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Life Lessons

Point/Counterpoint: Checking Bags At The Airport

2:10 PM EDT on April 4, 2022

Airline passengers wearing face masks wait to collect bags from a baggage carousel at the Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) on January 2, 2022 in Las Vegas, California. - Americans returning home from holiday travel had to battle another day of airport chaos on January 2, with more than 2,000 flights cancelled due to bad weather or airline staffing woes sparked by a surge in Covid cases. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

POINT: Never Check, by Kalyn Kahler

Today in Slack, someone dropped in an ominous tweet from the Women’s Final Four directing fans to please pack the game program in their checked baggage.” I accidentally started a very vicious intraoffice debate when I asked, “Who on earth checks their baggage?”

It turns out, lots of my Defector comrades willingly check their bags, even prefer to check their bags, a sentiment I cannot reckon. You mean you like to get to the airport extra-early, then hunt for the correct baggage carousel when you deplane, wait 10 minutes for the bags to finally start snaking out, and then be last in the cab line? No thank you. I’m probably at my hotel relaxing by the time you finally find your bag and open it up to learn that your full-size shampoo burst all over your clothes when the airline backed over your luggage with the bag truck. 

People who love to check bags must not travel very much and also have ugly suitcases—that’s the only reasonable explanation. My carry-on suitcase is cute and efficient; it’s sleek and it wheels smoothly in all non-carpeted airports. My purple bag also charges my phone so I don’t have to fight other people for an outlet, or, once you’ve claimed one, sit in a sticky, crumb-covered, vinyl airport chair to ward off outlet pirates.

The haters will say, well how can you go somewhere for a long time with only a carry-on? It’s very possible if you know how to pack efficiently. I just went to France for eight days and I packed at least 12 outfits, (four of which I never wore), my Revlon one-step hair dryer (which takes up so much space), and three pairs of boots all into my carry-on. I also brought no less than five different lipsticks and a pair of St. Patrick’s Day light-up sunglasses. I would not go somewhere if I couldn’t fit everything I need into a carry-on. It can always be done! I also came back with some cheese, chocolate, and cookies, which I carried on in a separate bag as my second personal item, and which fit easily under the seat! No one really cares how many personal items you have. 

The haters will also say that people with carry-on bags slow down the boarding process. This is only true for the people who don’t know how to travel, who I am not personally responsible for. I know to take the first open overhead compartment and to place my suitcase in the bin wheels-out, how it fits best. I also know not to clog up the bin with my jacket or my small backpack, things that people who check bags are frequently and unnecessarily doing. Put your coat under your seat!

I have very little patience in general and even less when it comes to traveling, so I could not ever willingly check a bag. I’d much rather sacrifice bringing that second pair of jeans than ever hand my precious bag over to the airline. 

I have also never lost my luggage, because it’s very hard to lose your luggage when you never check your bag. The haters will say that it’s nice to not be responsible for your bag and float through the airport with just a small purse. I agree with that only so far as it must be nice to not be a control freak with trust issues. 

COUNTERPOINT: Check! by Maitreyi Anantharaman

All of that is wrong. Or most of it; I agree about the Revlon one-step hair dryer taking up a lot of space. When I say that carry-on tyrants slow down the boarding process, I mean in aggregate. I’m sure your boarding method is uniquely fast and very special and cool and smart, but it is slower than mine (sitting down in my seat).

I’m not especially patient either, and this is how I see it: Carry-on luggage makes boarding slower and disembarking slower. The top of the plane is for passengers; the cargo hold is for bags. We have a system to board one and a system to load the other. Combining them creates chaos in the guise of convenience. We’re living in a society! Checking a bag is just the decent thing to do. (And most airlines include a checked bag with your ticket.) 

My profound generosity and concern for the collective aside, what I appreciate most about checking a bag is not having to worry about lugging it through security and then through the airport. Especially when traveling alone! It’s a very freeing feeling. Freeing up until the point the airline loses your bag, the haters say. I’ve checked many bags and never had one lost. I’m sure it does happen to people on very rare occasions, but the person seeking to eliminate all risk of inconvenience and indignity should maybe avoid air travel altogether. Nowadays, airlines will even send you alerts when your bag has been scanned onto the plane if you need the peace of mind.

I’d also like to address the Dickensian image of baggage claim that Defector’s pro–carry-on faction kept painting: Baggage claim is fine. It rarely takes more than a couple minutes to scoop up your luggage and go. If you are really concerned about this wait—either at the check-in counter before your flight or at baggage claim—go to the curbside check-in, tip well, and the porter can hook you up with a priority tag that’ll get your bag out first. But even that is kind of unnecessary to me. All the griping about baggage claim, where some of you are apparently sobbing and sighing and withering away for hours while some cab stand line grows by the thousands, brings to my mind my favorite Carrie Bradshaw line: “Oh, you’re so busy! You’re soooooo busy!” It’s not the end of the world to stand there for a minute before your bag comes out. 

The only time the carousel has ever mildly annoyed me is on arrival at LaGuardia, where they make you present your luggage ticket before you can exit the baggage claim area, so they know you’re not stealing someone else’s bag. But that’s no argument against checking luggage; it is mostly an argument against ever visiting New York. 

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