Check This Bag | November 2003


Fall is here and the leaves on the trees are yellow, bright crimson and orange. Oh wait, we’re in South Florida, where, in the spirit of having only two seasons–hot and hotter–our tree leaves have only two colors: green and brown. I must’ve gotten confused by my recent trip to Washington, D.C., where no matter how cold the temperature might be, there’s usually some hot air blowing.

Fall is a great time to travel. The weather’s typically pleasant in most parts of the country, plus there aren’t so many pesky tourists around as you’d find during the summer (never mind that you yourself could be considered a pesky tourist, as I certainly was in D.C.).

Then there are the holidays, when you travel to spend time with friends and relatives (this reminds me of the saying “you pick your friends, not your family,” which I usually think of when I’m with my family). Thanksgiving is generally one of the biggest travel holidays. And as Thanksgiving comes in November, and this is the November issue of Flamenco, this gives me an excuse to write about travel for this month’s edition of the Humorless Twit (see how well that worked out?). That, and my recent (and previously mentioned) trip to our nation’s capital.

Ah yes, travel. I love getting up at some ridiculously early time (say, 3:00 AM) just to make a flight that doesn’t take off until noon. I scramble to the airport, check-in at the ticket counter, check my bag which is then x-rayed along with others so the baggage handlers know which ones have the best stuff in them (in order to bust them open and take that stuff), then… it’s off to a long line at the security checkpoint.

At least here in Miami–unofficial baggage-theft capital of America–you can do something to keep people from breaking into your bags. You can have your bags wrapped in clingy plastic wrap. Yes, you can have your checked bags wrapped in layers of a material that resembles Saran Wrap. This way, presumably, it would take a potential thief a great deal of effort to break into your luggage. What remains unsaid is that it will take YOU a great deal of effort to break into your own luggage.

But at least when you get to your destination, your bag will be easy to find. Few airports offer the service and few people actually use it. So your bag will probably be the only one that looks like a larger version of that mystery leftover from two years ago in the bottom of your refrigerator. One bit of advice, though: if you’re checking a soft-sided garment bag and you have some really nice (and more importantly, PRESSED) clothes in that bag, DO NOT get it wrapped.

I made the mistake of having my garment bag wrapped on my recent trip. Before wrapping, it was the size of a standard garment bag. By the time the bag-wrapping guy finished–compressing my bag as he wrapped it under more plastic than Martha Stewart could use on thirty lifetimes worth of leftovers–it looked like a football. I’m sure the baggage handlers at Miami International Airport appreciated that.

BAGGAGE HANDLER 1: Hey, look at this plastic-wrap football, man!
BAGGAGE HANDLER 2: Oh cool, hey, let me got out for a pass and you throw it to me!
BAGGAGE HANDLER 1 (grabbing my football, I mean, garment bag): Okay dude, go long! Keep going, keep going…
BAGGAGE HANDLER 2 (tripping over a plastic-wrapped jackrabbit): Aww, man, you do this to me every time!
BAGGAGE HANDLER 1: Sorry, man. Oh hey, here comes a plastic-wrap basketball. Let’s grab that and use the plane’s jet engine as a basket!
BAGGAGE HANDLER 2: Sure, only, isn’t the engine running?
BAGGAGE HANDLER 1: No dude, it’s just the wind blowing through the turbine blades… Hey, why don’t you slam dunk the ball?

You gotta love those baggage handlers at Miami International. Now, back to my story…

After wrapping my bag and checking it, I stood in line at the security checkpoint. And stood in line. And stood in line. And stood in line some more.

There are many places where standing in line is just a part of the situation. There’s getting a driver’s license. The “Space Mountain” ride at Disney World (most rides, in fact, at Disney World, especially during the summer when the place is crawling with pesky tourists). Registration for classes at many college campuses. In the future, we’ll have the line of people working up saliva and phlegm as they wait for a turn at Osama Bin Laden’s gravesite. Yes, life is full of lines for us to stand in.

But few are as long and tedious as the line at an airport security checkpoint. The one I stood in for my trip snaked its way around several cordoned barriers and well, I’m glad I brought a book along to read. Too bad it wasn’t War and Peace because I finished my book before I got anywhere near the front of the line.

