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The baggage game

JimMullen

Jim Mullen

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

I paid $70 to check two bags on a recent flight so I would be baggage-free. It was worth $70 not to watch after two bags while using the restroom or grabbing a bite to eat in a connecting airport.

There's a reason they call it luggage. You have to "lug" it. Many people don't think it's worth the money to check their bags. So, in addition to their cell phones and laptops, they also carry coats and shopping bags and fast food, all stacked up on top of a rolling bag or two. If I took a picture of people waiting in the departure "lounge" of most airports and told you it was a group of people who camp beneath an underpass, you'd believe it.

Since absolutely no one except me checks their luggage, the security gates, waiting rooms and the terminal shops are clogged with people carrying more baggage for a four-hour flight than they'd need on a six-week safari. This despite the signs all over the airport stating that all bags bigger than a breadbox must be checked, and that passengers are allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item that must fit under the seat.

I followed the rules and got charged $70, thank you very much. Everyone else did whatever they pleased. Talk about rewarding bad behavior. The airlines could save a ton of money by not bothering to post all those signs telling people not to take luggage on to the plane when, obviously, they can and they do.

And it's not just luggage. Pillows seem popular, especially with college-age kids. Oh, not those little things that go around your neck, but full-sized pillows, the kind most of us leave on the bed. I wonder if kids carry these pillows around campus? I hear it's hard to fall asleep in the lecture hall without a good pillow — the seats are sooo hard. I actually know people who have gone an entire day without carrying around a pillow. Not to brag, but I've done it myself many times. Like, every day.

I am all for being comfortable, but this is an airplane ride, not a three-month-long covered wagon ride across the plains. Why is it that the same people who can sit in front of a TV set for 10 hours binge-watching "The Walking Dead" can't sit still for four hours on a plane? Most people will get to their destination in hours, not months, and in relative comfort compared to, say, seven days on a dusty stagecoach going from Phoenix to Tombstone. I'm not saying modern travel is fun — the whole airport experience is disheartening — but it is fast compared to what our recent ancestors had to endure. We've probably all taken trips where waiting for the luggage to come off the carousel took longer than the flight, where waiting for the shuttle bus to the airport hotel took longer than the drive to the airport. It's no wonder everyone wants to carry their luggage with them, but there's really not much the airlines can do. If one airline enforces the rules, people will just switch to the airline that doesn't make you check your oversized carry-ons and pillows.

What is in all that luggage? Clothes, of course. But when people get on the plane wearing flip-flops and shorts, and then struggle to put two big, heavy cases in the overhead rack, it's hard to believe those cases are full of suits and ties. Especially when the plane's going to Miami. It's got to be something they simply can't live without for seven days. Food, maybe? Their favorite mattress? A comfort animal or two? Gold bars? The world's heaviest underwear?

No, their stuff is probably just like mine, except I'm not lugging it everywhere I go.

Jim Mullen is the author of It Takes a Village Idiot: A Memoir of Life After the City. His column, The Village Idiot, takes a look at the curiosities of American life.

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