Image: Packing the kitchen sink
Ben Grefsrud /
When traveling, do you pack everything, including the kitchen sink? Are you a carry-on-only type of person? Both have their benefits, but the whole subject can become quite emotional, columnist Rob Lovitt recently learned.
By Travel writer contributor
updated 11/6/2007 9:39:20 AM ET 2007-11-06T14:39:20

Oops, I did it again.

About a month ago, I wrote a column that essentially tracked my life in luggage. In it, I confessed to two things: a personal preference for going carry-on-only and a bit of parental pride watching my teenage daughter do the same.

Well, I have another confession to make. I just took my daughter to the airport again. Once again, she’s going carry-on-only and, once again, I’m dealing with the bittersweet feelings of watching her go. In fact, the only real difference this time is that, after a month’s worth of reader mail, I now realize there’s more to this family snapshot than one parent’s feelings about his child’s travel.

I may have emotional baggage, but apparently, I’m not the only one with issues about carry-on luggage.

Carry-on bags are just the beginning
Honestly, I had no idea this was such a contentious issue. I thought it was about speeding up the check-in process, bypassing baggage claim and realizing that I didn’t always need to bring so much stuff along. Several readers, it seems, thought otherwise:

“Egotistical, rude and self-important,” as one correspondent put it. “YOU can’t be bothered with checked baggage. YOUR time is too important. YOU are better than the rest of us. So I’m THRILLED to hear that you’ve passed along these traits to your daughter.” Apparently, I’m not just a bad person; I’m also a bad parent.

Other writers took the opposite approach, suggesting that anyone who checked their bags was either a glutton for punishment or not very bright. “It takes too blasted long to wait for the blasted bags to be put on the belt,” said one. “[It] gives a green light to every light-fingered baggage handler,” said another. And let’s not forget our fellow passengers, said a third, i.e., the ones “with the collective IQ of grapefruit, who often take the wrong bags.” Ouch, that stings.

Then again, maybe this isn’t a battle over passenger preferences at all, but rather, a diversionary tactic in the airlines’ ongoing war on customer service. The airlines refuse to enforce reasonable carry-on rules, suggested one skeptical traveler, “because it allows them to have fewer people to load and unload luggage. It has turned passengers into unpaid workers.” Needless to say, he didn’t think we were doing a very good job, either.

Nor did dozens of other readers who offered a litany of complaints about other passengers and their carry-on bags: Hauling so much stuff we can’t get it into an overhead bin without help or a hernia. Stashing it in forward rows when we’re seated 20 rows back. Bonking others’ heads when we retrieve it and jamming up the Jetway as we fiddle with handles and straps.

Once the floodgates were open, well, it was open season on everybody. Passengers who take their shoes and socks off and put their feet on the bulkheads. Those who subject their seatmates to awful odors by carrying exotic foods or, worse, via the subsequent processes of digestion. And, top of list, those who jump up the moment the plane stops, crowd into the aisle and whip out their cell phones to announce — to family, friends and strangers — that they have, indeed, arrived.

Like I said, I had no idea carry-on luggage could generate such strong emotions.

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Can’t we all just get along?
On the bright side, not everyone who wrote did so while pointing fingers at somebody else. A few even proposed solutions and alternative systems, ranging from the obvious — packing lighter, shipping bags via UPS or FedEx — to the improbable but intriguing: “Perhaps,” suggested one correspondent, “someone will start an airline just for those with carry-on luggage and one for people who check their luggage. Happiness for everyone.”

What a lovely idea, no matter how unlikely. Even so, perhaps we can learn something from those who tried to address the problem instead of simply attacking their fellow passengers. Given the already miserable state of air travel, we could all use a bit more of the former and a lot less of the latter.

So, here’s my own modest suggestion. The next time you board a plane, remember that air travel is a form of mass transit. That means you have to share it with other people, few of whom will share your precise world view. When it comes to carry-on bags, your fellow passengers may have valid reasons for carrying what they do or they may simply be unaware of the consequences of their actions. And, yes, they may even be egotistical, rude and self-important.

Either way, you’re going to have to share some fairly close quarters with them, and slamming them won’t solve a thing. Instead, I suggest we all take a deep breath, cut each other some slack and redirect all that anger back where it belongs — at the airlines.

Of course, if you don’t like that idea, there’s always my inbox.

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