Trapped baggage handler yells and screams for attention

trapped baggage handlerPassengers on a US Airways flight at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. got a bit of a fright when they heard yelling and screaming coming from under their seats.

They alerted a flight attendant, who mentioned the odd noises to the pilot. As it turns out, one of the baggage handlers had been left behind in the locked hold, and was trying to get some attention before the plane departed.

Thankfully for the trapped ramp worker, the plane would not have taken off with him locked away, as he was also responsible for driving the tug required for pushing back from the gate.

Once he was freed from the hold, he got into the tug and continued his day. Still, if you thought your airplane seat was a tight and uncomfortable, I’m sure a cold ride in the cramped lugagge hold of an Embraer E-170 regional jet isn’t much better.

[Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]

Review: Balanzza Mini Luggage Scale – avoid nasty surprises at the airport!

Traveling with bags means trying to stay one step ahead of the airlines – and staying one step ahead of them, means knowing exactly how heavy your bags are. There no nothing more annoying than arriving at the airport, only to discover that you overpacked, and will either have to pay up, remove some items or move items between bags.

To help prevent these nasty surprises, you could consider investing in a portable luggage scale. Last year, we mentioned the Balanzza Ergo digital luggage scales – and now Balanzza has introduced a more compact version of their award winning product – the Balanzza Mini.

The Balanzza mini is the smallest digital luggage scale in the world. The device is about three times smaller than the original version – but still provides the same features and 100lbs. capacity.

To weigh your bag, you simply strap the scales to your handle, turn the unit on, and pick it up. As soon as the Balanzaa Mini beeps, you’ll have an accurate measurement. The scales are accurate to 0.2lbs – which is probably a better result than many uncalibrated airport scales.

The Balanzza Mini compared to the larger Balanzzo Ergo. Both are very accurate, but the reduced size and weight of the Mini has its obvious advantages. That said – with very heavy bags, the larger version may be more comfortable to lift.

The Balanzza Mini retails for $24.95, and is available directly from Balanzza, select Bed Bath & Beyond stores and a variety of online retailers.

Trick, repack and rethink your way around the new luggage fees

If you regularly check a bag, then I’m sure the airlines would like to personally thank you for the extra income. In just two years, we’ve gone from one airline experimenting with a pay-to-check baggage system, to an industry where paying to check any bag is the new standard. Thankfully, there are ways around having to check a bag.

Obviously, this won’t work if you are carrying everything plus your kitchen sink, but smart packers can easily pack and carry everything they need for an extended trip as carry-on luggage. In this Gadling guide, we’ll explain how you can sneak a third carry-on with you, how you can check a bag for free at the gate, or when to look into simply shipping your bags.

Don’t know whether your airline charges for checked bags? Check out this comprehensive chart from Airfarewatchdog.com.


Rethink your bag strategy to maximize what you can carry

Are you traveling with a laptop bag and a small duffel? Or a handbag and a small rolling case? Rethink how you carry your stuff if you want to maximize your space. Get the largest rolling case (or duffel) the airlines allow, and find the largest expanding laptop bag that can fit under a seat.

Ladies, be aware that airlines WILL count your handbag as a “personal item”, so leave room in your two other bags for your handbag. A gate agent having a bad day will stop you and demand that you combine your items.

Find lighter luggage

Every extra pound wasted on your luggage, is a pound you could use to pack more stuff. Rolling luggage has really evolved in recent years, to the point where a very sturdy piece of rolling luggage can weigh just 5 pounds. For more lightweight products, check out our lightweight travel gift guide.

Use a jacket as a third carry-on

Yes, that’s right – a jacket can be a very sneaky third carry-on without anyone noticing. Annie took the $120 Scottevest “Women’s essential jacket” for a spin last year, and explained how its 18 pockets let you carry the contents of one bag in your jacket. Nobody will notice you are actually wearing a bag, which gives you two more bags for your crap.

Scottevest garments are available in many styles, colors and sizes at scottevest.com.

