Tidewater Traveler - September 2008

Bag Limits Not Just For Hunters


George Sellers

   I think there may be a generalization that the more a person travels, the less stuff they carry with them, though a few of my seasoned traveler clients are ‘shoe-people’ for whom a reduction in the volume of travel attire is very unlikely! An adage often conveyed to pre-travelers is - lay everything you think you want to take on the trip out on a bed; wait a few days; and then put half of it away before you pack.
    Recently, I engaged in a post-travel follow-up in the home of clients who had just returned from a 10-day independent land excursion in France. Almost as amazing as the photos of the Eiffel Tower and the gardens at Versailles were the photos of the mountain of luggage that trailed these folks throughout France. I was especially amused by one of the pictures; in the foreground all the luggage is heaped on a rail platform waiting for a train and in the background are construction cranes. I chuckled, wondering if the cranes had been engaged to load the bags. These vacationers have already sworn that never again will they take so much.
    With the major airlines in a frenzy to develop new reasons to charge their not-so-valued passengers unique and creative fees, it seems they might have unintentionally extended a favor to the traveling public – a positive! If it is a favor, it has to be unintended because the mega air carriers have never, to my knowledge, done anything purposely for the benefit of passengers.
    Nearly every airline is now charging passengers an additional fee to check in a second piece of luggage; and an ever-growing number of airlines are charging an extra fee when you show up at their counter to check even the first piece of luggage. I hasten to add that economy carriers like Southwest Airlines, one of the only profitable airlines in the country, does not charge its patrons to check baggage, nor does it charge any of the litany of fees recently propagated by the big (unprofitable) guys.
    The new fees are drawing attention to the issue of luggage; also drawing attention is a generally tighter adherence to size and weight regulations by the airlines. One result is that people are giving more attention to the process of packing for air travel.
    As I am writing this article, one of my travel news sources has reported that Delta Airlines just increased the fee for checking a second bag from $25 to $50! By the time this article is published, most of the other airlines will undoubtedly have done the same.
    There are four considerations when packing for a trip on an airplane – baggage count, size, weight and contents.
    Count: Unless you are traveling with special equipment or supplies, it is wise to limit the number of bags you pack. Keep it simple. It is probably not necessary to make a fresh fashion statement every day while you are on vacation. Knowing that most airlines will now charge you to check that second suitcase, and many will charge you even for the first one, most people will naturally try to take fewer pieces. Aside from the issue of being charged extra for it, why make every transfer to a hotel or ship a major logistic event?
    Size: To the airline, size matters! Interestingly, as folks are seeking to avoid the charge for a second suitcase, the sale of larger suitcases has increased. But be careful, because bigger is not always better.
    Each airline has its own regulations, but most follow a simple rule. Measure the length, width and thickness of your suitcase. Add those three dimensions together and hope for a number less than 62 inches.
    There are all kinds of questions that can be asked about how to measure and where to measure a piece of luggage. Do I include the wheels within the measurement? How about the handle? What about the bulky part in the middle? The answers are, “Yes, yes and yes.”
    Think of it this way – if you were to construct a plywood box into which your suitcase could completely fit, what would be the length, width and depth dimensions inside the box. Again add those three numbers together and try not to exceed 62 inches. I know you’re wondering – what if my suitcase is larger than the 62-inch limit? What if I exceed the maximum luggage size? Most airlines charge about $100 for an oversize bag!
    Weight: This one is easy. If an individual suitcase or bag exceeds 50 pounds, it is considered overweight. Many travelers have waited patiently in an airport check-in line while the person ahead of them spreads open two or three suitcases on the floor and shuffles the contents in an attempt to redistribute the weight and avoid an overweight charge. The lesson? Don’t put all your books into one suitcase. The penalty for exceeding the 50-pound limit? About $50.
    While this article is focused on luggage, there is dialog within the airline industry about extra charges for oversized and overweight humans. This is not a simple issue. There appear to be valid arguments on both sides, but this discussion is not within the sphere of this article at this time. In other words – I’m not touching this one!
    Contents: While most of the restrictions on the contents of luggage apply to that which is taken into the passenger cabin – carry-ons - there are limits to what one may place inside of luggage that is to be checked in and placed in the cargo hold of a plane.
    Restrictions on the contents of luggage are primarily established by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Since regulations regarding contents of luggage are subject to change as the security atmosphere changes, it seems unwise to offer a list of do’s and don’ts here. Instead I direct readers to the website of the TSA for a current list of items that are prohibited in airplane baggage. The TSA site can be accessed at www.SellersTravel.com via the blue tab called “Travel Help.”
    It is extremely important to understand that each airline establishes its own regulations with regard to luggage count, size and weight; and each airline determines how much offenders will be charged for their excesses. So before you travel, consult the airline website or customer service line (yeah, right!), or your travel planner to determine the rules for the airline(s) that you will be using. The regulations and fees mentioned in this article are intended to be representative only and may not be the rules that apply to your next flight.
    Just a little tip in closing – when you surrender your luggage to the check-in agent, notice the black and white plastic band that is placed on your suitcase handle. The strip will have a barcode and a larger three-letter alpha-code. The three-letter code will represent the airport of your final destination. So if you are returning home to Baltimore the code will be BWI; to Regan National it will be DCA; to Dulles it will be IAD; to Philadelphia it will be PHL. If you are flying to Orlando look for the letters MCO; to New Orleans look for MSY; Las Vegas, LAS – many of the codes make sense to the average person; many do not.
    I mention this for two reasons: first, a suitcase that bears the correct code of your final destination is less likely to get lost; second, if you see the code FAT placed on your suitcase, don’t be offended. It is not an editorial comment regarding you or your luggage. It is the airport code for the Fresno-Yosemite Airport in California.
    May all of your travels be happy and safe!

   George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel web site and travel planning service SellersTravel.com. Comments or suggestions about Tidewater Traveler articles may be directed to George@SellersTravel.com.