Just Keep on Breaking the Rules

by Nancy Bestor

IMG_3733I’m constantly amazed at the sizes and quantities of carry-on bags making their way onto planes these days. Yes, there are rules related to both the maximum size of a carry-on and the number of carry-ons one passenger can take aboard. But rules are only good if they are enforced. Some gate agents seem to be enforcing these rules, and others don’t seem to care at all. While most people seem to follow carry-on regulations, I regularly see plenty of people with overstuffed and over-sized suitcases—that definitely would not fit into the carry-on sizing box at the gate—trying with all their might to shove them into the overhead bin.

Being a rule follower (and try as I might, I can’t seem to be anything but a rule follower) I always use a legal carry-on bag, the Briggs & Riley 21” International Wide Body Carry-On, which always fits in the sizing box at the gate, and in the overhead bin. But my husband, ever the rebel, often carries his guitar on board (in a soft sided case), in addition to a backpack that is td21W_alaska_bigabout the maximum carry-on size. Not only has no gate agent ever batted an eye about him carrying his blatantly too large guitar on board, but flight attendants often ask him if he’d like them to store the guitar in a special closet on board, where it will be safer from damage. (He says that’s what happens when you are young and handsome. I roll my eyes.)

I’m not really complaining, mind you. I carry a regulation size suitcase because I don’t need any extra stress in my life. And if I was trying to carry-on a bag that was against the rules, you can bet I would be sweating bullets.

Here’s another carry-on issue that perplexes me. In the last year or so, before every flight I’ve taken, the gate agents have asked if there are passengers willing to check their carry-on bag at the gate. They always say “the flight is going to be very full,” and “there will not be room for all the carry-ons in the overhead bins.” I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t a bit of a scam. Perhaps airlines are instructing their gate agents to make this announcement because we all know that if fewer people take on carry-on bags, the plane is bound to board faster, and thus is more likely to take off on time. And as many times as I have heard that there will not be room, I have never once not been able to find a spot for my bag, even when boarding in group three or four. It does make me wonder.

How United Did NOT Break My Guitar

by Bob Bestor

DSC02757We’ve all seen travelers lugging oversized bags on board and straining to cram them into the overhead bins. And when we see it we ask ourselves, “Man, how’d that guy get that on board?” Well, it’s likely that he skipped the ticket counter altogether by checking in and printing his boarding pass online. Then he was able to head straight to security where the TSA didn’t bother to do anything but x-ray his luggage. After that the gate agent was the first and only airline representative who could have even looked at his luggage before he got on board. But gate agents are often working alone and doing two or three things at once. So he made it. And oversized or not, as long as he could stuff it overhead, he was good.

On my recent trip to India I was that guy. Well, sort of. But at least I did it with the blessing of a friendly United gate agent.

I arrived at Rogue Valley International Medford Airport (no, really—that’s what it’s called) with a standard, maximum-sized 22” wheeled carry-on, a daypack, and a guitar in a soft-sided case. If you’re counting, and the airlines usually do, that’s three bags. Now I was fully prepared to check the suitcase, although my preference was not to check anything. But traveling internationally, I knew that at least my checked bag would be free.

I was not able to print my boarding pass online, so I had to go to the United ticket counter first, where I was only asked if I “wanted” to check anything. Of course I answered “no”. TSA didn’t take notice either and soon I was at the gate with my three bags and my boarding pass in hand. The gate agent took a look at me and my bags and frowned. “Do I have to check something?” I asked. “Well, she said, “you’re not allowed to bring three items on board. But, a few years ago a country singer had a big hit with a song about how United breaks guitars.  So I’m not going to be the person who starts another round of that.” And voila, no checking for me. This time at least.

Herding Passengers Like Cattle

by Nancy Bestor

airportIn the past two months, I’ve flown four times, and on each flight I was assigned boarding group “four.” In every case, my seat was in the rear of the plane. Also in each case, those seated in the front rows of the plane boarded first. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that airplanes should be boarding from the rear forward, so passengers in rows 20+ can get on before passengers in rows 10-20. While there was plenty of overhead space around me, as few people in my area had yet boarded, I found myself waiting in line at the front of the plane for the 10-20 row passengers to get situated and get their bags into the overhead compartment. Not surprisingly, this caused a big backup and thus took longer for all passengers to board the plane.

Airlines are huge multi-billion dollar businesses. Surely they must have conducted studies of the quickest boarding methods. My online research however, shows that the boarding procedure used by most airlines today is the least efficient method of boarding. I ask myself “how hard is it really for a huge corporation to try a more effective method of boarding, that will get more planes out of the gate on time?” Apparently, pretty hard.