Jungle Rules: Everything About Luggage

A previous post addressed Kongo’s Jungle Rules in Airports.  Today he tackles carry on luggage.

Carry on luggage.   You don’t have to be tuned in to the jungle drum relay system to know that airplanes are crowded these days.  Kongo is usually on four planes a week and ALL of them are completely full.  This means that that there is not going to be enough room in the overhead bins for everyone to put all their gear up top and the stuff that does find a spot in the overhead is going to get squashed, squeezed, and banged as passengers try to use every bit of available space.  So, unless you have a ticket in first class or a high boarding priority code you are going to be fretting about whether your to die for mother of the bride dress is going to be ruined.   If you have a lousy boarding ticket, plan in advance and don’t pitch a fit on the plane if you your precious treasures won’t fit.

Kongo’s Bag.  Kongo can put two weeks worth of clothes in a 10-year old Coach® 23-inch roll aboard constructed with ballistic nylon and a leather front.  It’s on it’s second set of tires after a recent blowout in IAD required emergency repairs.  It has a front flap to hold a USA Today (gotta have the crossword), the one-quart plastic Ziploc for liquids, and room for Kongo to sit.  The great thing about a bag like this is that it’s almost impossible to over-stuff so Kongo can always be sure it’s going to fit in the overhead and if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fly.  It has a long handle so you don’t break your back dragging it along behind you, and the soft wheels don’t make you sound like a broken freight train coming off the track.  It is also sturdy enough that anything fragile isn’t going to get broken when the gorilla flight attendant starts smashing late arriving bags in around it.

Kongo carries a Cole-Hahn soft leather brief case with two zippers and wide pocket flaps on either side.  Not only is it rugged and stylish, it’s flexible enough to squeeze into small spaces when necessary and can hold a laptop, iPad, papers and folders, Blackberry, cell phone, cords, chargers, pens, a bottle of Advil, car keys, and earphones.  The other cool thing about this brief case is that it has a long shoulder strap that Kongo wraps around the handle on the roll aboard so that everything rolls smoothly without causing back pain or shoulder cramps on long treks through between terminals.

Briefcase tip:  Once airborne, Kongo moves his briefcase from under the seat in front of him to the space under his legs.  This gives him a lot more legroom and easier access to stuff in the briefcase when the jerk in front reclines his seat all the way (more on seat recliners—a particularly evil species of traveler—in another blog).

Women are getting screwed.  (Bagwise).  Frankly, women get the short end of the jungle vines with regard to carry on luggage.  Since the rules allow only one carry on and one “personal item” such as a purse or briefcase, women traveling on business face a real dilemma.  Should she risk bringing THREE bags on board (a roll aboard, briefcase, purse) or must she travel with a purse the size of a golf bag in order accommodate her laptop, iPad, Kindle, chargers, cell phones and all the other mysterious stuff women put in their purses.  Kongo doesn’t have any answers here, just sympathy.  Maybe a savvy female monkey can jump in with some good suggestions.

Backpacks and other hazards.  Many young people (they’re the only ones fit enough to carry the weight!) are carrying bigger and bigger back packs with so much gear and other accessories strapped on that they look like peddlers from another era.   More often than not these packs will NOT FIT IN THE OVERHEAD without smashing and scrunching everything around them.  This time of year they also seem to be wearing winter coats that Roald Amundsen would have been thrilled to have on his expedition to the South Pole.  They too are BIG and they take up even more room in the overhead bins.  Kongo thinks the airlines should check these bags for free, surround them in shrink-wrap, and be done with it.

These irksome backpacks are not only big and awkward size-wise, they are also dangerous.  Often these wandering souls make their way down the aisle smashing their bulky baggage into hapless passengers who thought they were lucky enough to score an aisle seat.   Kongo has been sorely bruised on more than one occasion when one of these walking pack mules swings the backpack around and slings dangling hiking boots, textbooks, or other strap on goodies into faces and shoulders.  This hazard is not the special province of back packers; both men and women with large purses (see above) or briefcases slung over their shoulders frequently carom down the aisle pummeling one passenger after another apparently oblivious to the carnage they leave in their wake.  For monkey’s sake:  hold your briefcase or purse or backpack in front of you as you go down the aisle…PLEASE!

Overhead bins and bulkhead rows.   Passengers in bulkhead rows are not allowed to put anything under the seat in front of them (duh, there’s no seat) and some arcane federal regulation prohibits loose gear on the floor between your seat and the bulkhead.  This means that you really, really have to get on the plane early enough to snag some overhead space near your seat.  This is a sweet and sour situation.  Bulkhead rows have more legroom (please don’t put your bare feet up on the bulkhead) but they don’t have a spot to stash your stuff.  Frankly, for a flight longer than an hour, the extra legroom is worth it but you have to plan in advance to have your iPad, book, or whatever it is you want in the air out and ready to go so you don’t hold up the boarding process while unpacking.  Airlines have online seating charts so there is no excuse for not knowing whether or not you are in a bulkhead seat.

