Up Boarding." February 2, 2022.

  2. Savannah Morning News. "Airlines Try to Save Time With Speedier Boarding Process." June 1, 2015.

  3. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. "Baggage Fees by Airline 2019." Retrieved February 4, 2022.