On a recent flight, I was getting myself situated in my seat, while boarding continued around me. I had boarded in Group 1 (thank you Star Gold) and was waiting for the other people in my row to join me. It was about halfway through the boarding process of the fully sold-out flight that I saw something that shocked me. A passenger was carrying a giant hiking pack through the aisle, heading for their seat. I was blown away that this giant backpack somehow made it past the gate agents and on-board the aircraft. Surely this person was not seriously thinking that a giant backpack like that would pass as “carry on.” But sadly, it had.
I became to realize that the passenger with the large backpack wasn’t abnormal — it had become what the American traveling public have deemed acceptable as a carry on item. I did not grow up in the United States, but this country is now my home. When I first experienced flying in the U.S. (back in 2007), I don’t think it was as bad then as it is now.
I had never really ever experienced “gate lice”, the Boarding Scrum, Zone Boarding (or Group Boarding, depending on the airline), or the experience of gate-checking a bag. All of those items were foreign to me until that time. Now they feel like part of everyday life.
For some reason, the American flying public thinks that they need to carry on everything they own when they travel (I am not talking about overpacking here). I am sure this all goes back to when airlines started charging checked baggage fees, but what people don’t realize now is that it has gotten out of hand.
I am not talking about the cost of fees or the fact that fees are being charged (welcome to everyday life, people!); what I am talking about is what people are claiming as a piece of “carry on” luggage. The airlines have rules as to what is classified as a carry on piece of baggage and all airlines are different. Carriers in Europe are generally more strict on size, where as in Australia and the South Pacific it is weight, as well as size. There was a time in my life where I was absolutely petrified of having my carry on weighed (I was carrying a large amount of camera equipment at the time) and being told to pay a large fee or check some of it. But in the US, even though there is testing equipment visible anywhere in the airport, the rules never seem to be consistently enforced or even bothered with.
Much of the problem comes down to the way people act about the carry on baggage rules. They see a piece of testing equipment and they have the same attitude that is seen in the popular internet cat meme “If I Fits, I Sits.” Now, I am not a big cat person, though I am assured that this is a real thing; cats will try and fit themselves into things they quite possibly shouldn’t. It seems cats are not the only ones; just because you can cram a huge backpack into the sizing equipment, it doesn’t mean you should.
Do you really need to try and carry everything through the airport with you? Why not just fork over the $25-30 bag fee and let someone else do the work for you? Sure, I understand that a lot of people these days think that the airline is going to lose your bags at the drop of the hat, but those instances are few and far between. You worry that you won’t get your bag in time before you need to run away from the airport? Take a few extra minutes and use the bathroom, bring yourself back to reality after being squished for your flight. Perhaps get yourself a coffee or a snack before heading to baggage claim; those few extra minutes would not be wasted.
A lot of it comes down to attitude of the flying public. Once one group of people start doing it, more people will do the same thing. It is a “monkey see, monkey do” kind of attitude. If we could all start to be a bit more mindful of what we are carrying on, how we are doing that, we wouldn’t have these problems. There wouldn’t be any ridiculous boarding problems as people try to swarm onboard to get the best position to store their bag because they don’t want to fork out for a bag fee. But I hear you saying to yourself, “I don’t see any solution here and the airlines are just going to charge me a fee for it.” Well here is a solution, one that many people may not like, and it is quite simple: JUST CHECK YOUR BAG.
Yes, I said it – check your bag, it isn’t hard. “But that will cost me more,” I hear you saying. Will it? How many of you out there have even bothered to look at some of the ways to avoid paying a bag fee? One of the easiest ways of doing that is to fly Southwest. Some of the best and least stressful boarding experiences I have had were while flying Southwest. There is no massive scrum for the overheads and people understand that they can just check their bags.
For the other airlines that charge bag fees, there are plenty of ways around having to pay one. If you fly one airline regularly enough, just getting the bottom-tier elite level could be enough to get you a free bag. “But I don’t fly enough in a year to even get near elite status,” I hear you saying back at me. For some airlines, elite status is much easier to obtain. Want Star Gold but don’t fly enough to even make silver with United? Send those 24,000 miles to Aegean and you will have that Star Gold you dream of, and with it comes lounge access and a free checked bag.
Another way to get around bag fees is to get an airline-branded credit card. Airlines like United, American, and Delta all offset bag fees for co-branded credit card holders. Some even give you better boarding position or other perks. Often, those credit cards come with a free first year or a heavy chunk of points to go with it. Often times, those perks are included for others on your reservation. Ultimately, the more bags you check rather than carrying on, the less hassle there will be onboard and you won’t have to fight someone for that last final space in the overhead compartment.
If we can all be a little bit smarter in what we carry on, many of the problems we have in this day and age with boarding will disappear. Can you imagine what it would be like to not have flight attendants walking down the aisle telling us to “hurry up and store your bags and get out of the aisle?” Sure, we could wait for the aircraft manufacturers to make bigger overhead bins that can accommodate more bags (they are by the way), or we could do something about it ourselves — sooner.
You are probably thinking right now “what is the point of this whole piece,” – well here it is: It is not hard to read the airline’s carry on baggage policies – please do this first. Then follow those rules and perhaps even check a bag as well. We will all be happier and it will mean less hassle when boarding, less hassle in the airport security lines, and less stress for everyone. Doesn’t that sound great? It does to me! Fly on my friends… fly on!