Saturday, December 31, 2011

Checked Baggage or Carry-On?

I am one of those people who does not mind waiting in baggage claim for my luggage. Unless it’s a one-day trip, where I know my carry-on will fit in the overhead compartment, I’ll opt for the checked bag and a reasonably unencumbered walk onto the aircraft. Your mileage may vary, but here are some additional reasons for checking vs. carrying:

·         Guaranteed legroom. The pitch (space between one seat and the seat behind it) on commercial aircraft is not improving, and it’s getting worse on regional jets (RJs). Given the sheer number of people who will cram the overhead bins, the odds are good that you’ll have to shove your carry-on bag or personal item under the seat in front of you. Why deprive your legs of what little space they are likely to get?

·         Difficulty fitting carry-ons into the overhead bin. Given my aforementioned disdain for RJs, it probably won’t surprise you that I’m not any happier with the “space” they offer in their overhead compartments. Now it’s possible that my bag will fit, but if it’s a guess, I will have two options: trying to fight with cramming the bag into the compartment or, more likely, waiting with all those other poor souls on the jetway whose bags were “tagged” and put in the regular luggage compartment because they made a similar bad bet. Better to just check a bag close to the size limit and be done with it. Plus, as a bonus, you don’t have to wait in what is likely to be a cold and drafty jetway.

·         Ease and speed of movement between flights. If you’re not fortunate enough to live in a “hub” city like Chicago or Atlanta, odds are that you will be making at least one connection to get to your destination, even within the continental U.S. And because airline logic is not the same as traveler logic, the odds are really good that your first flight will be let off at Gate B1 while your connection will be at Gate E35, on the other end of the airport (this is a particular favorite game in Charlotte and Memphis). In addition to the distance, you are likely to be facing a busy airport and a very short layover between flights—usually <45 minutes—which means you have to hustle to get from B1 to E35. Now ask yourself which activity sounds more convenient: going through all that with a bag or two slung over your shoulders or just a book in your hand? (If you’re traveling with a spouse, partner, or children, multiply that excitement by the number of people you have to keep in tow.)

“But, but, but!” I can hear someone object, “The airline will damage or lose your luggage!” I’ve been flying commercially for 41 years, averaging 3 flights per year. My luggage has been “lost” exactly once, and it was eventually sent to me at my destination. I’ve never had luggage damaged by cargo handlers, though I do recall one bag getting left out in the rain during an extended downpour. Even so, my clothes came out fine. On those rare occasions where I’ve had something fra-GEE-lay to carry onboard, I’ve toted it onboard as a carry-on. There was one time I brought a bottle of wine with me, and TSA has this ridiculous liquid limit, so I wrapped the thing up in a bunch of clothing and hoped for the best. Despite traveling with a Rick Steves cloth bag, the bottle came back—from Europe, no less—undamaged.

I’m not saying I never use a carry-on. But for my regular luggage, it’s just easier to check it and fugheddaboudit! The odds of enjoying the so-called conveniences of “carry-on” luggage are against you. Unless you’ve got some sort of hot appointment that you simply MUST make on the other end of the flight, take the extra 5-10 minutes in baggage claim and save yourself the aggravation. Happy and safe travels!

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