Monday, September 24, 2018

A Word About Luggage...For the Faint of Heart!

Credit: Steve Michael
Trying to bring aboard heavy luggage can be more than a pain...

It's a simple rule of thumb: If you can't lift your own luggage into the overhead bin, it's NOT carry-on!

For Pete’s sake! How many times do we airline folk have to tell the public about carry-on bags? Apparently once more…

Recently, the Huffington Post published a blog entry from Alexandra Swafford Das[1], a 75-year old “retired artist, gilder and muralist” about a nightmare experience she encountered earlier this year while traveling on U.S. Airways. In an over-dramatized rant, Ms. Das declares that due to the negligence of the airline, she states that this “simple trip home from visiting my children literally could have ended my life…” and that by publishing her exploits about this experience she hopes “that this will cause them [the U.S. Airline companies] to change the way they do business so no one else suffers the same indignities.”

In a nutshell, Ms. Das arrived at the airport with a piece of luggage that she intended to take aboard her flight that was obviously too heavy for her to manage. Her fracas with the counter agent as they forced her to lift her bag onto the luggage scale caused her to collapse at the counter and be hauled off to the hospital for four days to recover, before she re-attempted her voyage.

After much hassle with reservations to re-book the flight without a penalty, she returned to the airport (with the same bag, mind you) and was dismayed that the “stewardess” was unwilling to lift the bag in the overhead bin for her, exclaiming that she “was 75-years-old with a pacemaker, kidney cancer, and other medical problems.” While the flight attendant reluctantly did finally stow the bag for her, she was informed that in the future she should bring a travel companion or ask an able-bodied passenger for assistance. She explains that her seatmates, a couple from Australia, were appalled at “such a rude stewardess, whose job was to help passengers, as well as other duties.”

Later on, she declares that she wrote to the airline and got nothing more than a measly apology and pretty much nothing else.

So, what went wrong here?

To begin with, let’s be very clear about the actual handling of passenger luggage: while there are a few airlines whose policy it is for both agents and flight attendants to lift and maneuver passenger luggage, the vast majority are NOT authorized to do so. This is a very cloudy subject among the various airlines, but for the most part this subject falls outside the scope of the attendants' and agents' job parameters. As such, should the employee become injured or disabled while doing so would subject them to disqualification of disability benefits. This may sound outrageous, and to many of us airline personnel, it is. But so long as the laws of this country remain in place as written, this is the major reason passengers find push back from agents and attendants about lifting and stowing their bags for them.

Again, not every airline has these policies in place (apparently those airlines choose to pay the additional costs associated with injuries related to baggage handling by agents and attendants) but again, the majority do not. Where does that put those who may have physical limitations, as did Ms. Das? Well, in truth, the attendant on her flight had it right: either travel with an able companion, or find an able-bodied passenger to assist. I have never, in all my years of flying, been unable to find someone, male or female, who wasn’t willing to assist another passenger in need, especially after I explain why I and my crew are unwilling to do so.

As a matter of record, I have assisted passengers with bags, especially my more frail and elderly guests. I have been warned, however, that doing so would be at my own risk. I am usually very adept at determining whether a bag is too heavy or not, and most times, they are fine. But can you imagine if we were required to lift bags all day long, for 10-14 hours each day, how worn out we could get?

It’s like a thorn in my side when the reality of my job duties conflicts with the passengers’ expectations of what they think they should be. It’s not my intention to be disagreeable to anyone on my flights, but there are rules, regulations and restrictions that we, as your in-flight crew, just can’t violate—to do so could jeopardize our health or our careers or both!

The simple, sure-fire measurement is if you can’t lift your bag over your head, it’s too heavy to stow in an overhead bin on the plane, so plan on checking it. Most airlines do NOT charge to check your bag at the jetway of the plane! So if you know it’s too heavy, ask the gate agent to check it at the door to your final destination—that way, you won’t have to hassle with it throughout the airport and can spend more time enjoying your flight, rather than jockeying for position with all the others onboard.

If you need tips on how best to pack when traveling, the folks at RealSimple have devised a simplified method to try—check it out at

I sympathize with Ms. Das--I really do. Airline travel has become anything but exciting and glamorous these days and people in general are all in a hurry to get where they need to matter how they manage to get there or who they move out of the way to do it. All I can tell Ms. Das is that her experience is most assuredly the exception, and not the rule. There are too many people in the airline industry that appreciate the jobs they have and they strive to make each new day better for themselves and for people like yourself. No one is blatantly trying to cause injury or harm. And believe me, kindness and understanding are both two-way streets, in this day and age.

If you simply MUST have everything, including the kitchen sink, I suggest a sure-fire way to get it there without having to drag it with you throughout your entire journey: ship it! Some airlines, like United and Continental, have special pricing agreements with FedEx to pick-up and deliver your bags to your desired destination. Refer to your air carrier's website or call their customer service number for further information.

The airlines carried over 2.5 billion passengers last year[2]—for all the annoyances, irritations, limitations and frustrations that people have towards the airline industry, there is still a lot they do right. Safety and security are paramount with all my airline brothers and sisters and they continue to excel in those two things every day.

I can count on two hands the number of truly unsatisfied passengers I have had to deal with in my entire career…like I always say; people are either slightly annoyed or mildly satisfied with their travel experiences. But that doesn’t stop the majority of us who take pride in our work every single time we step on board that airplane to do everything within our power to make each person feel that the experience was truly worth it.

We love to fly…and most of the time…it shows!


[1]The Huffington Post (Online Edition), Life & Style-'HuffPost Travel,' Aug. 8, 2011, "An Airline Travel Nightmare," Alexandra Swafford Das:

[2]Air Transport Association, Data & Analysis, "Annual Report: World Airlines," June 29, 2011:

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The Savvy Passenger is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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2 comments on A Word About Luggage...For the Faint of Heart!

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By TonyBerkman on October 13, 2011 at 03:07 am

I thought it just meant I need wheels.

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By Angie Alaniz on October 22, 2011 at 02:24 am

I couldn't help but to laugh at this article.

The link you provided for how to pack best when traveling I am sure will be helpful for most women. Why is it that we as women need 5 pairs of shoes when we leave town even if we know we might only use 2 of them? And that's a big maybe.

It does become bothersome when people take on bigger bags then they should as carry-ons. That's just annoying.

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