Monday, December 15, 2008

Items May Have Shifted

In over 22 years of business air travel, I can count on one hand the number of times I did not check a bag. I've been cajoled...even reprimanded by traveling companions who prefer to have their bags with them at all times. Their objection to checking bags, of course, is two-fold. First, they don't want to risk arriving at their destination, only to find that their luggage did not. Second...and I think this is the main reason, they do not want to have to wait for their bag to arrive at baggage claim. I understand both of these reasons, and I am particularly familiar with the often long wait in baggage claim. Neither reason, however, is sufficient to overcome my rationale for checking a bag.

Most of my flights from Raleigh include a connection, typically in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dallas, or Chicago, and occasionally in St. Louis, Detroit, or Salt Lake City. Often, the connection time is just long enough for me to walk from the arrival gate to the departure gate, with a short restroom stop on the way. However, I am frequently forced to layover in a connection airport for a couple of hours or more. During these times, I do not want to be lugging a suitcase behind me. I prefer to keep my hands free so that I can eat something while walking, or perhaps grab something at Starbucks and still have one hand free to be checking my email. A number of years ago I even began using a laptop backpack as my carry-on so that I could remain hands-free in the airport. However, as important as this is to me, the primary reason for checking my bag can be summed up in two words: Overhead Bins!

Airlines have lately been sending mixed messages. While they attempt to limit carry-ons by imposing size limits, most of the major carriers actually encourage carry-ons by charging to check a bag. Sometimes the first bag is free, sometimes not. But beyond the first bag, you usually have to pay...often from $15 to $25 (fortunately I have sufficient frequent flyer status that I am exempt from these charges). By imposing this fee, airlines have sent a message to the flying public: it's cheaper to carry your bag with you. And I've never once seen any airline employee forbid someone to carry something on the plane that exceeded the stated size limit. As a result, passengers are now carrying on everything except the kitchen sink. Because I don't need the stress of wondering if there will be space for my suitcase in the overhead bins, I choose to check my bag.

It is both comical and annoying to watch people put their stuff in the overhead bins. I am annoyed when someone simply throws everything up there with little or no attention paid to using the space efficiently. Coats, small laptop bags that could easily fit under the seat in front of them, suitcases...all tossed up as if the bin was their own personal storage space. I'm also annoyed when someone boards late with a load of "stuff" and then proceeds to rearrange everyone else's belongings (without asking...and usually blocking the aisle) in order to jam his own things in. And no regard whatever is given to what items in someone else's bags might be getting damaged in the attempt. Also on the annoying list: people who are seated near the rear of the plane who throw their bag into the first empty bin space they find, often near the front of the plane, leaving the people who sit in those forward seats (who are typically forced to board near the end of the boarding process) nowhere to put their own belongings.

On the comical side, I often find it amusing to watch someone attempt to put something in the overhead bin that will clearly not fit. They think that if they push and shove and turn the thing enough times, it will eventually go in. Well you know what? A basketball won't fit into a ring matter how hard you try to make it work, it's just not gonna happen! Same thing with these bins. They can actually accommodate suitcases larger than the allowable size, but there is a limit. Watching people attempt to overcome the laws of physics sometimes provides a bit of comic relief. And of course, there is a solution to all of's called checking a bag!