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.

Crumpler Old Banger duffel bag review

The Crumpler “Old Banger” duffel bag is the duffel bag you pick if you need two things – a good looking bag, and a duffel that’ll survive pretty much anything you throw at it.

On the outside, the bag isn’t really all that special – but it is how it is made that really matters with this bag. Crumpler built this bag around the best possible materials – 900D water resistant fabric on the outside, and 150D ripstop on the inside. All zippers are “self healing”, which means they’ll actually realign themselves if something gets stuck.

All the stitching is “bartack stitching” which makes every seam extremely strong. In addition to this, some portions feature triple stitching. The end result is an amazingly sturdy bag – with good looks to match.

The carrying handles are neoprene cushioned, so even when you stuff it full of your travel items, it won’t hurt your hands (too much). On the sides are additional carrying handles – making it easy to pull out of an overhead storage bin. It does lack shoulder straps, but the carrying handles are long enough to be used on your shoulder or even as a backpack.

The outside is decorated with the Crumpler logo – and the bag itself is available in green/orange and blue/green color combinations. Like another of my favorite bags, I love the bright inner color on the Old Banger – perhaps i’m just weird, but I love wacky and bright colors on my bags. In addition to this, the bright inside also makes it easier to find things in the dark.

The Old Banger features 2 additional pockets – one on the outside (with an integrated key ring/strap) and one on the inside. All zippers feature oversized pull tabs. Despite the high quality materials and stitching, Crumpler managed to keep the bag to a mere 1.87 lbs (0.85kg). To test the inner storage space I took a quick unscientific approach – I moved the contents of my fully loaded 22″ roller into the Old Banger – and was able to pack it with ease (and close the zippers). In a day and age where gate agents are on the lookout for heavy looking bags, a duffel is probably going to pass their strict looks easier than an overweight rolling case.

The Crumpler Old Banger comes with a lifetime warranty – but it obviously only covers defects in workmanship, not wear and tear. The lifetime warranty only applies to the original owner of the product.

All in all, a well designed piece of quality luggage – at $105 it is most certainly not a cheap duffel bag, but if you treat your luggage as rough as I do, an investment in something better than a $10 drugstore duffel is a must. You’ll find the Crumpler Old Banger over at their US site, or through their global store finder.

Airlines losing 3000 bags – every hour of every day

In 2009, the worlds airlines lost a whopping 25 million pieces of passenger luggage. That comes down to just under 3000 bags every hour of every day, all year long. These shocking statistics were published by SITA – one of the operators of airline and airport computer systems, using data from the World Traver luggage database.

SITA breaks down the reasons behind bags not arriving at their destination:

  • During aircraft transfers – 52%
  • Failed to load – 16%
  • Ticketing error / bag switch / security / other – 13%
  • Airport / customs / weather / space-weight restriction – 6%
  • Loading / offloading error – 7%
  • Arrival station mishandling – 3%
  • Tagging error – 3%

There is some good news though – 96.6% of all bags do manage to reach their owner – eventually. This still leaves over 800,000 bags that end up going unclaimed. Bags that never arrive are often simply abandoned by their owners, or fall victim to theft at the airport. After six months, all unclaimed bags are donated, sold or destroyed.

The real good news is that airlines have managed to lose fewer bags. Compared to 2008, airlines managed to decrease lost bag numbers by 23.8%. Of course, part of this is due to decreasing passenger numbers, but the worldwide decline in air travel was just 2.9%.

Bottom line is that airlines are investing heavily in luggage management, and even though they may never reach a perfect score, the current trend is very positive one – and one that will benefit everyone that checks bags. Of course, as luggage fees have started increasing, it is also refreshing to see that airlines are actually doing something with all that new money.

Don’t forget to follow our tips on keeping your luggage safe at the airport!

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

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

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.


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.



Gadling Take Five: Oct. 17–Oct. 23

Each time I read through posts for Gadling Take Five, I look for those that may have been missed by readers. I also look for posts that may fit together in some sort of cosmic theme. It’s often hard to choose five. While browsing the offerings this week, it seems this was a week of great ideas. This week I found a gold mine.

Here are ten great ideas:

  • When Alison was at Litquake in San Francisco she discovered The Bookmobile, a former actual Bookmobile that has been turned into an experiential gathering place for readers, if you will. If you see the Bookmobile somewhere along the Lincoln Highway this year, step inside. You might encounter a famous author driving it. The material being gathered during the Bookmobile’s journey will be turned into a documentary.
  • A good idea worth considering is reducing the number of traffic signs. Although Aaron is a swell driver, he’s given some thought to how he might be better at it if there were fewer signs to distract him. There is research to prove him right. Fewer signs have been shown to decrease accidents.
  • As world travelers, we’re often introduced to problems we wouldn’t have been otherwise. In Tibet, blindness is a problem. In Sean’s post on the Planeterra Foundation, you can read more about the organization’s wonderful idea to tackle blindness and how you might get involved.
  • Kraig, who knows a thing or two about adventure travel, highlights the reasons why hiking the Continental Divide Trail is a good idea. In the case of hiking this trail, Kraig suggests a good idea is to plan for extremes. For example, on one section there’s a lack of water. On another, you’ll be on the look out for grizzles.
  • Here are two airlines with great ideas. KLM is giving away personalized luggage tags. Scott tells you how to get them. Virgin America is considering testing out this good idea. Those without carry-ons can board first. Alison did think about how this good idea might not be so good after all.
  • If you’re on a long flight, Tom has come up with great ideas for how to be more productive. Since one of my favorite things to do on a plane is zone out, Tom’s tips are extra handy.
  • For anyone looking for where to have a destination wedding. Look no further than St. Maarten. Katie has the scoop on why having a wedding on this island is a great idea. It’s free.
  • You probably came across Annie’s post on 10 things not to forget to pack when you go on a trip. Pajamas is one of them, something I consistently forget.
  • Here’s a good idea that might be a bit weird. I found out about GoGirl, a device that helps women pee like men.
  • And here’s a shout out to Heather’s grand idea even though it’s already found great press. It’s such a great idea, I had to include it. Heather has turned Laviator into a household word. I still have yet to become a Laviator. It’s probably because of my tendency to zone out on a plane. One of these days, though–one of these days.