Travelers use fishing vests as suitcases to fight fees
Buying a plane ticket in 2023 means opening yourself up to a barrage of increasingly creative fees. Passengers must be prepared to pay to carry on a bag, pay to check a bag, pay more if their bag weighs too much, pay if they get hungry on board, and pay to print out a boarding pass. To make the situation more galling, these fees can sometimes add up to more than the cost of the flight itself.
Faced with this rising wave of creative fees, travelers are getting creative themselves and taking matters into their own hands—or rather, their own pouches.
Behold: The fishing vest, a travel hack popularized earlier this summer by travel writer Chelsea Dickenson, is a way for travelers to avoid paying for a carry-on—if they don’t mind essentially wearing their luggage.
In a recent TikTok, Dickenson, who goes by @Cheapholidayexpert, lists the various items she’s able to stow in a vest she bought for about $14: Two outfits, a speaker, a deck of cards, a purse, a power bank, deodorant, and even—in the vest’s ample back pocket—a sizeable laptop.
“I’m actually so sure this is going to work, I’m not even going to hide this under a jacket,” she says in the video. “It’s pockets. You’re allowed pockets, right?” Sure enough, she is waved through the gate without incident.
Some travelers are getting even more creative. An Insider reporter fit two bathing suits, her makeup bag, headphones, a laptop, charger and a book inside her vest, while putting the remainder of the clothes she needed for a weekend trip into a backpack.
Her motivation? Revenge. After being charged $100 fee to change a budget flight ticket and threatened with more fees for the privilege of changing a ticket through an agent, “If there was one thing I was certain about, it was that I would NOT be paying $65 for a carry-on bag,” Hannah Towey wrote. “I packed that vest to the brim.”
$103 billion in fees
When it comes to the fishing vest, passengers are squarely within their rights to try it, noted Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog for the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).
“The airlines do state that outside your personal item, they don’t count outerwear or any food you buy after you enter the airport,” she told Fortune.
Airlines know some of the hacks passengers use to get around restrictions, such as wearing all your clothes on the plane—a tactic that’s worked for some travelers but has gotten others kicked off their flight. They’ve also cracked down on skiplagging—a money-saving tactic where travelers book a multi-leg flight but only use part of the itinerary.
But if carriers are upset about travelers trying to bend the rules, consumer advocates suggest, they should look in the mirror.
The flying public last year paid nearly $103 billion in added fees, making up 15% of airlines’ sales, according to IdeaWorks Company, which specializes in such fees. That same year, consumer complaints about U.S. airlines hit a three-decade high over issues including cancellations, delays, baggage mishandling, and fares, PIRG found.
“It’s not your imagination—air travel has become more stressful,” Murray said. “Instead of it being a time of relaxation, people kind of dread traveling by air now.”
Travelers who load up their vests, coat pockets, or travel pillows “clearly are getting fed up with the ever-increasing price of all the airline fees that airlines charge,” said John Breyault, an aviation expert with the National Consumers League.
The NCL, PIRG and other consumer advocates are pushing for Congress to require upfront fee disclosures from carriers. Without it, airlines have an incentive to put more cost increases into fees—because consumers respond to lower base ticket prices, and because fees aren’t subject to the 7.5% federal tax that applies to fares.
“You can’t go on to Expedia or Kayak or Google flights and do an apples-to-apples comparison of the fees of different airlines. That’s not by accident,” Breyault said. “Airlines recognize that competing on fares alone is a sucker’s game for them.”