The Baggage Imperatives

As ramp agents, you know the three of us while we’re sitting around/on the jet bridge, we shoot the breeze. Typically we’re talking about co-workers or managers and supervisors etc. Like a typical job. But every once and a while we fall on tirades. One evening, while Brandon, Mike and I (Grant) were sitting around the luggage tirade broke like a tidal wave across southern California. There’s really no way I can describe the situation, who was doing what, contributing what where, or even how this conversation was drawn up from the well. You just have to take it on faith that we were neglecting our jobs, we were tired and I was humming something by Howlin’ Wolf for no apparent reason.

After the tirade though we found that there were a couple of rules of luggage. And these rules desperately needed to be addressed from, you know, a different point of view.

Now these imperatives should be considered between all phases of travel including: the purchasing of your luggage, the packing of your luggage and the relief of your luggage as you stuff it into corners of your basement and attic. And this is an ongoing deal. I’ll write it for now but I’m sure Brandon will whine about it and come up with something else that he believes is ‘more important for people who are redheaded.’ Someday you’ll see, he has red hair.

Imperative # 1 You could pay me to care, but you don’t.

It is critical to realize that after you check a bag at the counter, after it has gone through the dungeons of TSA agents and their gauntlet of terrors, every single person thereafter who will be handling your baggage is not paid enough to care about your luggage nor its contents. Coming to terms with this reality is the first step to travel freedom. OK. Maybe this is slightly unfair but if considered as a universal rule it is liberating.  The amount of hands that are going to be touching your luggage without your suspect is huge: counter agent, TSA agent, ramp agents of various airlines, jet-belly agents, transfer rampies and final destination throwers (that’s really when your bag is thrown). Now let’s play hypothetical, your bag mis-connects or is lost which means that other airline agents (whom you did not buy a ticket with, so they are not being paid to care) will rush (technical term, they’re not rushing) your bag to a flight that goes into your destination. That rush bag will then transfer hands to USPS, FedEx or UPS and then to baggage handling individuals. Besides FedEx and UPS and maybe, maybe American Airlines and Southwest people (who are the best paid in the industry) the hands on your luggage could care less about your luggage than their next poop. Grotesque? yes. True? Absolutely.

What it means for you: understand the risks of checking a bag. Combined, the airline industry moves approximately a million bags a day in the US alone (about 280,000 average passengers a day, per airline according to Wolfram Alpha). Statistically bags will be lost, smashed and stolen. There are just too many to have everything go right. To give the airlines the benefit they pull off an amazing feat. If 85% of all checked bags arrive at their destination then that’s 850,000 happy people. In reality they actually get nearly 97% of all checked bags to their destinations. There is always a slight chance you’re the unlucky handful and you should be aware.

Also, before we start casting stones at the airlines it should be considered that they can’t– not won’t– pay their baggage handlers better. With ever increasing operation costs it is nearly impossible to keep good workers on the ramp. Therefore when you pack your checked bag allocate your precious goods appropriately. Never, ever, ever pack expensive jewelry, prescription medication or pricey electronics in your checked luggage.

Imperative #2: Objectify your luggage like someone at a bar.

There are three things, only three, to consider when you purchase luggage for a trip  or plan to pack — Frequency, Duration, and Distance. The Flying Pinto has a great section on what’s the most appropriate bag for you which can be found here. But consider, while reading, the Frequency of your travels. Are you traveling once every six months or once every month? Even if you’re not flying consider how many times you’ll pack up to see Ma and Pa in Kansas City, or stay with your sister and her irritating husband in Portland.

Then consider for how long you’re going to stay. The Duration is key to how much you pack and remember, rollaboards (the nifty suitcases that trail along with you like some pariah dog) make you believe you can carry more than in actuality. You need to be able to lift your luggage. It’s requisite. Regardless of how long you’re staying it is your baggage, not the airlines, not your kids or brother-in-laws. Lifting your luggage is the right of passage of travel and unless you’re a child, disabled or elderly, you need to be self-sufficient. Learn a little something from Thoreau and rely on your abilities. Which correlates finally to —

Distance: how far are you traveling? Going to Europe? then consider how much more walking you will have to do. Typically people believe that the further away from home the more is necessary to pack heavy. This is a giant fallacy. The further you travel, the lighter the load needs to be simply because you will be more tired and, more than likely, you will walk/carry your luggage further.

Imperative # 3: Those bags which are lightest, get treated the nicest.

The lighter your bag the less likely it will be to break. As # 1 states, most people touching your bag won’t care about your bag. Your bag will experience at least three to four significant jolts and drops on a typical cross country trip. The average drop is six feet. Your bag will be dropped six feet multiple times. A bag that weighs 25 pounds has a much better chance at longevity than one that weighs 50 pounds.

Imperative # 4: Your bag will touch Purgatory before it’s over.

Bag rooms, in most major airports, have not been cleaned since their construction. Which means that there is typically a 70 year buildup of filth which is a mixture of dead skin cells and carbon-monoxide fumes. What it makes is an ash akin to what covered the people of Pompeii. Your bag with be dragged through this ash. Just warnin’ ya.

Imperative # 5: Regardless of what you fear don’t skinch on your bag.

Granted, everything we’ve written here makes it appear that you should buy luggage on the cheap and frequently. This isn’t the case. The bags that have the most problems are the cheap, ultralight pieces which are packed with too much stuff. This is how you loose a shoe somewhere in the depth of Denver. You don’t want to be that person who’s bag is sent up the carousel in the dreaded plastic casket. At the same time, don’t drop a paycheck on luggage. I love Freitag and their colorful hippie trips. But I refuse to drop $100 on a Dopp kit. Mid-line is the key. Never purchase a bag on aesthetic alone. Never ignore the style of simple practicality. The Flying Pinto and Heather Poole, both who travel for a living, more than likely own Travel Pro gear. Which is a little more high end but will take a beating. Again, fall onto our # 2, how often will you be traveling? for how long? and how far away?

Imperative # 6: Your bags love you, give love back.

Your luggage sits all this time without a purpose. Typically I find people shoving various things in their luggage to fill up space while it’s being underutilized. Which, really, is fine. Yet don’t shove them in your attic and pack pounds and pounds of stuff (like your burlap sacks full of duck decoys and the kid’s metal saucer sled) on top of it.

So this was huge. And I didn’t mean for it to be huge. But all these things are necessary when considering your luggage and traveling. Keep us in mind, share it, and let us know what you think!

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