My Baggage About Baggage

Overstuffed 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?

David Leite's signature



  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.

  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.

  4. I lost my favorite sister to cancer in 1998 and couldn’t bear to spend Christmas with my extremely sad family. So a friend, her daughter, and I booked a trip to Cancun. When we got to the airport on Christmas Eve morning, we were told that TWA flight attendants called a “Blue Flu,” and they were understaffed and had cancelled our flight. They said they tried to call me at home to give me the option of an earlier flight, but I spent the night with my friend because she lives close to the airport. They put us on a later flight and as we pulled in to St. Louis, our charter was taking off without us! We watched it take off as we ran thru the airport. Eventually they put us on a plane to Miami and put us in a hotel at the airport. We flew on to Cancun the next day. We’d lost a whole day of a five-day trip. Merry Friggin’ Christmas! I never flew TWA again and did a happy dance when they went out of business.

    1. Dorothy, there’s a little wicked streak in you! I never had that happen, but I have been rerouted several times and missed connections. It just sucks when the staff shuffles around mumbling because they don’t know what will happen. At least they can go home at the end of their shift.

  5. That scares me so bad I never want to travel again unless I can go in my big red Ford truck. No weight restrictions and no strangers in my personal space!

  6. I’m going to be flying in a couple of months and am already stressing over it. So much to organize with all the weighing and compromising.

    Worst vacation story ever… happened about a week ago. My daughter, son and I drove out to Calgary from Ontario. My son is going to school out there, so we made the long drive so he can bring all his books. He’s an english major, I told you about him when we met at FBF Orlando. Anyhow, I got sick from dehydration and blood pressure issues from the altitude. Started to get looped in the head, ended up having to call my hubby on the way home. He had to fly to Regina, take me to the hospital, then drive my daughter and myself home. All with me looped on morphine and tylenol 3’s talking about fluffy pillows and stuffed unicorns the whole way back. Yup, I’m a peach to travel with. Really proud of myself.

  7. Actually my international flights have been relatively uneventful; a flight home from Phoenix proved to be the most harrowing to date. I had shopped, of course, and carefully packed the gift items in the middle of my checked bag. The gift items included grapefruit from my dad’s tree, hold this thought. So, from my window seat I observe the baggage cart arrive at the plane, the loading of the items, except for my bag. Baggage crew attempts to back away from the plane, can’t move, hmmmm…several attempts made before someone thinks to look for an obstacle, bingo, MY bag. The offending bag is slung onto the wagon & driven off.
    I summon a flight attendant and make a fuss, she assures me that I am mistaken and disappears. We wait……..the captain comes on the mike and says we are delayed, waiting for some luggage from another flight…20 minutes later the cart re-appears with one bag which was loaded to applause from the passengers [Do I know how to work a room or what?].
    In spite of tread marks on the bag the grapefruit came through un-squeezed.
    Have a grand time!!!

  8. This entire article actually made me irritable- the tetris-like packing arrangements whenever we go overseas to visit family are laughable and insane. Nothing is more frustrating than militant and ridiculous baggage laws. The absolute worst offender is Ryanair- they like to change the baggage amounts depending on the country, so you can be totally fine flying one way but a kilo over flying back. Never again!

  9. My wife (who is a rock hound and collects a small rock from all the various places we travel), accidently placed a rock from Sherwood Forest in her carryon bag. Getting back to the United States with a rock in her purse turned into a nightmare. As it passed through the xray machine, it set off an alarm. They pulled her from the line, checked her from top to bottom (I thought a cavity search was next), took the rock and checked it for explosives, swab-tested it, talked about it, called higher-ups, re-xrayed it, then questioned her about why she had a rock in her purse in the first place. Meanwhile of course, people are craning thier necks, giving disapproving stares…. and whispering about the crazy dangerous lady who tried to hide a rock in her purse. The rock was the most innocuous, cute little golf-ball sized rock you could find. In the end, they gave her back the rock and after a stern lecture, and we barely made our flight. And of course after we got home, my wife decided it was a little plain for her collection and threw it in the backyard. After all that trouble!

  10. Oh my gosh, does this remind me of our last trip to Hawaii! The baggage is always a problem. I am a week-ahead-of-time packer, and my husband, who spent 22 years in the Navy is a night-before packer. This makes me crazy. Not to mention for the Hawaii trip, we packed a smaller (carry on?) bag for two days on Oahu and a bigger bag for a week on Kauai.

