Airport Baggage Debate

Do you carry luggage on or check it? Two travelers weigh the pros and cons.

Man with suitcase on baggage carousel, illus. William Duke, image

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Carry it on Don't get between my bags and me. My palms moisten at the approach of a smiling bellhop, and the mere sight of a skycap is enough to make me quiver in retreat—"No, thanks. I'll manage."

So it's no surprise that, given the option, I always carry my luggage—a 22-inch hulking black pit bull of a suitcase—onto the plane.

Call me a bin hog, but know this: In 2003, 2.2 million airline passengers filed mishandled-baggage reports, up 22 percent from the year before. That's at least one lost, damaged, delayed, or pilfered bag for every three domestic commercial flights.

I don't want to be like my sister Barbara, who spent last Thanksgiving in her travel sweats with Mom and Dad in Denver while the rest of her belongings enjoyed an all-expense-paid trip to a baggage carousel in Atlanta. Nor like my best friend Mike, who nearly lost his guitar on a red-eye flight to Boston after rough handling broke the case's latch.

Why play baggage roulette when you don't have to? Instead, invest in a healthy-size carry-on, one with wheels and lots of zippered compartments for extra socks. Next, learn the art of packing light. Don't let a second pair of wingtips be the reason you're baking on a beach in rolled-up khakis. Finally, know that carrying on means exactly that: being encumbered with your stuff for 90 minutes or so, through security, to the gate, and on board the plane. Sure, it's a little extra work, but hey, it's your stuff—right there with you, safe and sound. You'll manage.

Bruce Anderson

Check it I've found two great reasons to check luggage through at the airport—me and everyone else. I have no need to be manacled to a Samsonite millstone that slows down the already long march through security. Checking my bag leaves my hands free for more important things, like a large latte and the New York Times crossword. And, though civility is no longer chic, leaving your bags with a skycap is a courtesy to your fellow passengers. Ever notice that the travelers who don't check their baggage at the door are always the most stressed out, even though they're not the ones getting smacked by reckless rucksacks? They're the ones blocking the aisles as they attempt to rewrite the laws of three-dimensional space. Their biggest sin is the danger they pose with rogue luggage that occasionally bursts out of an unlatched overhead bin.

Some tips

  • Decorate your bag with neon pink yarn or reflective yellow tape to avoid mix-ups at baggage claim.
  • Carry valuables in your purse or handbag.
  • And finally, settle into your seat, ponder the four-letter possibilities for "unencumbered," and smile, knowing that when you get to heaven, you’ll find an express line for those who relinquish their luggage.

Photo Illustration by William Duke

This article was first published in January 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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