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Why It’s Almost Never Worth It To Check In a Bag


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It has nothing to do with money and almost everything to do with my time.

I simply don’t like checking in my bag. It’s not because I’m avoiding the bag fee—in fact, I sometimes get three overweight bags gratis due to how much I fly—but honestly, it usually ends up being more of a hassle than it’s worth.

Look, we’re not trying to be unreasonable. There are clearly times when you need to check in a bag—ever try to move halfway across the country? And then there are the times you’re lugging back 40 pounds worth of Parisian groceries or a sweet set of Japanese kitchen knives. In that case, you’re don’t have much choice. Priorities are priorities.

Airlines aren’t paragons of efficiency unfortunately, despite being in the business of making sure you get to wherever you need to go in time. As anyone who’s ever had to suffer through a delay knows, things are not 100 percent fail-proof, which is why it’s important to account for the times that you might actually need your bag by your side.

Luggage, starting from the moment you check it at the counter, goes through several steps and multiple handlers before it’s finally sorted out and loaded onto your plane. Because of the staggering amounts of volume most airports go through, it’s inevitable that things do wrong go sometimes. But short of asking an honest, wage-working bag handler what he thinks, I’ve got to come clean.

In the interest of full disclosure, as a seven-year-old, I was once horribly scarred after my teddy bear disappeared, along with my luggage, en route to Pennsylvania. Things just haven’t been quite the same since.

That’s not to say things haven’t gotten better since the early 90s, but in keeping with Murphy’s law, a chance always exists that the airlines can mishandle or lose your bag. This makes it doubly important you don’t accidentally trash your baggage receipt since that’s often used to track your bag in a system that could masquerade as the Matrix. (Occasionally, travel insurance comes in handy here.)

By inherent right, the Transportation Security Administration has the option of opening and inspecting your bag to make sure it passes muster. While this is undoubtedly a safety precaution, there have been cases where they haven’t been as honest as we’d like them to be. Occasionally, while taking the best precautions, I’ve even had a substantial amount of foreign currency once randomly disappear *coughUnitedcough* from my suitcase.

Paranoia aside, it’s hard denying the advantages of not dealing with checked baggage. While the most obvious reason revolves around saving a few bucks, checked bags often add liabilities and concerns—especially if your flight is delayed or something happens en route so that you can’t actually be on the same flight with your suitcase. Generally, the airlines like you to fly with your bag.

This actually brings up a pretty important point. Once you’ve checked in baggage, most gate agents will not voluntarily separate you from your bag. This doesn’t mean they can’t—they definitely can bend the rules oh so slightly—but most won’t let you stand by for a separate flight or confirm a seat on an earlier flight out if your original flight gets ridiculously delayed. There are bound to be bumps in the road before you reach your final destination, and sometimes, a little flexibility goes a long way.

Foregoing the checked bag, however, has other delightful side benefits. By being forced to rely on one carry-on, it generally becomes an elegant way to coerce someone into packing light. Get rid of the dead weight that you don’t need. When time is of the essence, you’ll be grateful when push comes to shove.

Mostly, there is one main reason why I continue to never check a bag. Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats standing up from your seat, grabbing your bag and getting out to the airport curb in less than 15 minutes. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. I spend enough of my time in an airport. I don’t need to spend any more time in there waiting for a bag.

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