Never make it LOOK heavy

No matter how much stuff you pack in your bags, don’t make it look heavy. The moment a gate agent sees you struggle with a bag, is the moment they’ll ask you to have the bag weighed, or point out that it is just too heavy for the overhead.

Make use of the handles on your bag, never drag a non-rolling bag through the airport, and never ask the flight attendant to help stuff your bag in the overhead – chances are they’ll point to the door and tell you to check it.

Board first

Boarding early means boarding when the overhead compartments are still relatively empty. Of course, getting the magical “group 1” on your boarding pass isn’t always easy (or possible). In some cases, the airline may offer a relatively cheap upgrade to premium economy, or you may be able to find yourself a comp to an entry level elite status.

If you are traveling with a buddy who holds group 1 eligible status, you can usually piggyback off their status.

Have a last minute backup plan

Always designate one of your bags your “flight bag”. If your massive overweight bags get noticed at the gate, and someone demands you check one of them, you don’t want to be the last person holding up the flight because you need to combine items from both bags into one.

Make sure you pack everything you need in one bag, and use the other one for less important stuff. Chargers, medication and your iPod stay together. Of course, refrain from packing expensive items in your “can check” bag, as there is no such thing as a “lucky day” when flying.

Gate-check

Did you make it past the check-in kiosk and the security checkpoint with your obviously overweight bag? If the gate area is packed, ask the agent for a gate check of your bag. They’ll actually appreciate your honesty and willingness to part with your bag. But best of all, they’ll slap a tag on your bag for free. Of course, this won’t work with your massive 30″ suitcase, as someone from the TSA will prevent that from making its way through the x-ray machine, but an expanded 22″ bag won’t be a problem (unless you try and stuff it in the overhead). Some airlines are even experimenting with gate check volunteers, and will reward them with a “group 1” boarding assignment.

Also, do us all a favor and don’t even bother trying to stuff an expanded bag in the overhead – it won’t fit, and you’ll just end up delaying the entire boarding process.

Dump the crap and lighten the load

Really, if you are going on a 4 day trip with two 40lb bags, then you’d better have a damn good reason. When you start packing, start going through some of the junk you have in your bags. Chances are, you don’t need half of it.

Heavy and bulky items like shoes may seem like a must have on your trip, but in some cases you may be better off with lighter flip-flops. Start by repacking your most essential items, then slowly add things you think you might need.


Ship, don’t schlep

Our very own George Hobica already did your homework on this one – in some cases, it can be cheaper, faster and safer to ship your luggage instead of trying to carry it on the plane (or check it).

FedEx or UPS can get a bag to your destination in a couple of days, which means you can leave for the airport without worrying about toiletries, clothes or other luggage. Just bring your small carry-on, and keep an eye on the tracking number. Once at your destination, if the service did its job right, your bags will be safe and sound waiting for you to have a good time.

Rethink your technology

Technology is a good friend of the lightweight traveler. Dump the laptop and get a netbook. Sell your old books and get a Kindle. Throw your old chargers in a box and get a universal lightweight laptop charger.

Yes – the investment in technology will be pretty fierce if you really want to go ultra lightweight, but your back will thank you for it.

Borrow a friend (but not a stranger)

Traveling with a buddy? If you are on the road with someone who knows the tricks, or who simply doesn’t care about paying to check a bag, you can always ask them to carry one of your bags for you. Obviously, only do this with someone who trusts you, and don’t betray their trust by using that bag for your bootleg DVD’s and “herbal products” from Amsterdam. No, really – don’t do it.

%Gallery-68288%

%Gallery-65766%

What? You’re still paying the airlines to carry your bags?

Now that the airlines have raised, yet again, their fees for checked bags, it’s time to take another look at the alternative: shipping your bags, or better yet (if you’re staying in one place once you arrive) just the contents of your bag ahead of your arrival using economical ground shipping services.

Why deal with the airlines, when UPS Ground and FedEx Ground offer better tracking, insurance and security, can be much cheaper in some scenarios, and will actually refund your shipping fee if there’s a delay or loss? No waiting in line at the airport! No pilferage! No schlepping!

