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Reducing Airport Headaches Part 1: Luggage

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
quoted by the Chinese philosopher Laozi

For most travelers that one small step is in the airport—a notoriously frustrating place.  In order to avoid starting your vacation with an airport induced headache I have several tips and tricks to make the whole process smoother.  There are many things you can do ahead of time to be better prepared and I hope to touch on them all in coming posts, but for now let’s focus on three important tips about luggage.

  1. The rules are rules and they do apply.

One of the first things I do when booking airfare for a client is to be certain they understand the baggage rules.  Each airline is different and you need to be sure you know the specific rules for your flight.  Don’t rely on previous  experience. In the past airlines were often lax in enforcing baggage weight and size restrictions but nowadays you cannot depend on getting by.

For example, I had never had my carry-on baggage weighed or even questioned.  I mean I knew there were size and weight restrictions, but I always figured if it was a reasonable size and able to squeeze into the overhead no one would care.  On three separate occasions over the past year this was not the case.  My teenage daughter—a serious over packer—was pulled from the American airlines boarding line when heading to Utah via Las Vegas this past winter because her bag was bulging and slightly over the size limit.  They actually had staff at the gate pulling people out of line and making them put their bags in the little size measuring thingamajig (and yes, that is a professional travel agent term).  It was easily fixed because I had extra room in my bag to shove her stuff, but if I hadn’t been there she would have been charged for a checked bag.

SO, tip number two is:

  1. Measure and remeasure.

A few months later we flew Norwegian Air to the Caribbean and by golly I was certain none of our bags were even close to bulging.  We measured and remeasured.  We had checked in and printed our boarding passes at home so I was shocked when we went to security and the agent said we need to check in at the Norwegian counter.  I soon learned our boarding passes needed a sticker on them indicating that our carry on luggage had been weighed.  We were really over the carry on weight limit—by a lot— and for five travelers the fees to check all those bags was insane.  Of course, I knew the rules were there so the fact they were enforced was completely my fault and not the agent’s.  Despite my frustration I was kind and apologetic.  Luckily the agent had mercy on us and only charged us to check one and gave us the stickers anyway.

This brings me to my third point.

  1. Be nice.   No matter how frustrated you are.  It may not always work, but you do get more flies with honey.

Yay me though!  I learned.  A few months later we were heading to Russia on Aeroflot and not only did we measure and remeasure our bags, but we weighed and reweighed them.  Yes, it was hard to fit it all in and we had to leave some stuff behind, but we walked into the airport confident and relaxed.  I knew the rules.  I knew they applied to me.  I was ready.  It was not only smooth getting all checked in it was empowering.  I felt such joy as an “approved cabin baggage” tag was slipped on each bag.  The agent actually commended us and said we were such an organized family!  That’s me!  Organized!!

So point four is really just a corollary to point two– we’ll call it 2a. :

2a. Weigh and Reweigh.

And that’s pretty much all you need to know about luggage.  The rules may or may not be enforced, but if you follow them right from the start your time in the airport will be much more relaxing.

Sometimes this is easier said than done though.  First up is that you really need to invest in a luggage scale.  We have a Travel Smart by Conair Luggage Scale which even has a built in tape measure.  One of the biggest hurdles we faced was the fact that our empty baggage without even a single item inside was so heavy that following the weight restrictions was a major challenge.  The night before we left for Russia we actually ran out and bought two rolling duffel bags to check because they weighed far less than our hard sided luggage.  They worked well, but the design made them difficult to roll through the airport and I’m still thinking there is something better out there.    I’ve been scouring the internet to find high quality, reasonably priced, super light weight baggage for next time.  So far, the front runner is IT luggage.  Unless we find something else we will be trying it on our next trip and I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.  Please let me know if you have another recommended lightweight brand.  I will update this posting with approved suggestions.

So don’t forget a relaxing airport experience comes from knowing there are rules.  Even when its difficult and you struggle simply following those rules with a smile on your face and kindness for the agents tasked with enforcing them will yield true travel joy.

  1. The rules are rules and they apply.
  2. and 2a. Measure and remeasure.  Weigh and reweigh.
  3. Be Nice.

Next up: Reducing Airport Headaches Part 2: TSA