Airline’s valet locker service
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London - It is a perennial annoyance for air travellers: you squeeze past other passengers on the plane and finally take your seat - only to find all the overhead locker space has been taken and there is nowhere to put your bag.
But frustrated flyers could soon be a thing of the past as one American airline is offering a “pre-load” service for hand luggage on certain flights this summer.
The new Early Valet system from Delta on busy US routes offers passengers the chance to have a steward take their luggage from them at the gate and place it in the compartment above their seat.
The hope is that the new system will reduce the scramble as passengers battle for space in overhead compartments.
Airlines often tweak their boarding and luggage procedures to reduce delays and cut aircraft turnaround time, with competing schools of thought focusing on assigned and free-for-all seating systems.
Raymond Kollau, founder of Amsterdam-based research agency Airlinetrends, said: “This is another example of how airlines are looking for creative solutions to this issue, as no magic solution has been found yet. For example, other airlines have come up with algorithms to determine the best sequence of boarding, or let passengers without hand luggage board first.”
In the UK, several budget firms, including EasyJet and Ryanair, have already experimented with encouraging customers to purchase their own approved carry-on luggage to speed up the process. Other airlines have tried letting passengers board early if they do not have aisle-clogging bags.
The American scheme follows moves in Europe to abolish free-for-all boarding to speed up departures and save money. In 2012, EasyJet attempted to end the desperate rush for prime seats on low-cost flights by launching allocated seating across its network. Ryanair followed a year later, scrapping its free-for-all seating policy, while offering passengers the chance to sit together if they paid £5 (about R100).
Last year, Dutch airline KLM introduced a process called Smart Boarding. Passengers are issued with a boarding number and called forward by large screens, which only allow one person at a time to board.
The Delta service is being introduced this week after trials last summer in Atlanta and Los Angeles. It follows research that showed every minute a plane stands idle at the gate costs the airline £20.
Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent-flyer website MilePoint, said the service would be of the biggest benefit to passengers who were running late. He added: “This has the potential to come across as a nice, high-end service, but I'm sceptical that it will go mainstream.”