Airfarewatchdog.com has looked at four domestic route scenarios (short, medium, and long haul) and compared three shipping services and two airlines (one with high bag fees, and one with low fees) to see how much you can save by not entrusting your bags to the airlines.

As you can see from the chart, depending on route and method, the cost savings achieved from shipping vs. schlepping range from little or nothing to dramatic. But as we explain, even if costs are the same, dealing with a company like FedEx
can be much less stressful than with an airline.

Consider: a single 25-pound suitcase or shipment from Boston to San Francisco by FedEx Ground costs about $31 vs. $23-$25 on Delta or nothing on Southwest.

But once that suitcase weighs over 50 pounds, excess charges kick in on the airlines, even on Southwest: you’d pay $56 for a 55-lb. bag using USPS on that same Boston-San Francisco trip, but twice that on Delta, which adds an extra $90 fee each way for bags weighing over 50 pounds. Even Southwest will charge you $50 each way.

And if your bag is both heavy and oversized (larger than 61-62 linear inches), you’ll get hit with triple jeopardy on some airlines: a fee for the first bag, plus an overweight fee, plus an oversized fee. Such a bag might cost nearly $300 on Delta on a trip from Los Angeles to Seattle vs. under $40 via FedEx Ground.

Also of note: the typical 22-inch rolling suitcase weighs 9-10 lbs. and airlines will shun responsibility for what they consider “normal wear and tear” if the suitcase or its wheel mechanism is damaged in transit. If you’re staying in one place once you arrive, do you really need a suitcase at all? Put your clothes and other personal items in a sturdy box and you’ll pay ground shippers even less than the prices shown in our chart.

But even if the costs are the same airline vs. ground shipping, consider these advantages of shipping:

  • Better tracking: You can track your shipment online step by step. Try that with an airline.
  • Safer: There’s less chance of something going missing or getting damaged.
  • Convenience: you can breeze through the airport without waiting in line to check bags.
  • Responsibility: If an airline loses or delays your bag, they’ll keep your fee and play the blame game. FedEx and UPS will at least refund your shipping fees. Plus, airlines refuse to take responsibility for losing or damaging anything they consider “valuable,” such as electronics or business items. You can insure these items with the shipping services for a small additional fee.
  • Less schlepping: True, you have to either drop off your shipment at a post office, UPS office or store, or FedEx or Kinko’s location (or you can arrange for pick up for a small fee in some cases), but let’s face it: fighting for overhead space is no fun, and lugging luggage through mile-long airport concourses is no fun either.

Clearly, we’ve only given examples for domestic shipping, but USPS Priority Mail rates for international shipping are surprisingly competitive with the airlines’ fees for checking bags on international routes.

And even if you’re the carry-on type, shipping on your next trip may reveal the joys of not fighting for overhead space and saving yourself a shoulder injury from hoisting a heavy bag into same.

Give shipping vs. checking a try next time you fly. You may never pay bag fees again.

George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog™, the most inclusive source of airfare deals that have been researched and verified by experts. Airfarewatchdog compares fares from all airlines and includes the increasing number of airline-site-only and promo code fares.

Passengers left without luggage because of airlines refusal to pay overtime

Oh how the mighty have fallen. A decade ago, British Airways referred to itself as “the world’s favorite airline”. Now, they are quickly becoming the world’s worst.

After their planned strike was canceled, it became obvious that staff morale was at an all time low – something that became painfully obvious last Friday night at London Heathrow. A flight arriving from Prague got into the airport over an hour late, mainly due to the bad London weather.

Sadly, the baggage handling team at terminal 5 reached the end of their work day, and nobody at British Airways was willing to authorize overtime pay. End result — luggage stays on the plane, and the staff all go home.

Passengers had to wait for hours till the morning crew arrived at the airport. Some of these customers had been stuck at the airport for almost 6 hours. Of course, British Airways blamed everything on the bad weather, and apologized for the situation. Sadly, this is the same airline that once left 100’s of bags out in the rain, so they have a pretty nasty history in dealing with luggage.

%Gallery-64688%