Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
HOME    E-MAIL JOE    PRINT    SEND A LINK     2014 COLUMNS     JOE'S ARCHIVES     SEARCH
Carry On Carrying On
November 13, 2014 --Like airfares and flight delays, lost-baggage rates are climbing at the nation's airlines. That raises the perennial business-travel question: Why check bags in the first place?

According to figures released by the Department of Transportation last week, lost-luggage claims have jumped nearly 15 percent so far this year. More than 1.6 million "mishandled baggage" reports were filed between January and September, an average of 3.71 claims per 1,000 fliers. Roughly speaking, that means one person on every widebody aircraft permanently or temporarily loses checked luggage. On domestic flights, where smaller Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s dominate, it means about one flier on every other flight has a bag "mishandled."

"Mishandled bag," the industry euphemism for any item that doesn't leave the airport with the arriving passenger, is partially mitigated by the fact that the vast majority of "lost" cargo is eventually reunited with their owners. But even if your bag turns up later, how does that lessen the embarrassment of giving a big report in the clothes you flew in on or making an important sales call in the sneakers you wore on the plane? And there's literally no compensation for the time you waste waiting at baggage claim, filing a lost-luggage report, calling your carrier to check on your bag's whereabouts and then negotiating for its safe return.

But, c'mon, fellow road warriors, let's be honest: Most of us can carry-on most of the time for most business trips. It just takes a little discipline, a few compromises and a dedication to not allowing airline baggage handlers to control your life and your wardrobe.

The "simple" solution? Carry on your bags whenever you can. I don't say "always" because I'm a practical business traveler. I know that "always carry-on" is a fantasy left to leisure travelers who fill a backpack with a couple of tee shirts and a back-up pair of jeans or supposed "travel experts" who've never actually taken a business trip.

Here are some strategies and tactics for living the carry-on life sanely and practically.

Understand the game of inches

No U.S. airline has the same rules for the size and weight of permitted carry-on bags. (Federal regulations limit you to one bag and one "personal" item.) Over the last 15 years, major carriers have coalesced around a total size of 45 inches (length plus width plus height including wheels, handles and outside pockets) for the first carry-on. This year, several tightened their restrictions to bar any bag that exceeded a specific length, depth or height within the 45-inch linear total. But several U.S. carriers (notably JetBlue, Southwest and Alaska) are more generous and many international airlines are stricter. You need to know your bag's measurements exactly and your carrier's rules exactly. Check their respective websites, measure your bags carefully and carry a tape measure to fend off officious and overzealous gate agents who revel in catching carry-on "offenders."

Pack less

"Get out of the rut of how you've always done things," exhorts Susan Foster, who literally wrote the book on smart packing. "Remember the rule of multiplication: one jacket plus two shirts/blouses plus two pairs of pants/skirts that coordinate can yield up to eight outfits more than enough for a week." I long ago went monochromatic for business travel. If it's not navy, gray, black or white, I don't pack it. Your color palette may vary, but ensure that everything you pack matches a range of other items you're taking. Despite its high price, same-day valet service at hotels allows you to pack fewer items, too. When in doubt, ship back-up clothes or supplies rather than check a bag. UPS, FedEx and the US Postal Service rates are manageable and, if you have more complex needs, use a specialist such as Luggage Forward.

Pack better

On Tuesday morning, Google returned 717 million results for the query "how to pack." In other words, everyone and their frequent flying uncle thinks they're a better packer than you. Most aren't, but there's always a new tip or savvy trick to learn, especially since there are wonderful how-to-do-it videos among those 717 million results. I've found the key to better packing is not doing it in a panic because last-minute types tend to err on the side of carrying too much. I always have my "go bags" (toiletries and tech supplies) pre-packed and replenish them when I return from each trip. Susan Foster goes even further. She recommends making lists of what you carry and then cross-check the lists at the end of a trip. Whatever you didn't use, don't pack it the next time, she says.

Check your tech

The worst carry-on space hog these days is technology. We carry too much of it. If you're traveling with a laptop, a tablet, a book reader and a smartphone, you're probably carrying two items too many. (Not to mention the cornucopia of chargers and cables that go with the devices.) Almost all of us can cut down to two items without sacrificing our productivity. And if you stick with a laptop, make sure it's not a hulking, eight-pound "desktop replacement." Get an honest-to-goodness travel-sized laptop.

Buy bags that make sense for you

After decades of stagnation, the luggage business is bursting with innovation and competition. One bagmaker hoping to raise $50,000 has already collected nearly $900,000 on Indiegogo. And why not? The so-called Bluesmart hard-sided bag weighs itself, tracks itself and even charges your phone.

Only you know what bag is right for you, however. Hard-sided or soft? That's your call. Wheeled, traditional or backpack? Your choice. Cheap and disposable, ridiculously overpriced designer brand or expensive, well-crafted bag? Again, you call. One big space or a multi-gusseted, endlessly pocketed Transformer-type environment? Only you can decide. New-wave polycarbonate plastic or old-style fabrics and leathers? Again, depends on your style, your needs and your habits. My friend Chris McGinnis recently penned a great primer on carry-on bag types, but even Chris didn't make a definitive recommendation.

For years, I've used the hand-made bags from Glaser Designs because I adore the company's craftsmanship, its quality materials and the owners' maniacal attention to detail. The Glaser Traveler's Briefcase is my primary carry-on and it hasn't left my side in 15 years. A now-discontinued Glaser duffel bag is nearly 25 years old and remains my preferred short-trip carry-on.

But bags from mass-market companies such as Tumi and Briggs and Riley have their devoted, frequently flying followers. Fans of upmarket, hard-sided luggage happily pledge alligence to Rimowa and Zero Halliburton Firms such as Red Oxx produce sturdy soft-sided bags that have fanatical devotees. And many frequent fliers are happy to walk into a store and buy something cheap that can be tossed without regret whenever a wheel detaches, a handle collapses or a zipper fails.

Bottom line on what you carry up the passenger bridge to your seat? It's your decision. Make a list of what you want, want you need and what you're willing to spend. Then act accordingly.

But one final tip: No self-respecting business traveler asks for a carry-on bag for Christmas. It's guaranteed you'll get the wrong one.

This column is Copyright 2014 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.