Bon voyage


As travel plans for spring and summertime are being inked, here’s a heads-up: You might face airline fees for putting baggage in the overhead bin.

I know of one airline that has been charging for overhead space for a number of years. That particular airline’s route structure isn’t anywhere near Saipan, though, so this case didn’t seem to be an item of local interest.

Things have, however, changed. This fee is ink-blotting toward Saipan and the west Pacific. At least a couple of major U.S. airlines with routes in the west Pacific are reportedly charging for the overhead bin nowadays, at least in some cases. So this is an item in the equation that CNMI travelers should be aware of.

Outside of that simple observation, well, don’t look to me for any wisdom on airline fees. I’m not very good about keeping up with this stuff. In fact, over the past few years I’ve found myself giving up on self-booked travel as I migrate back to the realm of the traditional travel agent.

Having tossed this part of life back into the agent’s circle of competence, my brain is unburdened. This allows me to concentrate on things I am more suited to contemplate, such as cheeseburgers, taking naps, and fixing the cassette player in my pickup truck.

As for travel, I long ago decided that it costs what it costs. I’m not going to torment myself over the pricing dynamics. Being a passenger is like enforced recess for me; it’s a time when I feel absolutely no obligation to get any work done or to solve anybody’s problems, including, notably, my own. I’m content to read a book, eat whatever I can find, ignore my phone, ignore the news, and relax. Come to think of it, that’s how I approach normal life. No wonder I feel so at home on the road.

And on that note I have pretty much built my humble existence around the confines of the overhead bin. Specifications for carry-on suitcases vary by airline. A common standard is a maximum measurement of 22-inches high, 14-inches wide, and 9-inches thick.

Bag volumes are hard to envision in comparative terms, so I’m going to scribble some numbers. The aforementioned dimensions come to 2,772 cubic inches. Of course, the suitcase design and its mechanisms will render some of this nominal volume unusable. With that in mind, I’ll consider an arbitrary 85 percent of the volume as usable, which results in 2,356 cubic inches of packable space.

Meanwhile, a soft-sided attaché bag, taken aboard as a “personal item” that stows beneath the seat, can typically be good for another 1,100 to 1,300 cubic inches or so. Some will go higher, but I’ll keep things mild here. Anyway, these bags are often made of canvas or leather and in any sane design the entire volume is essentially usable.

With these numbers in mind, we can strike a comparison. We see that the personal item holds about half as much as the suitcase does, maybe even a little bit more than half. The personal item, therefore, deserves more than afterthought status. It’s worthwhile to buy a good soft-sided attaché and to pack it carefully.

In fact, most of the experienced travelers I know spend more money on their attachés than they do on their suitcases.

In some ways, things now are better than they were before. I remember the days before rolling suitcases claimed the market. In fact, I used to sell the old-style suitcases when I was a teenager. Those slab-sided millstones were really ungainly. After a day’s travel your arm would be hanging loose from its socket from carrying your suitcase. It almost took a forklift to maneuver one of those things into a car trunk. Even the good ones were hard to like.

As for the cheap ones, yikes. They were just lumpy vinyl rectangles that smelled like volatile organic compounds being off-gassed by industrial waste. The zippers split. The latches popped. The handles fell off. If there was any glory to be had in travel, it sure eluded this end of things.

So as much as we might not enjoy navigating the modern world of luggage rules, at least the luggage itself is good, and many a modern road-warrior has built a life around its dimensions.

When my time comes they’ll put my ashes in a 22-inch Travelpro suitcase. Thus will begin my journey to the great beyond; providing, of course, that I can pay the fee.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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