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Pack it in: the hassle of flying with baggage

Travelling is a wonderful experience that can expand the mind and leave lasting memories. But why does it have to come with so much baggage?

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In the age of the low-cost carrier, the most organised individual can be caught out by the varying degrees of baggage allowance offered by each airline 

Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I remember a time when packing for a long trip was a breeze. Can’t decide which outfits you’ll want to wear each day? Not a problem, just take as many as you like – after all, there’s nothing quite like having options. To demonstrate just how much I took advantage of the flexibility airlines used to offer, I’ll admit to having frequently complemented my large suitcase of clothes with a separate (and sizeable) holdall reserved for shoes and handbags alone. Life was good.

Today, however, packing involves meticulous planning and military discipline – there just isn’t space for anything else. The requirements of each day (daywear, nightwear, varying temperatures, activities and occasions) must be taken into consideration, and every item must have a purpose. Oh, what a drag it is.

Today, packing involves meticulous planning and military discipline – there just isn’t space for anything else

In fact, everything about travel luggage nowadays is a chore. In the age of the low-cost carrier, the most organised individual can be caught out by the varying degrees of baggage allowance offered by each airline – a cabin suitcase that may be appropriate for one will be utterly unacceptable to another. So even when you’ve checked and rechecked the measurements of your bag against the stipulations outlined on the company’s website, you’re still left in a state of fear.

Too much carrying on
There are other baggage-related rules that differ, too. These include, but are not limited to, whether you’re allowed to bring an additional carry-on bag (where else do you keep your passport and boarding pass if your clothes lack a suitably sized pocket?) and whether your duty-free shopping must be stored in your already brimming cabin suitcase or not.

The latter was a particular issue for me when I was flying from Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport some years ago. Just as I was about to board, I was met with a surprise bag check. The madness of it – surely all of this drama had been dealt with at check-in and security? Nonetheless, I confidently strolled up, ready to prove my bag’s worth, when I was asked to insert all of the airport goodies I had just purchased. I was dumbstruck.

Fortunately, I managed to fit everything in. With my bag now bursting at the seams, I inserted it into the cage with trepidation. It squeezed through – just. Retrieving it from the metal confines, however, was a different matter. It was stuck. As alarm began to set in and sweat broke out on my brow, I finally managed to pull it out, breaking the handle in the process. The steward looked at me with contempt. “Do it again,” she smirked. The shock on my face was enough for her colleague to take pity and wave me through.

My friend, with whom I was travelling, hadn’t been so lucky on a previous trip to the same airport. Armed with knowledge that comes only from experience, she pulled an ingenious manoeuvre, taking out her clothes and putting on layer upon layer until she could barely move. But walk onto that plane she did, holdall in hand, only shedding her Michelin-Man-esque attire when she took her seat. A ridiculous and pointless exercise necessitated by snooty stewards, but one that will provide food for thought for those who find themselves in a similar situation.

Airport (in)security
Then there’s the security involved. Having your bag X-rayed – all of your belongings shamelessly scrutinised by a stranger – while you fight the fear of being pulled aside for further examination is not the ideal start to a holiday. As your time is being wasted, and your bag is tested for explosive materials, you start to unreasonably wonder: have I been near dynamite at any point? What about a dangerous concoction of narcotics?

As if the dramas relating to cabin luggage weren’t bad enough, the prospect of a misplaced suitcase ruining the first few days of a trip – if returned at all – is enough to put anyone on edge. And in some places, there’s even the danger of someone interfering with your bag and implanting something that could land you in a squalid Thai prison for 20 years.
I do not profess to have the solution, nor do I belittle the importance of airport security, but I miss the good old days, when travelling came with a little less… baggage.

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