Thursday, July 7, 2011

Do you REALLY think that is a carry-on bag?

As part of my job, I am frequently called upon to travel.  So, I spend a lot of time in airports and on planes.  For those of you who have never traveled by plane before (and I wonder how you have been so lucky), let me explain one aspect of air travel.  For a long, long time you could check one bag on the flight for free.  Any additional bags could be checked for a nominal fee.  These bags would be loaded in the cargo hold of the plane, freeing you, the passenger, to roam throughout the airport without the inconvenience of having to drag a heavy, cumbersome suitcase behind you.  You could also bring a carry-on bag on the flight if it fit within certain size parameters.  Over the past few years, many airlines have started charging to check any bags.  Usually these fees start at $25 for the first bag and go up exponentially with each additional bag.

Let me start by saying that I always check my suitcase on my flights.  I enjoy that freedom of only having to carry a small backpack with me as I peruse the airport shops and restaurants.  In my travels, I have noticed that people's conception of size has drastically changed.  At each gate, the airlines will typically have a sign that states that carry-on bags must fit with a certain size.  It is amazing to me how far people will try to stretch that rule (men are particularly good at size exaggeration).  Because of my frequent flyer status, I am usually on the plane early.  As I get settled into my seat, I get to watch as people pass by with their "carry-on" bags.  Some of these bags are so big that people struggle just to get them down the narrow aisle in the plane.  The true amusement comes while watching them try to shove, twist, bend, and cram their bag into one of the overhead bins.  It is quite amazing to see the lengths that people will go to keep from having to check their bags in the hold of the plane.  Unfortunately, the result of everyone's efforts to cram "50 pounds of bag in a thirty pound bin" leads to flight delays.

Last week, I was on a plane heading home to Philadelphia from Charlotte, NC.  I was one of the first groups to board the plane so I was comfortably in my seat when a man boarded who was sitting two rows ahead on me.  He boarded with a "carry-on" bag.  I place the the words carry-on in quotes because it was far from meeting the size criteria.  His bag was about two-thirds the size of my body, which is far more than allowed (I am referring to his bag, not my body).  He opened the overhead bin above his seat to find that there were already two "carry-on" bags filling the bin (notice the quotes again).  What I found interesting was that he proceeded to get very pissed at the fact that someone had filled his overhead bin with bags that were obviously not carry-on bags.  He was so bound and determined to not check his bag that he walked to the back of the plane to find an overhead bin that was open ... where he proceeded to fill it with his "carry-on" bag.  I found the irony quite amusing that this man just did to someone else what he was pissed that someone did to him.

To take it a step further, I am always amazed at the response of boarding passengers when the airline announces that there is no more overhead bin space available.  The groans of disappointment and irritation can be deafening.  However, these are the same people that think a bag the size of a Monster Truck tire is a carry-on.  During these moments, I just sit back and smile at the small backpack under the seat in front of me.

Now, I certainly don't want to blame this behavior completely on the passengers.  The airlines do exacerbate this behavior by not stopping people with bags of this size at the gate.  I am waiting for the day that a fist fight breaks out between passengers over a single overhead bin space.  That should make for an interesting flight.

I often wonder the "why" behind this behavior.  Is it that people don't want to pay the $25 fee?  Or is it that our society has become so focused on rushing from place to place as fast as possible that we can't even spare the time to wait for our bags to be unloaded?

My point to all of this rambling (and I am sure you were wondering if there was a point) is people need to start being more realistic with their size conceptions.  When choosing a carry-on bag for a flight, size does matter.  And, if you don't want to pay the fee, fly Southwest.  According to their commercials, bags fly free ... it's the people that have to pay.

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