Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Of Baggage and Bins


Setting: Anywhere Airport, Delta Terminal
The crackle of the PA System flares just as a Delta employee does their very best to summon a level of enthusiasm that almost certainly departed their soul right after the dregs of their coffee disappeared. It almost works.
“Good morning passengers on flight 2592 to Atlanta, we’d like to thank you for choosing Delta. We’d also like to let you know that this is a full flight. We will run out of overhead room. If you’d like to check your carry-on bag, we can do so at the counter”.
Looking around, one may notice that they are surrounded by dozens, several dozens, of people whose idea of carry-on luggage is a bag large enough to fit several human bodies, or 150 pairs of shoes, or at least a regular-sized barbecue smoker.
This is a fairly recent phenomenon, correct? Like less than a decade? It has nothing to do with worrying about terror attacks, or feeling the need to follow that travel rule of keeping at least one set of clothing with you. It seems to have everything to do with the fact that checking a bag now costs 25 bucks-a-bag and people are sick of this shit. They have already had to shell out hundreds of dollars for a ticket and THEY WILL NOT BEND. THIS IS THE PASSENGER'S REVOLT.
The logic is understandable to an extent. And it should be noted that the author fully condones the use of ACTUAL carry-on luggage. Going for an overnight and you’re able to fit 3 pairs of pants and two sweaters and 2 shoes and 8 socks (yeah, the TSA sees those socks and KNOWS what you’re doing with them) in a bag that conveniently sets in that metal basket that’s under the sign that says “Does your carry-on fit?” Well, then, more power to you and your efficient packing
But that’s rarely the case and we all know it. Now, every gate in every airport is 80% gigantic rolling suitcase wheeled by someone who will never be able to lift that bag overhead, much less shove, push, stuff or force it into the overhead bin.
We all travel with baggage, but traveling with actual baggage has become farce. It’s become an ugly tug of war between an airline that knows they’ve already won the war, and a passenger intent on winning the battle. The airline knows passengers will fight, only to be defeated and buckle into their leg room-less seat and pray to whatever higher power they assign their faith to “please don’t let that overhead compartment pop open mid-flight and injure me…or someone else. And please don’t let me have broken that vase I paid 400 dollars for. Sure I just shoved into a very tiny space that is more than likely causing tiny hairline fractures to the glass, but just let it be kinda fine”. And to ensure this is the outcome, the airline has made sure that it gives its passengers plenty of opportunities to NOT looking like a total bag-boarding nincompoop, and they are opportunities that are passed up at every turn.
This is how many times the airline gives a passenger to save themselves from OBH (Overhead Bin Humiliation)
1: Right after the ticket purchase: “Hey congrats on that trip you’re about to take. You do you and treat yourself. But are you traveling with luggage? Well you might want to check out our standard guidelines”
2: The Check-In Reminder that the passenger requested 24 hours before the flight: “Hey remember that trip you booked months ago? Sorry that it’s only a ticket for one now, but hey, do you still think you’re gonna go to Seattle with a bag, or do you think you’re cool just wearing those jeans and those undergarments for 5 days? Either way works for us, but just a reminder, if you’re planning on being hygienic at all and packed anything extra, you might want to check the size of the bag. K, thnx”
3: As soon as the passenger checks-in at the airport: “Hey great job remembering to bring the credit card you used to purchase your tickets to swipe for check-in. Not many people do! And also you’re racking up the wins, by remembering to bring your ID and original social security card! Just one more thing…do you have a bag? Like kind of a big one? Like one you’re not sure you can lift even though you’ve been doing crossfit? If you do, you might want go ahead and send it through now. Yes, it’s 25 dollars. Yes, we know, you paid 250 for the ticket already. Yes, we know it’s annoying that we don’t serve peanuts or free alcohol anymore. Sorry, what can we say? The world is going to hell in a hand basket. But you could be MORE comfortable on that journey if you just checked that bag now. We’re worried that deadlift PR yesterday did something to your back, and lifting 100 pounds of shoes and chocolate might only make it worse…”
4:Right before the passenger enters the TSA Zone/Security Paddock: The sign reads ‘Does Your Carry-On Fit In This?” What it’s actually saying is “Is your bag this big? Did you jumble a bunch of things around and shake it in to make it fit? Are there canvas pouches of your suitcase sticking out of this metal basket? Be honest, is this making your bag look fat? Because if it does, don’t forget, you can check it!”
5:At the Gate "Congratulations for making it this far! You’re practically at the point in the journey where Sam and Frodo meet Gollum! Which is to say not quite halfway but definitely like a quarter of the way there! Thanks for flying with (insert preferred flying company here). We just want to remind you, we see a TON of you with bags that we’re pretty sure WON’T fit in the overhead compartment! We’re just letting you know, if there was a problem with your fundamental understanding of the baggage requirements we’re here to help now! You can check your bag to your destination. This time we won’t even charge you, since you put up such a fight. But do it now, so we can board on time, we know you like to board on time”
6: At The GatePt. 2: "Hey again, just us! We’ve been able to force as many of you overbooked passengers on the plane as we can, but that means some of those gigantic bags have GOT to go underneath. Just help us, help you. This is really the last time we’ll ask about your bags, after this, you’re on your own. And you know those snobby Diamond club members are gonna take as much room as they can, so let’s face it, Zone 2 passengers, you don’t stand a chance. Come on, just bring the bags to us, we’ll get them there…we promise!”*
At this point, 75% of the people on any given flight will board even the smallest of aircraft with a regular-sized suitcase. You know why? Because this is America, dammit! This is THEIR trip. They don’t have to listen to no stinking guidelines! We have enough guidelines in life! Why should literal baggage be another one?!
And in about 20 minutes, a silent, passive-aggressive, embarrassing version of their personal hell will begin for at least 4-10 of these forewarned passengers. Here is what those passengers will experience.
The first step towards that gaping Hellmouth you ask? The boarding process. Everyone stands up, en masse, at the gate. There are 2 to 3 defiant showoffs; passengers who are above standing with the rest of the herd, but even they’ll get nervous after 4 minutes. They’ll join the human blob slowly massing forward into a press. The anticipation of being the first ones to the overhead compartments has already begun weighing heavy on passengers’ brains. A close look will reveal the empathy and joy that make life worth living being sweat out of Zone 2 and 3 passengers’ hair follicles. But they’ve stood strong this long with this giant suitcase. They can keep going.
(An Aside) Thoughts going through passengers’ minds during the boarding process:
“Oh great…a kid”
“Oh great…an infant”
“Oh great, an old lady. If I don’t let her in front I’ll look like an asshole. If I do let her in, she takes the space for my bag AND ten minutes to sit down”
“Oh great, did that man just sneeze? He’s sitting next to me, I know it. And then I’m sick for two weeks!”
“Did that person NOT wear socks? Where are THEY from?”
“Oh Jesus, if that person with the giant shopping bag doesn’t shove that under her seat and take up overhead space I’ll lose it”
“See, everyone’s bag is bigger than mine, I told you we’d be fine”
“Did I remember to bring the hotel travel-size soap and shampoo? I mean I paid for them”

