Well, almost. It’s hard to believe I routinely traveled with little more than a half-full rucksack when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. Now, five years later, paring down my possessions to fit a full-on internal frame pack was a challenge.
With the hope of getting on an earlier flight to Dublin once we arrive in London, we carried on. The gate agent apparently didn’t notice me staggering toward the jet way under the burden of a load complete with rain gear for Ireland, a tent for southern France, and my winter sleeping bag for the Sahara.
Somehow, when I’m toting a roll-aboard suitcase, I tend to attract a suspicious glance or two from airline agents, especially when checking a bag costs as much as a parking ticket with most airlines. That’s often because, with a suitcase, I’ve somehow convinced myself that I have a Mary Poppins-like ability to fit everything I use while I’m at home, and oftentimes, a good deal I don’t. Three pairs of shoes for a weekend trip? Sounds practical. A hardbound complete anthology of James Joyce’s works? Throw it in there, I’ll have loads of time on the plane. It all adds up to a piece of luggage, seams stretched to capacity, the odd sharp bulge threatening the integrity of the ballistic fabric, that betrays my apparent fondness for traveling heavy to anyone with a discerning eye.
“That’ll have to be checked, Sir.”
“What, this?” I feign amazement.
“We can do it right here for you.”
“But I won’t have to pay for it, will I?” I ask, politely as possible.
“No sir,” she says.
Funny how these little plays in real life can make respectable runs. Airlines charge for checked luggage, causing folks like me not to pack lighter, but to stuff the same amount of stuff in a smaller space, which leads to passengers hoofing their dubiously designated carry-on luggage through security and to the gate. The climax arrives when the gate agent, by now old hat in the role of unwitting enabler, offers to check the bag for free at the gate. Not exactly riveting theater, but the seats facing the ticket counter where this all goes down are cheap. I’ve attended quite a few performances in the past year or so, and I’m always left wondering, do the airlines see the fact that you got your bag a little closer to the plane as worth $25 in the gas and labor it would have taken one of their people to get it there? Are they worried that pulling out the measuring tape and verifying that, yes indeed, Sir, you’ve exceeded our size requirements by a full 20 inches, might incite already-grumpy travelers to rally around the discriminatory “baggist” views of the airline?
I’m a proponent of the former. Call me an optimist, but in an industry replete with nonsensical fees and arbitrary safety and security rules (I seriously doubt we’ve foiled the plans of those terrorists who need 4 ounces of liquid for their diabolical plots – “Why did it have to be 3? they say. “With just 1 more ounce, we’d bring America to its knees.”), perhaps the airlines have finally conceded defeat to a flying public willing to take them to the mat in terms of ridiculousness. If you’re willing to carry it through increasingly labyrinthine airports to avoid the levied fees, they seem to be saying, well then, you’ve earned a free spot for your stuff.
Maybe that’s why the gate agent let me on today with my swollen pack.