    I’m sorry, but 50 pounds doesn’t begin to cut it, even with sundresses and flip flops. Also, the weight restrictions didn’t begin to account for presents and other cool stuff I bought on the trip! If the airlines and tourist destinations want us to spend our $$$ with their businesses, can’t they figure out an equitable compromise on the luggage thing? As it happened, I had to buy another suitcase on Oahu to carry all my treasures home. (Hawaiian red sea salt, dried plums,tons of cool Japanese stuff, Aloha fabric, jade, more fabric,and other goods.)

    That suitcase has turned out to be a blessing, however, as it’s bright: and I mean bright green with big greener flowers. I can spot it a mile away on the baggage conveyor, and it always draws amusing comments. We didn’t fly Virgin, which after hearing all the rules, I will not. I don’t believe Sir Richard would allow my aloha luggage on his airplanes. Have fun in London. Ship your stuff home.

    1. Pam, I think you bring up a hugely intelligent argument. Perhaps instead of airlines dinging us, foreign countries and businesses could finances a bit of the silly baggage fees so that we can, indeed, bring home bags upon bags of things. It supports local economies, makes our travel easier, and makes the world a sunshine-ier place. The One and I always brought a collapsible bag with us when we traveled until these punishing fees were instituted. Now, we bring home hardly any souvenirs.

  11. I love “Me, I started last night, which translates in normal people’s time to six weeks in advance.”

    I have no travel commiseration to share, as I don’t often travel, and when I do, I only take carry-on luggage.

    Oh, but the last time I was in London, I realized a couple of days into the trip that when I’d booked the hotel, the price had been listed in pounds, not dollars, so my hotel stay was actually costing me about double what I thought I’d pay.

    And the bed was AWFUL. I’ve slept on better mattresses on pull-out couches. And I was in a Hilton, not some hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop joint. A friend met me for drinks my first night there. I bitched about the bed. “Welcome to London!” he said, cheerily.

    No, I said. On my previous trip there, I stayed in a lovely hotel with a bed like a cloud. Some people in London know a thing or two about comfort.

    The last time I looked up the offending hotel online, it had changed hands. It’s no longer a Hilton property. Maybe Paris had stayed there and bitched a fit about the crappy mattresses.

    Safe and happy travels to you and The One!

    1. Beth, that’s how The One and I always travel–Paris, Barcelona, Lisbon–one one carry-on each. We couldn’t do that with Branson’s 13-pound allowance. No way, no how. Even if I could have tried my one-pair-of-jeans-one-pair-of-dress-slacks-three-shirts pack job, we’re on a 12-day cruise, and I need more clothes than that.

      We’re staying at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Kenilworth in SoHo, and the bed is quite comfortable. Just got up from a 5 1/2 hour nap. (I can’t sleep on planes. Even with drugs.)

      Look for Instagram pix of what we do and eat. That is, if Mr. Branson doesn’t have a bandwidth restriction on phones in this country.

  12. I must say, I must be one lucky traveler as I barely ever had any issues with luggage, packing and sizes. But my husband on the other side… Thank you for laughing at your own expense, I and absolutely loved your piece. Now what I am really looking forward is to read after all these turbulences you still had problems at check-in! And if to go there it was already such an affair what will it be on the way back as I presume you NEED to bring some “food souvenirs?”

    1. Sofia, as I mentioned to Mardi, check-in was pretty much without incident. But it seems when I was upgraded to row 49–an exit row–all hell broke loose. There one of my seat mates variously shushed everyone around him and refused to sit because he was on the phone; brought his own four-course dinner, which he made the flight attendants keep warm in the kitchen and later serve to him long before we ate; took forever to turn off his three phones, one iPad, and another device I didn’t even see; and basically shoved his man parts into the side of my head while repeatedly as he reshuffled all of the overhead luggage to make it easier for him to get his bags when we landed. My second seat mate refused to eat with the rest of the plane, requiring that her dinner be served almost an hour after ours, and breakfast be served in two courses: coffee, water, and a Bailey’s–then her muffin top. You know it had to be an insane flight when I’m the sanest and quietest of the bunch.

      1. I am so sorry for your plane experience and again… sounds so very much as some of the stories I hear from my husband! Praying for a better experience on way home. Enjoy your time and keep us posted through all social media about it.

