Loathe Flying? Repack.

Loathe flying? Repack.

8/20/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

Sorry, baseball: America’s new national pastime is a game called “Hate air travel.” It starts when you wait in a check-in line for forty minutes and ends when your carrier accidentally sends your bags to Kuwait. The sport can be played at every major city and with any team you wish, though American and Delta are especially fun. Better yet, attendance is on the rise.

There’s no shortage of reasons to despise your time in the sky. From the little things (shoddy peanuts and the wait for the bathroom) to the big ones (cancellations and overbookings), flight has turned into a test of wills as much as a test of gravity. The average tourist has no control over the flight attendants’ snack offerings nor the bowels of their fellow passengers, but there is one novel approach they can take to make for a better flight.

No checked baggage.

At this point, most readers would laugh and stop reading. What kind of freak manages to pack everything they need into a little duffel bag or a purse? And yet, should travelers swallow their pride and play a game of Tetris with their available carry-on space, they’ll find much less to hate about the “friendly skies—” and more money in their pocket.

First, I may as well elaborate on what the word carry-on really means. Travelers who bring all their luggage on board aren’t just limited to a little tote or a purse. United allows 2,772 cubic inches of space for just one item, or 9″ x 14″ x 22″ . That limit, largely consistent across the country’s major carriers, is generous enough for actual pieces of luggage to come on board. (Baggage companies have designed models just small enough to fit into these restrictions.) The good news doesn’t stop there, though. In addition to that one luggage piece, fliers are permitted some sort of “personal item.” Depending on your level of imagination, this item could be anything from a purse to a large-sized bag or backpack.

In short, it’s not impossible to pack everything into your carry-on. You may not be able to take 13 pairs of heels and a dozen dresses on your way to Vegas, but the essentials will certainly fit.

Now that the issue of size has been packed away, it’s time to go over the great benefits of leaving the checked baggage at home. We’ll go from the front door to the hotel door, covering every positive along the way.

Wake up with your carry-on luggage at the door. The taxi driver won’t be able to charge as much for the extra bags you carry, seeing as you only have two small items. Unless you’re a brick salesman, the walk into the airport should not put a strain on your back.

It only gets better, though. Go through the doors and walk right past the hour-long check-in line. Because you’re not putting any bags on the conveyor belt (or paying for the service), you can bypass the queue and head over to an electronic kiosk, where a confirmation number or credit card swipe will be enough to print out your tickets. The time saved will also give you more opportunity to shop or sleep beforehand.

Onto the plane itself. This is the one point in your travels where checked baggage can seem like a wise decision, but you have little to worry about. Make sure to beard the plane early so that you have ample room in the overhead compartment. (That would be the place to stow your main piece of luggage.) Your personal item, as the cheery flight attendants will remind you, should go under the seat in front.

On to the landing. The minute you walk out of the plane, you’re free to exit the airport. No baggage claims. No need to scream at the representative whose airline popped the zipper off your luggage or simply lost track of it. If you’re heading through customs, you not only bypass that baggage claim but save time on inspection. (Even the slowest TSA authorities can’t spend too long looking through your purse.) Once exiting the airport, the same savings apply for taxi fees.

When you add all this together, you can expect savings of one to two hours and ten to twenty dollars. There’s also the security of having your bags right at your side when checked luggage is out of reach, out of sight. Carry-on luggage is even good for the environment; the decreased load you put on the plane means less gas needed to set your plane down at the destination. Best of all, you might not hate air travel so much when check-in lines and luggage carousels aren’t part of your trip.

Perhaps this strategy won’t work for you for vacations longer than a week, or even three days. This is understandable, though I’ve pulled off the feat for a 28-day trip. (Key word: washing machine.) Nevertheless, give the idea a try. You might just find yourself becoming a smarter—and happier—traveler in the long run.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Loathe Flying? Repack.

  1. Any advice for a man flying to a wedding? Bringing a suit meant (in my mind, at least) having a separate garment bag for the suit alone. With all my other clothing and stuff jammed into a suitcase and a knapsack, that gave me three items, which was verboten, so I had to check my suitcase (an unfortunate term, since that was not the bag that my suit was in) on the way out. Were it not for the suit, I could totally have done it with the two bags.

    Side note: on my return flight I got to the airport so late that I couldn’t check any baggage, so I had no choice but to try to bring all three items on board (maybe you heard this story already). Luckily, no one in the flight crew seemed to be checking — or at least they didn’t say anything — but I felt a bit bad that I was breaking the rules simply because I hadn’t been able to get myself to the airport on time.

  2. Kenneth Burchfiel

    If there’s any time to go ahead and check a bag, it’s probably a wedding. Good thing you didn’t try to stuff in the garment bag and show up with a wrinkled suit.

    Not to bend the rules myself, but: most airplanes will have a “checked luggage” section in the front for extra carry-ons or items that simply won’t fit in the overhead compartment. Had you bought that garment bag on board, they probably would have stowed it there.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Eric B

    The only problem I can see is if you want to take something like bottled water or a pocketknife, since those aren’t allowed in the checked baggage. Other than that, an extremely good idea!

  4. Kenneth Burchfiel

    Das stimmt. Though your gate’s terminal will usually have shops offering bottled water and cosmetics (if not pocket knives).