IRELAND. Irish carrier Aer Lingus has announced that it will no longer allow passengers to carry airport shopping bags separately as part of their hand baggage. The move, which could have a big impact on airport retail particularly at Irish and UK airports, means that passengers must fit all shopping within their one item of hand baggage, to a maximum of 10kg.

In a statement Aer Lingus said: “The introduction of the new carry-on baggage policy follows a recent review”¦with the objective to reduce delays and frustration caused by cabin baggage storage issues during boarding.”

Dublin Airport Authority operates and runs retail at Cork, Dublin and Shannon airports in Ireland, all of which serve big numbers of Aer Lingus passengers. DAA has confirmed to The Moodie Report that it is in discussions with Aer Lingus over how to minimise the impact of the new policy on passengers and airside shops.

World Duty Free Group (WDFG) operates retail concessions at 11 UK airports served by Aer Lingus: Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Jersey, London Gatwick, London Heathrow and Manchester.

All Aer Lingus flights to mainland Europe, London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, New York, Boston, Chicago and Orlando go from Dublin Airport T2, which opened with a strong airside commercial offer in 2010

WDFG Director of Corporate Communications Ian Morris said it would be regrettable if any airline curtailed its own customers’ choice and options.

He said: “Such restrictions would cause confusion and irritation for passengers, as the vast majority of airlines have for many years permitted customers to take their goods purchased at the airport on board the flight, in addition to their hand baggage.”

Aer Lingus’s move follows that of compatriot and rival Ryanair, which introduced the policy in 2009. More recently, Cathay Pacific instigated a similar policy in April last year.

The European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC) has reported that some southern European airports with significant numbers of holiday travellers have experienced sales decreases of more than -70% as a result of carriers’ one-bag policies. It estimates that passengers spend between +25% and +30% more on travel retail on intra-EU routes where carriers do not enforce a one bag rule, and +50% more on routes leaving the EU.

COMMENT: While Aer Lingus’ move is motivated primarily by passenger convenience, it comes at a time when European legislators are increasingly recognising that such policies contravene passengers’ rights. Last year Spain made it illegal for carriers to refuse to allow passengers to bring their airport purchases onboard separately from hand baggage, or to charge them for bringing purchases onboard.

And at a European level, the European Commission is expected to publish its proposals to amend Air Passengers Rights legislation late this year. Originally focussed more on compensation for delays and cancellations, the Commission now has a strong incentive to include legislation on the one-bag policy.

In April this year the European Parliament approved MEP Philip Bradbourn’s report into the economics of regional airports, which noted the impact of one-bag policies and called for airport shopping bags to be classified as “essential items” such as coats and hats, which can be taken onboard independently of any hand baggage allowance.

Any legislative proposal by the Commission needs to be approved by Parliament before taking effect, and questions will certainly be asked if the Commission’s proposals do not reflect the Parliament’s express stated will.

Of course European legislation is not enacted overnight, nor would it be immune to legal challenges such as the one Ryanair has instigated against Spain’s new law. But there are strong indications that governments are beginning to lose patience with the impact of such policies on airport revenues and passenger experience.