Then of course, once I got near the front of the line–within sight of a bin where I’d have to place most of my clothing so it could go through the x-ray machine–there was a bonehead in line who had buried his boarding pass and ID deep within the bowels of his wrapped bag. This, despite repetition ad nauseum (and in several languages) from the airport loudspeakers that we were to have our boarding passes and IDs ready for the security checkpoint.

Better still, said bonehead (who of course, was the person right in front of me) seemed to be in no hurry to catch his flight. In fact, Mr. Bonehead’s flight wasn’t leaving until, say, next Leap Year Day. Meanwhile, the loudspeakers blasted a “last call to board” for my flight, which was inevitably boarding all the way at the opposite end of the concourse from the security checkpoint.

Finally, I made it to the security checkpoint. As instructed, I placed anything made of metal (such as my belt, keys, loose coins, underwear, left sock, etc.) in a plastic bin, to run it through the x-ray machine as I walked through a metal detector.

Miraculously, I didn’t set off the metal detector, the x-ray screeners couldn’t find anything–er, I mean, didn’t see anything–questionable in my stuff and I wasn’t deemed “suspicious-looking” enough to merit a closer look. So off I went to the gate my flight was leaving from.

Good thing I made it to the gate when I did (at least I thought so at the time). They were about to close the doors on the plane… for the flight before mine. It turned out my flight was the next one leaving from that gate. Once again, I found myself being granted the privilege to experience that unique phenomenon common to air travel, usually referred to as “hurry up and wait.”

After having read my book about 12 times while waiting to board my flight, it was (finally!) time to board for the actual flight. Of course, it didn’t matter that I was at the gate before anyone else: I was the last person allowed to board the plane. And in doing so, I got to watch as my fellow passengers went on board with huge suitcases, steamer trunks, four or five items (despite rules allowing only two), etc.

Naturally, there was no room left in any of the overhead bins when I finally boarded, so I had to tuck my regulation-sized carry-on (which is about the size of what most people had brought on board as a “small personal item,” usually defined as a small purse or folding umbrella) under the seat in front of mine. That left me with no room for my feet. And thanks to the lady who sat in front of me–who, by the way, boarded the plane with (and I promise this is true) a laptop computer and its case, a large overcoat, a purse and a so-called carry-on bag large enough to hold the plane itself–no legroom or headroom, after she reclined her seat back into my lap for the entire flight.

Unfortunately for me, I just can’t sleep on an airplane. Too bad because there was no in-flight movie to occupy myself with during the flight. And on top of that, I had read the only book I brought along (next time I fly I’ll bring a small library with me) enough times to adapt it into a movie in my own mind. It was while in the middle of this personal in-flight movie that the flight attendants actually attended to us passengers, bringing us food and soft drinks.

After I finished my hearty one-course meal of half an ounce of pretzels, the pilot announced that we were getting ready to land. Darn it, I thought, just as I was getting to the good part of my movie!

The lady in front of me raised her seat back, for which I was very grateful. Now I could stretch my belly after that feast I had enjoyed!

Landing was uneventful. Getting off the plane wasn’t. I had to dodge bags the size of aircraft carriers from passengers who–unable to lift anything heavier than say, a few sheets of paper–had had the wisdom to stow their mammoth “carry-ons” in the overhead bins.

Having managed to survive the avalanche of luggage and “personal items” no doubt made of lead and heavier substances, I stepped off the plane and went straight to the baggage carousel to look for my plastic football. Yes, I thought, my bag will be easy to spot in its plastic wrapping.

As it turned out, most of the other passengers’ bags were wrapped in plastic as well. So much for making my bag easy to find. But at least, mine was the only one shaped like a football, with jackrabbit paw prints all over it.

Once I found and grabbed my bag, I made my way out of the baggage claim area and found an open space in the arrivals lounge. I decided to remove the wrap from my bag there. So I unwrapped. And unwrapped. And unwrapped. And unwrapped.

A couple of hours later, I had my own plastic wrap medicine ball. And my suit and shirt, which were inside my bag, resembled a balled-up piece of paper. I threw my plastic-wrap medicine ball at the lady who had sat in front of me on the plane, knocking her over.

I hope someone from Tupperware reads this. Maybe then they’ll design some kind of theft-proof container for luggage, with an easily removed lid. And hopefully, on my next flight, I can use it to scare the passenger in front of me into not reclining her seat back into my lap.