UPS offers ‘luggage boxes’ as alternative to checking bags

Only days after federal officials announced that the nation’s airlines had collected 33% more revenue this year from checked luggage fees, UPS offered its alternative to the hassle and expense of lugging a suitcase through an airport.

The world’s largest package delivery service announced last week that it was selling specially designed boxes that resemble suitcases. Passengers can ship the “luggage boxes” to their final destination to avoid the airlines’ check-in lines and luggage fees.

The new UPS boxes include carrying handles and come in two sizes.

The UPS announcement came a few days after the U.S. Department of Transportation reported that the nation’s 10 largest airlines collected nearly $770 million in checked baggage fees in the first three months of the year, a 33% increase over the same period last year.

The new luggage boxes are also hitting the market as demand for airline seats begins to rebound from a two-year slump.

The International Air Transport Assn. announced that international airline traffic jumped nearly 12% in May from a year earlier, raising airline traffic numbers 1% above pre-recession levels.

UPS officials say they created the new boxes simply to make life easier for frustrated travelers.

“It’s meant to be a convenience,” said UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg.

She conceded that airlines can usually deliver luggage faster than UPS but said luggage shipped by UPS can cost $30 to $80 less per package, depending on the route and the weight of the box.

Rosenberg noted another advantage to the UPS luggage box: A tracking number lets passengers know its exact location.

That’s something airlines don’t offer.

Agency can’t ban peanuts now

Peanut growers protested last month when the Transportation Department asked the public to comment on proposals to protect airline passengers with peanut allergies.

The agency offered three alternatives: Ban peanuts on all commercial flights, create a peanut-free zone around allergic passengers who notify airlines before boarding or do nothing.

But now it’s not clear if the agency is moving ahead with any peanut restrictions.

Two weeks after asking for public comment, the Transportation Department issued a clarification. It pointed out that federal law forbids it from adopting any peanut restrictions without producing a scientific study that shows airborne peanut particles can harm allergic passengers.

Transportation officials say the agency is not currently pursing such a study but is still asking the public to chime in on the issue.

Peanut growers see this as a victory. The Georgia Peanut Commission issued a statement declaring a proposed airline peanut ban dead.

“The Department of Transportation has provided no study or scientific research to justify a proposed restriction or ban on peanuts and peanut products,” commission Chairman Armond Morris said.

Continental offers new cocktails

Continental Airlines, the world’s fifth-largest airline, unveiled several specialty beverages for in-flight sale last week, including mojitos, pomegranate martinis and Red Bull energy drinks.

The mojito is served with Bacardi Light rum for $9. The pomegranate martini is mixed with Skyy vodka for $9 and Red Bull — an energy drink laced with caffeine — is offered for $3 straight or combined with Skyy vodka for $9.

A list of such in-flight drink choices is posted on Continental’s website — the same website that offers the following healthful travel tips for long-haul passengers:

“Eat light meals during your flight. Also avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol.”