Kevin Vondrasek currently works in the design industry in Madison, Wisconsin. Over the years, however, he’s taken jobs in a wide variety of fields, believing “you should never NOT try something new simply because you’re afraid of failing.”

Your luggage during your flight: Inside the cargo bin of a Boeing 737

Luggage 101

A Former Airline Bag Handler Reveals Tips For Hassle-free Holiday Travel

November 2014

BY KEVIN VONDRASEK

I love to travel.

Anytime I can get away to a new destination it’s worth every effort for me to make it happen.

It’s this determination that landed me a seasonal job as a baggage handler a few years back, just for the free flights.

No joke.

And during my tenure, there were quite a few travel tricks I learned that I’m tipping you off to as the holiday travel season commences.

1. Do NOT buy a BLACK bag!

You’ll be standing at the carousel with all the other suckers who bought the classic ‘black.’  There are so many other colors out there, go with it!  Anything but black. If you already have a black bag, follow me to #2.

2. Make Your Bag Unique

Take a minute to look at your luggage and do your best to make it undoubtedly your property. Make it stand out. A trick I learned is to take a black, silver, or gold Sharpie marker and draw designs on your luggage.  When I open the overhead compartment on the plane, I look for the blue bag with stars drawn on it. That’s how I know it’s mine. At the carousel it’s the same idea. Jazz it up!

3. Smooth and Clean

It’s become a trend for some people to tie ribbons, yarn, string, etc. on their luggage. These little trinkets may help you find your bag easier, but take it from me, these get in the way and get snagged on EVERYTHING.  This concern also brings me to #4.

4. Remove All Old Routing Tags

Yes, it’s really nice you went to Italy last year, but unless you want your bags to end up there again this year, take off all the old tags.  It’s regulation to have the ticket counter take them off, but when your bag is checked in, the ticket agent may not see all sides of your bag. Once it’s off to the back room, it’s a gamble where a bag with multiple routing tags will end up.

5. Put Your Name on Your Bag

This may seem like a no-brainer, but unless you want someone to open your luggage to find the identity of the owner, put your name on the outside. Most all bags have a built in sleek Velcro, zippered, or snapped insert area for this to be easily done. Keeping with #3 ‘Smooth and Clean’ avoid the big gaudy luggage tags, they just get snagged anyway.

6. Strollers and Car Seats

If at all possible, check your stroller and car seat at the ticket counter with your luggage.  Most airlines don’t charge additional fees to check these items to your final destination. By dropping them off at the ticket counter, you’ll take less time going through the security checkpoint and won’t need to valet tag them when you board the plane.  Also remember if you’re carrying children, you’ll typically be offered pre-boarding to allow you to get on the plane and settled before the rest of the passengers. You also don’t want to be standing at the end of a jet bridge in 20 degrees waiting for your stroller to be delivered to you.

7. Suitcase Maximum Size

Typically the largest size for a suitcase is 26”-30” in height.  There are other larger sized bags available, although remember the larger the bag, the more difficult it will be to handle by both yourself as well as the airline.  A larger bag also means the wheels and handles will endure additional strain and may not last.  Many airlines charge additional fees for oversized bags anyway, so if you’re looking to pack more items, it’s best to use two smaller pieces of luggage instead of one gigantic suitcase.

8. Replace Broken Luggage

This can be a sore topic.  You’ve done your research and found the perfect set of luggage, and have paid a decent price. Face facts:  Eventually this bag is going to break and wear out.  A wheel snaps, a zipper comes off, the handle detaches, etc.  While it can be an inconvenience, replacing the bag is best.  Luggage with inoperable parts is both cumbersome and dangerous to both the owner and the airline. Besides, do you really want contents of your luggage poured onto the carousel for everyone to see?

9. Pick the Right Sized Bag

Select a bag that fits how much you plan to pack. A bag too large or too small could pose a problem. Since your bag will be stacked into the cargo area of the plane with other bags, it may end up on the bottom of the pile.  If your bag cannot withstand the weight, it could be crushed. Just the same, overstuffed bags risk popping open during transit.  Remember that the TSA may need to open your luggage for inspection.  If you crammed way too much inside, they may have difficulty successfully repacking your items to fit inside. This extra time spent on your luggage could mean your bag doesn’t make it on your flight. Also note luggage that is damaged due to over packing is often times not covered by the airline.

10. Close Your Bag!

Last but not least, the simplest task you have in your control. You would think this would be completely common sense, right?  You wouldn’t believe how many times I went to pick up a bag by the handle, only to have items fall to the ground.  Why you ask?  Because the owner of the bag didn’t completely close all the zippers. Now, the TSA can also share some of the blame on this one, as they randomly open luggage to do inspections, but more often than not, someone opened the bag up at the last minute to shove something in and forgot to seal it up.

There you have it—ten tips for a safe and secure voyage for your holiday luggage. Happy holidays!

Kevin Vondrasek can be reached at kevondraskek@ameritech.net

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