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’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.

  2. 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!!!

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

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