Except for the starboard side of MD-88 aircraft (and smaller commuter aircraft), most overhead bins will accommodate a regulation roll aboard wheels first.  Putting the bag in sideways takes up more room and forces others to rearrange your luggage later so theirs will fit.  When you get the bag in, check to make sure the door closes…otherwise you are going to see them check your bag just before takeoff when they can’t get the bin doors closed.

A couple of other common sense rules for dealing with overhead bins and carry on luggage.

Bin Theft.  Don’t be one of those jerky primates that steals overhead bin space because you’re too lazy to carry your bag all the way to your seat in row 38.  Bags should not be placed in bins in the forward part of the plane unless the cabin crew tells you to.  Everyone deserves a bin spot reasonably close to their seat.

Bin Hog.  One passenger, one bag in the overhead.  Put the other one under the seat in front of you and if it’s too big for that, then you deserve to sit scrunched up with your feet on top of it for the whole flight.  If you place both (or more) of your carry ons in the bin you are screwing someone else.  Be nice.

No Fondling.  Avoid handling baggage that isn’t yours.  Some people are quite touchy about this.  If someone’s poorly placed bag is blocking your access to the bin, ask permission to move their bag to make room for yours.

Don’t put babies in overhead bins.  (As much as you sometimes might want to)  Strange but true story here although Kongo thinks mommy is a bit of an over reaching drama queen.

No wheels?  What were you thinking?  If you’re not traveling with a bag equipped with wheels then you are just in a sad, sorry state.  Not only are you lugging that bag all over the place and setting yourself up for a chiropractor appointment at your destination, you’re going to end up taking more space than you deserve.  Those old-style fold over garment bags bulging with a week’s worth of clothes is soooo 1970.  Get something with wheels for monkey’s sake and learn how to pack without making your clothes look like they were wadded up in an old sock.

Heavy bags.  If you can’t lift your bag over your head to get it in the overhead bin you should check it.  Really.  Relying on some stranger or busy flight attendant to stow your heavy suitcase is just WRONG.  Having said that, if you do see someone struggling with their bag, and you’re reasonably fit and dexterous, please don’t hesitate to give them a hand.  Sitting there with your arms crossed and a smirk on your face is unbecoming.  Often bags are passed hand-to-hand overhead to get them someplace that will fit and being a good sport here makes for a more pleasant flight for everyone.  It’s all about getting along with your fellow man and doing the right thing.  Do your bit for world peace.

Checked bags.  Kongo only checks a bag when he’s traveling overseas or going somewhere where golf clubs are necessary.  If you’re not an airline frequent flier with elite status (or flying on Southwest) you’re going to pay extra for that bag and even more if it’s overweight.  Kongo recalls a recent trip from LAX to Cancun where the approach to the baggage counter resembled scenes he remembered from the evacuation of Saigon in 1974.  There were dozens of people everywhere with bags unpacked and gear being shifted from one suitcase to another as they tried to rebalance their luggage to get under the weight limits.  This is NOT COOL and everyone in line behind you is cursing you silently and trying to make you evaporate with icy stares.  This was a mission group off to do something good for Mexico on their spring break but they sure got off to a wrong start by antagonizing all their fellow passengers tapping their feet in line behind them.  Know the rules, know the weight limits, know how much your bag weighs or be prepared to pay outrageous fees to get that suitcase the size of a CONEX box on the airplane.

Here’s a hint about checked bags.  Since so many flights are completely full or overbooked Kongo almost always hears gate agents making desperate pleas to passengers to check their carry on luggage before boarding.  For free.  So, if you’re a family traveling together and everyone is dragging along two bags to accommodate mom’s beauty products, bogie boards for the beach in Florida, or dad’s X-box, this is a great opportunity to unload all that junk, earn the gratitude of nearby passengers who need the bin space, and snag a grateful smile from the gate agent.  It may just help when the toddler pitches a tantrum just before takeoff.

Lost Baggage.  There are few things sadder than watching an empty baggage carousal go round and round and finally stopping without your bag ever making an appearance.  Airlines actually lose only about 4% of all the bags that pass through their hands but when it happens to you it’s 100%.  It’s not fun and knowing that only a very few of the millions of bags that fly each year go missing permanently is no consolation.

Bags get lost because someone screwed up, you didn’t check in soon enough or have enough time between connecting flights, the tag with the UPC code gets torn off somehow during handling, someone took your bag instead of theirs (this has happened to Kongo before) or some other mysterious event nobody will ever be able to explain.

Only really, really obtuse monkeys pack anything expensive or absolutely necessary (like medication you need to stay alive or your collection of Rolex watches) in a checked bag.  You can always get some fresh underwear and a toothbrush at your destination.  Be patient and follow these tips courtesy of Cheapflights.com™ on their website.

If you are checking bags and you have connections to make, be sure your itinerary accommodates enough time for the airline to get your luggage from one airplane to the other.  Kongo always schedules at least an hour for turnaround.  Always.

Travel safe, have fun, and be nice.

6 thoughts on “Jungle Rules: Everything About Luggage

  1. Thanks! Not sure what recommendations you’re referring to but Kongo will soon be posting his suggestions about flying, scoring upgrades, hotels, rental cars, and airlines.