Thursday, February 1, 2018

Luggage Fits

I was disappointed that I didn't get to use my spiel on the gate attendant. I was annoyed that I felt the need to concoct one in the first place.

One of the aspects of air travel I despise the most is carry-on luggage limitations. It might not be as frustrating if the airlines - and passengers - stuck to the rules. If it doesn't fit the metal "size" box, it must be checked. Problem is, since most airlines started aggressively charging for checked baggage, and discovered they could make billions on what had historically been part of the ticket price, too many passengers try to avoid the fees by bringing their entire wardrobe, sports gear, tourist souvenirs, and Christmas gifts on board. (And don't get me started on so-called "emotional support animals.")

Shock news flash - the overhead luggage compartments quickly fill up. There's little choice but for the airlines to seize some passengers' carry-ons and toss them into the cargo hold. Many people accept this because their now-checked bag just avoided $€£25-50 in fees.

I like to carry my "can't lose" items in my carry-on - computer, power cable, wireless mouse, headphones, usually the Kindle tablet - and maybe a change of underwear and socks. I no longer pretend I can use the computer on board; the seat space has become too cramped for that. The main reason is I don't want to risk my most valuable items - the things I need to work - might be lost, whether for a day or two ... or for good.

At the Berlin Schoenfeld airport last fall, an EasyJet goon insisted I check my bag in the size box. It didn't quite fit at first, which was easily rectified by removing my man-bag which held the electronic cords. But to the goon, I now was trying to sneak a "second bag" on board, also against his rules.

I say his rules because the gate agent, at that given moment, is all-powerful. He gave me a choice: pay 60 €uros to check the bag or don't get on the plane.

I was especially irritated because I had purchased that luggage to fit the size boxes - which, by the way, vary widely by airline (in part, based on the type of aircraft they fly and the configuration of the overheads). I do admit, because it's soft-sided, I sometimes stuff too much in the bag, especially for a cold-weather trip.

One trick is to wear as much as you can tolerate - ie, keep it out of the suitcase. Layer up. You need to do so before you go to the check-in counter (better to get your boarding pass online or at an airport kiosk than deal with a person who can eyeball your bag). After check-in, stop somewhere before you get to security and stuff everything you can in the luggage - easier than disrobing while you hold up the line for the magnetron and groping session (this would be another element of air travel I despise).

Once through security - but before you are in sight of the gate agent, take out and put on your sweater(s), scarf, gloves, and hat. Grab a book you plan to read: coat pocket. If you have extra pockets that are large enough, stick extra books in those. (Buy a coat with plenty of pockets - also comes in handy for sneaking candy and soda cans into a movie theatre.) Gum, mints, snacks, water bottle in the pockets, too, so you don't have to try to get your bag down in mid-flight. 

I was already exasperated that my early-morning flight to Lyon had been cancelled. I was now re-routed through Paris, and I would be getting home 2-3 hours later than planned. When the agent at the ticket counter asked me to put my bag on the conveyor belt. I told her it was carry-on. She said she wanted to weigh it. I complied. Then she stated there were too many carry-ons already, they needed "volunteers," and my bag would probably be gate-checked and put in cargo.

For the next hour, after arriving at the gate waiting area, I practiced my pitch. "I have a very tight connection because the airline (don't say "you," blaming them personally) cancelled my flight and re-routed me. If I have to wait for my bag to be brought up from the hold, or it is sent to baggage claim, I will miss my connecting flight. And (I thought money might be the clinching argument), I will be entitled to compensation because of the extensive delay. (I wasn't sure that last part was accurate, but I have been seeing a lot of Facebook posts about compensation for long delays in the EU.) 

I was prepared to ask the person's name who would confiscate my bag, and write it down, indicating I would mention them as the one who made the decision to cost the airline compensation funds.

If none of that was successfull, I was prepared to take my computer and other valuables out (and put them in a plastic Hudson News bag - is that a second bag?). As a precaution, I stuck the power cord, camera, digital recorder, notebook and notes I've been working on into the man-bag - so I wouldn't have to remove items in haste at the door of the plane and forget something important. Been there, done that.

Oh, a number of the passengers had been given bright red "cabin baggage" stickers. I thought about (but didn't carry through) stealing one from an unsuspecting passenger and putting it on my bag.

One time a gate agent tagged my carry-on with a "cargo hold" sticker, which would be spotted by a baggage handler or flight attendant at the aircraft door. As I walked down the jetway, I ripped it off and stuck it in my pocket. As I entered the aircraft, one of the smaller Embraers, the flight attendant asked wasn't I given a cargo sticker for my "rollerboard" - which she obviously thought would not fit in the overheads. I breezed by her, saying in my wake, "It'll fit," and it did. Barely.

This morning, as the economy ticket holders were finally allowed out of the cattle pen (another thing I despise, but that's for another blog), a man several ahead of me in the queue was asked to test his bag in the magic size box. No go. He took a few things out. Still wouldn't fit. So he began to argue with the gate agent. (Be nice when it's my turn, I reminded myself. Except to goons maybe.) Somehow, she let him go, though still verbally sparring as he walked away.

Now it was my turn to present my boarding pass. I had already put my man-bag with the electronics under my coat (out of sight, mostly), which made the suitcase look smaller. And as I stepped up to the queue, I kept my wheeled carry-on behind my body (mostly). But damn. She saw it anyway, and wanted a look. I twirled it into view, quickly, to show how light it was.

Voila. She didn't insist on checking it. Off I sauntered to the jetway, though still wondering if a baggage handler or flight attendant might yet intercept the bag. As I got neared to the aircraft door, I made sure the long handle was down to reduce its visibility and rolled the bag to my left side - away from the area where they typically hijack offensive carry-ons.

The tall male flight attendant, however, seemed very laid back. No challenge. I was onboard and luckily found one cubby in the overhead that was reasonably near (and ahead of) my seat.

When we landed in Paris and prepared for the queueing scrum again, I mentally rehearsed my story a couple times. Just in case. But this time, there were self-service e-gates. And the gate agents were harried from trying to board two flights side-by-side, both delayed, leading to a massive crowd of waiting passengers. They paid little attention to carry-ons.

Maybe I should just get an even-smaller bag?

No comments:

Post a Comment