By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 5/13/2008 2:07:16 PM ET 2008-05-13T18:07:16

Check your luggage — or not?

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Should you avoid the wait at your destination while accepting the risk of the airline losing or damaging your luggage? Or just lighten the load and hope for the best?

Many travel experts suggest carrying on all baggage versus checking. As a flight attendant, I may seem like the last person to be impartial, but since I am also often a passenger, I see both sides.

As the airlines invent new ways to extract the almighty buck from the passenger, it is apparent that common sense has checked out. This is the case with the new trend of charging passengers a fee for checking in multiple bags. Anyone with a lick of sense will tell you that once airlines charge for a second bag, more and more passengers will start carrying them on board, adding to the sea of already overcrowded storage space. This will mean more hassles at the gate, delays, and those of you who only bring on a small bag will many times have to store it in the cramped space under the seat in front of you.

My only explanation for the lunacy is that the airlines have plans for charging for extra carry-on bags next.

There are good arguments for both sides of the bag controversy.

Pros for checking bags in:

1. You will have a lot less hassle at security and throughout the airport.

2. You don’t have to cram your gels and liquids into three-ounce bottles and you can buy duty free abroad as you can check larger bottles that you can’t carry on board.

3. You don’t have to worry or hustle for overhead bin space once you board the aircraft.

4. You aren’t forced to pack light and wear the same outfit day after day, or purchase clothing abroad.

5. If you have minimal time between connecting flights you are much more mobile if you must run for your next flight.

6. You avoid the evil glare that the flight attendant gives you.

Pros for carrying on:

1. There is no danger of the airline losing or damaging your bags.

2. You don’t have to wait for your bags at the baggage carousel.

3. You can access the contents of your bags at all times.

4. You can use the computer check-in function more freely.

5. You get the flight attendant to give you an evil glare as opposed to the painted-on smile.

There are valid points on both sides, but you have to find a happy medium. Aren’t you disgusted when you’ve decided to adhere to the carry-on restrictions, when lo and behold, here comes Mr. Last Minute with what seems like 13 carry-on bags? You know in your heart when it is right to check-in your bags. Act on that instinct.

Here are some quick carry-on tips:

1.Size matters. Get a roller-board suitcase that fits into the overhead with the wheels or handle first. Many times the ones that have to go in sideways take up too much room and are difficult to find space for.

2.Shut it. Make sure the overhead bin shuts because even though you might have been there first, a protruding bag will be the first one yanked.

3. Try to be a softie. Use a soft exterior bag with some give to it. Many times hard cases just don’t fit regardless of how much you shove.

4. Water works. The liquids and gel ban is still in effect. At security checkpoints, travelers are permitted to carry travel-size toiletries (three ounces or less) that fit comfortably in one quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag.

5. Weight it out. The golden carry-on rule is if you bring it on board you need to be able to lift it and store it. Most flight attendants are not covered by their insurance if they injure their backs with your luggage.

6.Close by. Try to use an overhead bin in your immediate area for safety and security reasons. It doesn’t have to be directly overhead, but you should be able to see it from your seat. When opening an overhead bin, always put your hand up, ready to catch anything that might drop out.

7.Give it up. If your bag is selected to be checked at the gate due to space limitations, don’t worry, as it is pretty much guaranteed to be on that flight and will probably be the first one out at baggage claim.

8.It’s not personal. If you have something in your bag that you do not wish the security personnel to see, put it in your checked luggage. Trust me on this one.

9. Lend a hand. Help out those in need, especially mothers. Don’t get too mad at those who abuse the carry-on policy, be amused instead, but be sure to duck and be prepared if they are utilizing the overhead directly above you.

10. Utilize common sense. Recognize when your bag is too big to be considered carry-on and check it in.

Honestly now, how many of you have tried to de-liquefy your bags in order to carry-on everything? You know, change your gel antiperspirant to dry, leave the perfume and cologne at home, and yes, actually use the dreaded hotel shampoo and conditioner? I had an unexpected trip as a passenger and admit that I attempted it. I ended up cutting myself multiple times from shaving with soap and water, forgot certain essential items, and smelled like a putrid almond from the complimentary lotion.

Good luck with whatever you decide. See you on the plane.

James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, “Flying High With A Frank Steward: More Air Travel Tales From the Flight Crew.” For more information about James, visit his Web site or send him an e-mail.

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