Tuesday, July 10, 2007

NWA not making it any easier!

On July 4, 2007 the following letter was sent from Northwest Airlines to all Saipan tour companies

Effective today, all passengers with diving bags will be charged $28.00 per dive bag and will be able to carry up to 70lbs per diving bag.

Diving bags are now not apart of the free baggage allowance. Baggage allowance is two bags under 50 lbs for economy class passengers and 70 lbs for business class passenger. Any passenger who is traveling in economy class or business class will have to pay $28.00 per diving bag.

Diving bags are now considered the same as bicycles.

Thank you for your understanding and I hope we can work together to better help the customer of our airlines.

Karl T. Reyes, II
Saipan Station Supervisor.

My internet search is not complete since PTI's service has been on and off like a yo yo all day. That's a whole other post - wasn't their upgrade to take only a week - like a month ago!

Back to the issue at hand. At one point today I was able to access the NWA website luggage page which clearly states that SCUBA equipment is considered part of the free allowance as long as it does not contain an empty TANK. Now in the case of showing up at the ticket counter with a tank on your shoulder I think you should expect to pay a fee! Call it a stupidity tax if you like. On the other hand, paying a fee because your bag looks different than another doesn't make sense. Remember weight restrictions are the same if it's a dive bag or not. Throw in golf bags, which look different than most luggage bags, including dive bags, but are not subjected to additional fees and the situation gets inconsistent to say the least.
Confusing the issue further is NWA's international web page. Here at least they say SCUBA equipment MAY be exempt from the free baggage allowance on intra-Asia flights (which includes Japan to Saipan). Unfortunately they do not tell us how much we MAY pay if it is deemed we must pay. Perhaps the letter from Mr. Reyes was meant to clarify it is no longer a MAY pay, but rather a Must pay situation. Twenty-eight big ones, no if ands or buts. On the bright side at least now we know we either "have to pay" or figure out a way to get that BCD into a golf bag.

Of course the issue is less confusing if you look at the economics. Recently emerging from chapter 11 protection NWA must be looking for every possible way to squeeze a little more out of it's customers. If it can be done quietly then even better for them. If it can be done to a group that consistently shows high demand for the product then maybe everyone will just pay and no one will notice!

Let's take note of just how much revenue we're talking about. Let's take a look at the numbers which, I will be the first to admit, are approximate. Based on arrival statistics collected by MVA, divers have historically accounted for about 20% of the total travelers from Japan. Fiscal year 2005 / 2006 saw 280,000 visitors from Japan. That's approximately 56,000 divers. Now not all will bring their own gear but even if we say 50% do, that's 28,000 folks paying an extra $28.00 for a total of 784,000 big ones. Knock it down to a quarter of the divers bring gear and it's still nearly 400,000 bucks a year. I may be off on the number of divers who travel from Japan with their gear, after all the average stay is only a few nights so many more may rent but I've only included the fee ONE way! Any way you slice it, it's a pretty big chunk of cash. Cash that ultimately does not make it to local businesses and the government tax base - ie. jobs.

Not to mention that in a time when margins are already cut very thin for everyone including dive operators this is just another obstacle to attracting one of the most lucrative market groups to our islands. Should we really stand by and let this just happen? Sit back and say; well it's not THAT much! I don't think so. And just in case you were thinking it's just the tourists from Japan then think about the next time you need to use Japan as a gateway for a dive trip or perhaps the trickle down effect.

According to their web site Continental does not currently have a fee for dive equipment but often competitors copy ideas especially when they go unnoticed! Now is it hitting home? $56 extra for a trip to Palau or Yap or even Guam IF Continental followed suit.

I said my internet search was not yet complete. That's because as soon as I read the letter from Mr. Reyes I was sure I remembered a situation a few years back when another airline in the states began to charge for SCUBA gear and I believe PADI and other dive organizations like DEMA rallied together and it resulted in elimination of the fee. Unfortunately my google will have to wait till tomorrow. Anyone else remember such a situation?
I also remember seeing a list of air carriers with their charges and incentives (such as extra weight allowance) in a dive magazine recently. Again anyone else?

For now I plan to bring it up to our Chamber of Commerce President tomorrow at the monthly general meeting!


Harry Blalock said...

Great, just what we need is one of only two airlines that still service Saipan to financially punish divers for coming here. When will all the insanity finally stop?

Greg Moretti said...

I have a friend who frequently travels with a bicycle, and they have told me there is a very simple way to get around the airline charges. Just say its something else. If it's not a bike, they won't charge you the extra fee. It's a baby crib, it's camping gear, etc. I assume the same will hold true for dive gear. Just don't pack it in a bag that says SCUBA DIVER on it, or throw your gearbag in a brown box. Charging based on baggage weight makes sense. Charging based on what's in the bag/box sounds like baggage discrimination to me. And like Harry said above, the last thing we need is for airlines to make it harder for us to attract diving tourists.