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No More 'Carry on Luggage' You Can't Carry

Flying by air has become one of the most degrading experiences of modern life. Standing barefoot, zombie like, in endless lines, the forced removal of belts and clothing, the scans which show perfect strangers the content of your pockets and your bowels in 3-D, and finally, people with gigantic carry on bags that take up all the overhead luggage space.
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If you can't carry it, it's not carry on luggage.

There are some challenging problems facing America right now – serious issues which will take a lot of time, thought and political capital to tackle. Then there are the kind of problems we should be able to straighten out in a single afternoon, with just a little common sense.

Problems like the creeping size of alleged “carry on” luggage allowed on domestic flights.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world with my work, and I deeply appreciate the opportunities to have visited so many different places - so take this grumble in the intended #FirstWorldProblems spirit.

Flying by air has become one of the most degrading experiences of modern life. Don’t pretend not know what I am talking about. Standing barefoot, zombie like, in endless lines, the forced removal of belts and clothing, the scans which show perfect strangers the content of your pockets and your bowels in 3-D, having to locate a pen so you can affirm that, no, unless you count falling asleep during a late-night screening of Schindler’s List, you didn’t have anything to do with the Nazi war crimes… all nightmarish stuff inflicted on folks who are supposed to be customers.

No other business is allowed to get away with what the aviation industry perpetrates on a daily basis. How many of you reading this have suffered the indignity of a strip search? The inside of your jeans probed? What about a cancelled flight resulting in a virtual 24-hour kidnapping ordeal, before you were placed on a rescheduled plane? All the above have happened to me at least four times.

My own breaking point finally came on a LA to Atlanta flight last year, when a nightmare 20 hours didn’t end when I finally sat down in my $800 seat. Waiting to taxi, I momentarily looked up from my book to notice not one but two flight attendants had already removed my computer bag from the compartment above my head and were now struggling to replace it with an enormous and obviously heavy suitcase belonging to another customer.

Reading the puzzlement on my face, one attendant informed me she was “making room” for another customer’s luggage and my own bag would be found a home at the back of the plane… some 15 metres or more behind me.

As my slender computer bag contained not only my laptop but also an iPad and some sensitive documents, I didn’t want it placed so far out of my sight. I also didn’t love the idea of having to inevitably wait until the 50 or so people sat in the seats behind me departed post-flight before I stood a chance of retrieving my property. That would further delay me getting off the plane and getting on with my life.

So, politely but firmly, I informed the attendant that, actually, I wanted my bag to remain in the compartment above my own head, that I had a lot of valuable items in it, that at some point during the flight I may wish to take out another book, my iPad, a bag of chips, and – moreover – I didn’t see why I should be subjected to essentially an inferior service/experience merely to enhance someone else’s.

After all, I had got to the airport on time. Unlike the owner of this blue nylon monstrosity, I had paid $25 to check my own heavy suitcase. Unlike the other guy, I got my ass in my seat plenty early. And, most of all, my carry on bag was very small.  I carried it on.

In sum: I’d paid more money, got to the gate on time, played fair to the spirit of what constitutes a “carry on” item... and wasn’t about to bend over and get the shaft in favor of someone who did none of these things.

I insisted my bag was not leaving my proximity. I felt bad for the flight attendants, because other customers – perhaps encouraged by my own loud refusal to cooperate with this mad policy – were less polite. Nevertheless, I’d like this tiny form of rebellion to continue.

Really, enough is enough with this. If you cannot physically carry the bag, how can Earth can it possibly be a carry-on item? If one’s luggage is so damn heavy you need to drag it behind you on wheels, it should be checked. (Allowances should be made, of course, for the elderly and otherwise physically challenged.)

Lifting these Atlas like stones to the overhead compartments is usually a two-person job. I’ve seen at least a dozen of these collaborations attempted in front of my very eyes: usually one person provides most of the muscle required for the baggage to overcome the Earth’s gravity and reach what NASA calls “escape velocity”, while the second works feverishly to maneuverer the skyward projectile into the awkwardly shaped docking bay of the overhead compartment.

Most the time, the passenger will get assistance from airline staff. This is grossly unfair on the flight attendants. Dealing with hundreds of bored, cramped and generally pissed off people while breathing recycled sneezes and coughs is a miserable job as it is, one would imagine, without adding Olympic dead-lifting to the job description.

So, the next time you are informed by a cabin staffer that your reasonably-sized carry on item has to be moved, politely but decisively decline.