  13. When we travelled back from France this summer, my hand luggage was ONE kilo over the allowed weight and they wanted me to take something out. As I was being *that person* on the floor of Charles de Gaulle airport furiously unpacking my carryon and hoping nothing embarrassing fell out as I did (amongst a sea of other complaining Air Canada passengers doing the same), the woman behind the desk asked me if I had a laptop in the carry-on bag because if I did I could remove it and re-weigh the bag and then put it back and carry it on as it was. WHAT??? HOW does THAT make sense? Same weight going on the plane (never mind that what laptop weighs one kilo anymore anyway?). Sadly, my laptop was in my *other* bag so I had to continue to unpack my carry-on on the floor of the airport, hoping that no one was wondering why I had four baking trays in my carry on luggage LOL!

    Seriously, the rules and restrictions are completely ridiculous and, as you say, it’s like a Rubik’s cube trying to put everything in the “correct” place. I hope you guys made it through the airport with no hassles and have the best time.

    PS: glad to know you can bring all those cigarette lighters on board–what’s with THAT?

    PPS: If I had a dollar for every time I have said “I love travel, I just hate getting there,” I would be ever so rich…

    1. Mardi darling, I hear you. Those rules are so Byzantine. On Virgin Atlantic, why do I have to remove my computer from its case and place it in my carry-on, otherwise it’ll have to be checked? Does that mean, as it implies, if I do place my computer in there, it won’t be checked? Even though it will make the bag at least four pounds heavier?

      The kick in the rubber parts is, no one, I mean no one, batted an eyelash at our luggage. I was so frustrated, I wanted to grab the microphone and shout, “Do you moron’s know how many times we worked on getting the perfect balance of baggage–and how far back we’ve been set in couple’s therapy–because of your arbitrary rules? And now you’re not going to even noticed? Even bother to weigh one of carry-on?

      In the end, we did get though without incident. Well, that’s until I bit the inside of my lip right before going through the scanner, thanks in part to a TA official who was literally telling us to “hustle through, people.” My lip was bleeding so much, and I had blood on my palms because I had no napkins, I looked like I was punched in the mouth. Of course….Mr. TSA didn’t even notice. Go figure.

  14. Oh my goodness – put some thought into packing! We’ve traveled for years (vacations of no less than 30 days) and our luggage isn’t even as big as a full sized backpack. I can put clothing for every occasion (formal to everyday informal) in it plus two weeks worth of underwear and still have space to buy things to take home.

    1. sf, that settles it. If you can do all of that within the confines of a full-size backpack, you’re my new god/goddess. I want to take lessons. (The One used to pack twice as much as he does now. He reasoning: I don’t know how I’ll feel when I’m there, so I’ll need choices. Oh, ad we could take some pointers on our closets. I have shoes that are older than some of my readers.

      1. The first time I did it, I was filled with trepidation but guess what? There are plenty of places to buy clothing if you ever think you need something you didn’t pack. Load up on underwear and pack lots of mix & match items. Shoes are the hardest thing to narrow down for me, because they take up a lot of room in the suitcase and if they aren’t worn, I wasted space that could have held something else.

        1. I tried that in Lisbon when British Airways lost our luggage. Well, to be delicate, nothing fit me. I would have had to lose 50 pounds to get into their largest or large items. Either that, or wear muumuus.

  15. David, glad to see I’m not the only person with a vehement loathing for packing and unpacking. The part where you shuffle through your suitcases at the luggage check to meet the weight requirement? — I’m all too familiar with that. Alas, now, I don’t even really pack any more. I travel anywhere with a carry-on bag with two pair of jeans and a few shirts, and resign to buying everything else I might need at the destination. It’s not the most logical or economical plan, but it’s saved me half a head’s worth of white hairs.

    1. An, far from it. And I like your plan, but I have one question: What if you over buy at your destination? Do you divest yourself of your purchases at the gate? Give them away? I have a friend who ships all of her baggage a head of time. All she travels with is a toothbrush and smile.

      1. Hmm…that is tempting. But how does she do that- where exactly does she send her luggage? Unless she is going to a specific friend’s house or apartment, I don’t see how that works. Will the cruise lines let you send your luggage ahead?

        1. You can send packages, etc. via UPS and have them hold it at the local facility until you can pick them up. I’m not sure about cruise lines. I imagine that you can have bags sent to the port of embarkation and pick them up before you leave. The trick would be sending them home. But perhaps you could go from the ship to a nearby shipper, send them off, then fly home unencumbered.

      2. We made it a rule to pack ONE suitcase and each take a carry-on. Of course, I packed way too many heavy T-shirts and long pants for my recent Hawaiian trip. I had to buy some lighter Ts there. Solution to fitting purchases in the one lonely suitcase. . . smoosh heavy Ts and long pants into a flat rate box and send ‘er home!

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