Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fifty-four Square Inches: A Word on Packing

A quick glance through any newspaper will likely inform you that obesity in America is on the rise. We love our food as much as we love our BBQ. (Indeed, The Economist just ran a long article about our BBQ pride; no region is exempt.) Now then, follow my logic: bigger people equals bigger clothes, and that equals bigger suitcases, right? Wouldn't it stand to reason that airlines, astute and well-informed on their customers as they are, would increase baggage allowances to accommodate our recent changes in... stature? (Please note, I say this as a disinterested patron of 5'8".)

But no! It would appear that the reverse has happened! Because of teaching, I didn't even start thinking about packing until two weeks before I left. Two weeks to transplant my entire existence. (By the way, if you've never tried this, you should. It's enlightening.) That is two weeks to decide which over-the-counter drugs are indispensable when you don't have the energy to explain what you need in a foreign language. Two weeks to plan your reading for the next 6 months. Two weeks to decide how to navigate the change of seasons, as well as to realize what items you're missing. (In my case, that would be a good winter coat and jeans, two items extremely hard to come by at short notice.) Finally, that is two weeks to find out what Spanish teachers wear, how that fits with your wardrobe, and to what extent you are going to conform... or not conform... and then arrange your suitcase accordingly.

Preparing the suitcase is a task in and of itself. There is, as everyone knows, a 50-pound limit for every suitcase you check. However, there is a very good chance that your suitcase will hold more than 50 pounds, and that there will be a good three inches left over on top, so it's important to distribute weight around your baggage well. If you do this, though, the extra space is maddening. Clearly, Samsonite and Delsey have acclimated to our enlarged population quite well.

It came as a bit of surprise, then, when at the airport check-in, they charged me extra money for my second bag. What, you say?! One bag! That's right, my friends. American Airlines has generously allowed you one bag for your international trip. But, you say, doesn't 'international' imply that it will most likely be a long trip? Why would they take away your second bag? Surely no other airline does this!

Alas, such is the sad state of things. Last time I checked, Lufthansa and Iberica allow two bags. Foreign airlines, whose citizens are decidedly smaller than ours, not to mention less materialistic (that is to say, more minimalist). Go figure.

Is there, in fact, a correlation between a person's weight and the baggage allowance? Probably not. But I maintain that there is a decided gap in marketing strategies somewhere along the line. In a nation that caters to our every whim and vanity, you would think that something as extravagant as air travel would follow suite. But to charge for an additional bag... that is extravagant.


  1. So I was watching a commercial the other day about southwest and it was a spin off of the daytime court TV that interviewed a airline executive who stated he wanted money, not customers. Packing is an interesting thing. Erin and I are about to have to pack for a weekend trip to Austin, and a week trip to DC. What a diverse weather pattern. I will be checking her bags, they are free for me.

  2. Phew I don't envy you!! Safe travels to you guys!!!


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