Now that these passengers have waited for Zone 2 to board (no doubt patting themselves on the back for waiting with the rest of the Zone 2 neo-maxi zoom dweebies and not jumping ahead, because let’s face it, the flight attendants aren’t looking at the zone when they scan your ticket and they’re definitely letting zone 2 on with zone 1 because damn, we gotta keep this flight moving) they’re impatiently waiting in line. After another 5 minutes in the cold, dark connector waiting for those uppity Zone 1’s to sit the eff down) finally they spy the plane entrance.
It’s slow going, but nearly there. Sure that attendant didn’t really listen to them after she asked “how are you?” but it’s fine. That lipstick is working for her and they’ve all got places to be. But they’re on the plane, finally! And now they can pretend to not stare at the first class passengers the whole time. Slowly, one foot in front of the other, one drag of the bag, one awkward shoulder nudge of a seated passenger at a time, their seat comes into view. Nirvana sets in.
Then Panic.
(An Aside) Overhead Bin Humiliation Panic Thoughts:
“that lady with the goddamn shopping bag DID beat me to an overhead space! “
“Why are people shoving their bags in length-wise instead of width-wise?! “The attendants are telling them to please place their bags in wheels first and no one’s listening!”
“No, a LAPTOP is not an OVERHEAD item!”
“Is that a reusable tote bag?! That’s not even luggage!”
“oh god, what do I do, there’s two spaces left and that old lady is getting that college kid to put hers in one of them! Did she wink at me because she’d been running game on me all along?”
“This is why I never fly”**
It’s too late for these passengers now. They know they’re going to have to check their bags. And its all because of those stupid shopping bag people and Zone 1 losers! Our OBH passengers tell themselves they played by the rules! They only brought one bag and one personal item, and it shouldn’t matter that the one bag is large enough to pack an entire seasonal wardrobe in! This is their vacation. They try to reason with the flight attendant who has clearly had it. It’s no use. Down to the belly of the flying beast it must go. With the rest of the peons things. They sit down saddened and embarrassed and delaying the plane an extra ten minutes, but soon they realize one very important thing. They got to keep their 25 bucks.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m surprised more airport workers don’t punch people in the face. And also, if 25 dollars is too much to ensure sanity, what IS the going rate for peace of mind? 14.99?
I guess what I’m really saying is, Rule 1 of Airport Etiquette…check the effing bag.

*when they promise to get the bag there and don’t succeed and then they see their bag on one of those TLC luggage-auction shows, passengers have every right to complain
** People who fly, literally, all the time

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