My Baggage About Baggage

I love to travel. I just hate getting there. And after this afternoon, I’m considering taking a contract out on Richard Branson.

The One and I leave in several hours to fly to London, our first time on Branson’s vaunted Virgin Atlantic. Now admittedly, packing has always been a problem for us. A big problem. We never seem to get it right. Too many bags. Too few bags. Overweight carry-ons. That sort of thing. When we flew to Barcelona two years ago on Lufthansa, we had to suffer through the humiliation of opening our suitcases and rifling through our clothes at the check-in counter in front of dozens of people so we could meet the airline’s stringent carry-on requirements—while a constipated-looking, SS-type airline representative stood watch over us, toe a-tapping.

This time, we decided, we were going to start early. The One began packing this past Monday, a full five days before our departure. Me, I started last night, which translates in normal people’s time to six weeks in advance. All was going well until we read Branson’s ridiculous requirements for luggage allowance this afternoon, mere hours before our departure.

Please note that a garment bag cannot be used as your hand baggage unless it fits the dimensions of the hand-baggage allowance. If you’d like to bring one but it exceeds 23 x 36 x 56 cm, it will need to be as additional checked-in baggage.

If you want to take your laptop on board, you’ll need to place it in your original hand baggage or check your hand baggage in.

What? A laptop can’t be brought on board in its own case?

A little further down, under the scintillating section titled Additional Items You Can Bring With You, it reads

Your handbag, pocketbook, or purse, as you would normally use it (in other words, not just being used to contain items that would otherwise be regarded as baggage).

This is where The One and I got into the start of a bitchfest. What the hell does this mean? Were they going to look in my man purse and make a subjective decision that the contents of said bag did not fit into what they thought I should be carrying in said bag during regular waking hours as I amble through the mall or pick out roses at Costco? Come on, people! Who the heck cares what I bring in my man purse, so long as it doesn’t contain weapons of mass destruction?

We had up to 50 pounds per checked bag, which seemed reasonable enough. Until we started weighing our bags on our beat-up Weight Watchers scale.

“Sixty-one, fifty-five, forty-two, fifty-eight,” said The One, kneeling on the floor and trying to read the display, which was covered, inconveniently, by the bag. Chances are that Virgin Atlantic, unlike The One and me, would not take the lowest weight as gospel truth.

Confused, exhausted, and irritable, we’d been snapping at each other for the past several hours. (In these days of heavy luggage fines, I think psychologists should consider surviving the packing portion of an extended trip as a sign of a healthy marriage.) We decided to check out Virgin Atlantic’s website for carry-on information. If we could shuffle some clothes into our carry-on, we reasoned, we might actually make it to England. But we were allowed a paltry 13 pounds each. The snacks I carry on board weigh more than that, for cripe’s sake.

So began the dance that ended with me crumpled in a heap at my computer and The One mumbling something about, “…twenty years…never changes….” It went something like this:

“Give me your sweaters and I’ll put them in my carry-on to make yours lighter,” he said.

“But it’ll make yours heavier.”

“Mine is lighter though.”

“How do you know? The scale doesn’t work. It says I’m 256 pounds. I haven’t been that since 2006,” I snapped.

“Okay. Put your sweaters in your man purse, because that’s light.”

“But I don’t walk around every day with sweaters in my bag. They’ll make us unpack in public again.”

“Damn. Right. Put your computer in your carry-on. I’ll pack your camera in my bag. I’ll put my shoes in my carry-on, which leaves room for your sweaters in my checked bag. Done!”

And so the Rubik’s Cube of packing continued, causing me to unpack and repack my carry-on bag and my man purse seven times. By the fifth time, surrounded by the detritus of my life, I began wondering if London, and the subsequent 12-day Celebrity Cruise, were even worth it. And I began wondering if Branson is really as rich as he says he is if he needs to be so stinting about luggage, charging whopping fees if you go so much as an ounce over. (Actually, this would be an effective incentive for any weight-loss program: scare the fat off people lest they have to remortgage their homes if they didn’t slim down.)

Now, with just 45 minutes left before the car picks us up, the bags are packed. The combination I chose is (I think) 38.5 pounds of checked luggage and nine pounds of carry-on; which is just some medication, a London guide, my camera; and a man purse—which is, technically, my computer bag. Because, Mr. Branson & Co., this is what I carry around daily. And, yes, it’s filled with cords and plug adapters, and a mini-camera, and a clean pair of underwear. (Momma Leite would die if I went to the hospital in dirty undies.)

But what has me really reeling is this little ditty from Virgin’s website. After a long list under Here’s What You Can’t Bring Onboard, we read:

…and here’s what you can.

• Cigarettes
• Cigars
• Rolling tobacco
• Cigarette papers
• Cigarette lighters including butane, absorbed-fuel (Zippo-style) and battery-powered lighters can be carried on the person, except on flights to Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Tobago, Havana, and Delhi. Note that you can carry these items onboard, but you can’t smoke them!

Really, Richard? Really? I can’t stuff my man purse with travel items, but I’m allowed to carry on weapons of self-destruction? This ought to be an interesting flight.

I can’t be alone in this. Tell me, what’s your worst travel story? Share your tale of woe below and I’ll read them when I arrive tomorrow in London. Make me feel better. Please?

The word "David" written in script.



About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.


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36 Comments

  1. I love this story, albeit at your expense, David. I think I now have packing down to a fine art and actually enjoy spending the 5 or so days leading up to a trip packing, unpacking and repacking. The odd thing is, I end up taking less and less each trip (I do realize that I always take more than I ever wear so why not leave it at home, thus leaving more room to carry purchases back home?) but strangely, the suitcase always seems just as full and weigh just the same.

    But the story reminds me of one time about 25 years ago when my brother worked as a costumer. He had designed and built costumes for a group that performed on a Miami cruise ship (think Vegas). When he got to JFK, he was asked to open his suitcase – in front of everyone – and out spilled feather boas, pink silk bustiers, frilly this and sequined that. The person controlling luggage stared at the contents, looked back at my brother and asked him to pack it back up and board the plane, no further questions.

    1. Ha! So THAT’S the answer to my dilemma. Pack a bunch of showgirl costumes on top of my regular clothes. Brilliant, Jamie. Just brilliant!

  2. Oh, I can relate with The One trying to read the fluctuating scale. Just did that. Apparently I need a freight scale at home before traveling. How did your baggage fare by the end of the trip? I just traveled Alaska Air. If baggage destruction was considered homicide: Alaska Air would be considered a serial murderer. They practically shoot them out of a cannon at Fairbanks. Two of my bags were totally shattered.

    1. Deb C, the bags made it back okay. What’s interesting is they weighed more come home, obviously, and I had an extra carry-on, and no one batted an eye. So there we were arguing over nothing.

      And thanks for the heads up about Alaska Air. I’m planning on visiting some friends up there next year. Perhaps I’ll walk….

  3. Hilarious post…and daunting. This is why I try to avoid flying. It’s easier than trying to interpret the rules.