Six reasons why I don’t like to check my luggage

In the past week, we’ve posted a lot about the upcoming carry-on fee being introduced on Spirit Airlines. In that discussion, a lot of commenters pointed out that too many people carry too much stuff on their flights.

I am guilty of refusing to check my bags (when possible), but I don’t feel like I’m cheating on the airlines – if anything, I think the airlines have been cheating us for years. Here are my top reasons to refuse checking bags:

Security has made checking bags a major hassle

The airport experience is a pretty lousy one. In the past, you’d walk up to a check-in desk, hand over your ticket to a smiling airline employee, and drop your bags on the scales. That was the last you’d see of them until you landed and retrieved them from the baggage carousel.

Nowadays, the TSA has added a second level of hassle to checked bags – and in most cases, you now show up at an electronic kiosk, and wait for a staff member to call your name and tag your bags. You then need to drag them over to a TSA screening station, and in some cases, this involves waiting in line until the agents have time for you.

It is obvious that airports were not designed to deal with this step in security, but the least they could do is make the wait shorter.

The price of checking a bag

I have elite status on several airlines, and when I’m lucky enough to fly them, I don’t pay for checked baggage. But every now and then I have to fly an airline I don’t frequent, and really don’t like the idea of paying to have a bag loaded in the hold.

If I fly with my wife and daughter and we all check a bag, the price of my trip could easily go up by $300 – even though I’m getting the same lousy service I always did. Am I saving $300 on my ticket price? Nope.

The “carry-on bag fee” annoys me because you are suddenly out of options – you can either pay to check a bag, or pay to carry it on board. Either way, the airline will make money off you.

You can’t trust the airlines (or the baggage handlers, the TSA, fellow passengers or the airport staff)

Once you hand your bag over to the airlines, it passes a large number of people. And sadly, airport staff are not all that reliable.

Bags are regularly emptied of all valuables, and even when they are offloaded, you run the risk of strangers walking off with them in the terminal. Since there are absolutely no safeguards in place, someone can walk into the terminal, walk up to the carousel, and steal any bags they want.

This is exactly how a baggage thief operated in 2009 – he simply walked up to bags, loaded them in his car, and sold the contents at a flea market on weekends. Total haul? Over 600 bags!

US Airports should look at airports in Europe where the luggage area is still a sterile zone – it won’t stop fellow passengers from stealing your bag, but it will keep non-passengers away from them.

Retrieving your bags takes too long

I once waited four hours for the airline to offload my bags. Now, I’m not important enough that every minute of my day matters, but after a long flight, the last thing I want to do is hang around the airport waiting for my bags to come down the belt.

I find the baggage carousel to be one of the most depressing parts of a trip – everyone is in a foul mood, they all just want to go home, and they’ll push you and your family out of the way to reach their bags when they spot them.

The great unknown of where your bag goes

The world of technology is weird – we wait at the airport gate, remotely streaming movies to our iPad, using the airport-wide wireless Internet service, but at the same time, airlines are often unable to reliably get your bags from A to B.

A recent report shows that airlines are losing 3,000 bags every hour, every single day. Even in this day and age, waiting at the baggage carousel is like scratching a lottery ticket – you just never know what will happen next.

And when airlines do lose your bags, you never know if/when you’ll see them again. In addition to this, airlines have very little respect for your belongings. It could be a minor fire that burns everything to ashes, or it could be your priceless guitar – but sooner or later, an airline will damage your belongings.

Why check when you don’t have to?

This one is the most important of all. Airlines allow me to carry one bag and one personal item. When I fly, I’ll carry a laptop bag and a 22′ rolling case. My case fits in the overhead (wheels first) and my laptop bag goes under the seat. With these two bags, I don’t have to check my bags – because the airline rules state I’m allowed to carry them on board.

If people are carrying too much on the planes, then the airlines shouldn’t penalize everyone with paid carry-on rules, they should enforce their own rules. Even with bag sizers and gate agents, people are dragging too much on board. Two bags is the limit? Then enforce that limit. The solution is not to start charging for carry-on baggage, and it isn’t in banning all carry-on bags.