As a travel writer, I’m supposed to hate checking my bags on planes with a near religious fervor. SFGate has run this piece about the joys of packing light; going on a 2-week European extravaganza with only a 22-inch roll-aboard suitcase and a shoulder bag.
No thank you. I regularly defy all professional convention and *gasp of horror* check my suitcase through to my destination. I LOVE me some checked bags. The moment I stroll away from the counter, leaving my heavy suitcase behind, I feel so light and free. Why would I do that? It costs extra to check even one small suitcase. And I’m surrendering my belongings to the baggage handlers and the TSA inspectors.
If I’m not feeling well enough to do the endless airport hike, the wheelchair attendant who helps me to the gate when I’m not feeling well can’t push me and drag my roll-aboard too. So unlike the typical travel writer, sometimes I can’t manage an all-carry-on flight. Even when I am feeling better and can stand in security lines, I have trouble hefting an overpacked roll-aboard into an overcrowded overhead bin. At worst, I’ll hurt myself physically. At best, I’ll be one of those jerks whose bag takes up all the space in a bin, leaving none for her seatmates.
The Big Question: What will I do if my bag doesn’t appear on the carousel I’m leaning against at the exhausted end of my flight?
Answer: I’ll file a request to have my bag delivered to me when it eventually shows up. Then I’ll go to my motel, lie down, and get some sleep. After that, I’ll make with the having of fun on my trip. Part of that fun will include finding a store at which I can buy new underpants. Hey–an opportunity to talk to locals and truly experience local culture!
Stats on checked baggage loss
Let’s get real: the worst airline in the United States for baggage problems in 2009 (Comair, if you’re wondering) had less than 9 lost, delayed, or damaged bags per 1000 travelers. That is–on a bad airline, your chances of having a bag problem are less than 1%. On the best airline (AirTran), bag problems plummet to less than 0.2%. You’re more likely to jam a finger trying to sling a 40-pound rolling bag into an already overstuffed overhead bin than the airline is to lose my checked bag.
For the latest stats on your favorite airline’s baggage handling skills, check out the Air Travel Consumer Reports monthly data. Yes, they do keep track.
Ameliorating baggage woes
When I book my flights, I pay attention to my connections. Every connection increases the risk that my bag will be misfired to the wrong destination. But if I set up my flights with at least 60-90 minutes from one connection to the next, I not only give myself a fighting chance to make it to my next gate, I give the baggage handlers that same chance to get my bag onto the next plane with me.
I don’t pack anything irreplaceable in the bags I plan to check, because I’m not an idiot. My meds, money, ID, itinerary, cell phone, laptop, earplugs, and a spare pair of undies all come with me in my carry-on. ONE carry-on, that I can lift my myself and that fits underneath the seat in front of me.
If my clothes and extra paperbacks don’t make it to my destination with me, I am prepared to buy a couple of new outfits to tide me over. Yes, I have that both in mind and in budget every single time I board a plane.
Finally, the big reveal. How many times have I had an airline mislay my bag? Once. Precisely once, and I fly several times each year. What happened? The bag showed up on the next flight–because I was staying at an airport hotel, I wandered back over to the carousel and picked it up myself.