Going budget? British Airways ditches free baggage allowance on key European routes

Passengers who check in a bag will pay more than those who travel light on key short-haul routes

British Airways passengers on key short-haul routes from Heathrow and London City face a £10 fee for checking in a bag. The airline has launched “hand-baggage only” fares that reward travelling light to eight domestic and European destinations.

From 24 September, passengers travelling without checked baggage to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Paris, Rome, Rotterdam and Stockholm will get a £10 discount on the cheapest tickets. One-way fares from Edinburgh to Heathrow are available for as little as £37, while the lowest price from London City to Amsterdam is £72.

Anyone choosing to check in a bag must pay £10 more, reflecting the additional costs in terms of time, money and fuel.

The policy already applies to BA's short-haul flights from Gatwick, where the airline faces intense competition from easyJet. The difference with today's move is that there is no significant no-frills rival at either Heathrow or London City, which are BA's main business bases.

Robin Glover-Faure, the airline's head of short-haul, said: "The hand-baggage-only fare at Gatwick has proved very popular with our customers, so we're now introducing it on a selected number of short-haul routes from Heathrow and London City. If it proves as successful, we plan to roll it out across the whole short-haul network in the coming months."

The move will not affect long-haul flights, where BA faces strong competition from airlines offering bumper baggage allowances. BA's economy-class weight limit of 23kg is exceeded by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, all of which allow 30kg.

The aviation consultant John Strickland said: "BA, more than other traditional 'legacy' carriers, has taken on board many of the successes of low-cost carriers. They've tested this idea at Gatwick and found it works. The key for BA will be to show that fares are indeed competitive with low-cost carriers if no hold baggage is taken."

BA's initial charge of £10 for a 23kg bag is the same as easyJet's fee for a 20kg case on short flights, and significantly less than Ryanair's - whose lowest charge is £15 for a 15kg bag.

Passengers who book BA's hand-baggage-only fare but turn up at the airport with a bag to check in will pay a £40 fee; they can halve this charge by adding a bag online in advance of departure.

By incentivising cabin-baggage-only travel on short-haul routes, British Airways may be accused of turning itself into easyJet - while easyJet appears to be travelling in the other direction. Last week the UK's biggest low-cost carrier launched an "inclusive fare" that bundles seat assignment and a checked bag in a single price.

A spokeswoman for easyJet said: "We doubt BA's move will make much difference for customers. With easyJet's better prices, schedule, on-time performance and friendly crew, BA will have to try a lot harder to match the value we offer."

British Airways has a more generous cabin-baggage allowance than its budget rivals. All passengers are allowed a bag of the maximum agreed international dimensions, amounting to 63 litres, with a weight limit of 23kg. In addition, a handbag or laptop case can also be taken into the cabin.

The new financial inducement to take everything on board could cause problems in the cabin if overhead baggage bins are crammed to capacity; easyJet warns passengers who take larger items of carry-on luggage that their bags may be removed at the gate and checked into the hold.

Existing BA bookings are unaffected; passengers who have already bought tickets for the routes in question will be entitled to the full 23kg checked baggage allowance that applied when they made their reservations.

Low-flying fares           Without bag     With bag

Glasgow-Heathrow           £36             £46

London City-Stockholm      £73             £83

Heathrow-Amsterdam         £66             £76

Fares checked at ba.com for midweek travel in October