Veteran Travelers Find It Hard to Carry On

Some vow not to fly rather than check their luggage.


A 40-minute wait for bags

That's cold comfort to travelers such as Paul DaSilva, a Los Angeles engineer who flies more than 100,000 miles a year.

"I'll adjust temporarily by checking in my bag," says DaSilva, who did just that this weekend. But Sunday's "40-minute wait to get back my bag in Toronto was excessive, and needing to get to the airport an extra 30 minutes before to make sure I can get my bag checked in time will take its toll.

"It's a touchy subject to folks like myself, and I can guarantee a drop-off in travel if more restrictions are enforced," he says.

The airlines say they're checking more bags but don't yet have definitive numbers, says David Castelveter of the Air Transport Association. The TSA uses a number of different screening systems and doesn't have exact figures on any increase in bag volume.

Southwest beefed up staffing on the ramp to handle extra bags, but "things seemed to smooth out this week," says spokeswoman Beth Harbin. Joseph Tiberi of the International Association of Machinists -- the union that represents baggage handlers at United, Northwest and US Airways -- says workers are seeing slight increases in baggage since the initial flood Thursday and Friday. Some workers are being reassigned to airports to meet higher demand, but they're not being asked to work overtime, he says.

At American, the world's largest airline, spokesman Tim Smith says there was a short-lived surge in checked baggage last week but that the situation was "pretty much back to normal by Monday." At Chicago's Midway Airport, carriers have seen a 30% increase in checked bags, airport spokeswoman Wendy Abrams says.

Even before the recent spike in checked bags, many frequent fliers considered waiting at the baggage carousel a modern version of Dante's Inferno. Among their concerns: Though the numbers are better this year, Consumer Reports says passengers filed an average of 10,000 mishandled-luggage complaints a day against the larger U.S. airlines in 2005, the worst performance since 1990.

Rich Fiorenza, an expert on bag handling at SITA, a Switzerland-based technology and consulting company, says the hard data won't be available for at least a month. But after seeing unusually long lines at the baggage claim when he flew back to Atlanta from vacation over the weekend, he expects to see a rise in the rate of mishandled bags in August and September. That, he said, would be the expected result of airlines handling more checked bags compared with last year.

'Not going to check any luggage'

Amid the turmoil caused by the new restrictions, some carry-on devotees simply refuse to surrender their bags and are developing new strategies.

"I'm still not going to check any luggage," says Chris Kepler, business director of SAS Institute in Cary, N.C. "I've decided to contact the hotel ahead of time and ask them for toothpaste, deodorant, etc. So even if I have to pay for these items upon arrival, it's worth it to me to not have to check a bag."

On Thursday, Manhattan publicist Pamela Johnston refused to check her roll-aboard at the Burbank, Calif., airport. "I wanted to be mobile," she says. "I didn't want to check my bag. I knew the airports would be a mess."

So she took her toiletry bag filled with "a couple hundred dollars" of stuff and FedExed it home.

Others have greeted the new carry-on era with resigned acceptance. "It's hard to predict how all this will shake out, as so little of it is based on common sense. (But) it won't be long before the rules are relaxed," says Doug Dyment, who publishes OneBag.com, a website on the joys of traveling light. "Not that long ago they were destroying nail clippers, and there was never any rational reason for that."

Meanwhile, on road warrior Moya's flight Thursday, the "overhead (compartment) in first class was pretty much empty" save for briefcases and laptops. It's usually jammed, he says.

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