Such carrying on

Question: We have always checked our bags, but now that there are fees, we are considering using carry-ons. Do airlines really believe that older travelers can hoist their bags into the overhead bins? And now that the bins fill up so quickly, what happens to bags that don't fit? Do they go with checked luggage, and is the passenger charged for this?

Bob and Madeleine Spear

Mission Viejo

Answer: I think the late comedian George Carlin had the right idea on taking "stuff": "Sometimes you go on vacation and you gotta bring some of your stuff with you. You can't bring all your stuff. Just the stuff you really like, the stuff that fits you well -- that month."

Which really cuts down on things, at least in my suitcase.

Don't pack something because you might use it. The first rule of packing is this: When in doubt, leave it out. You really don't want to try to lift 40 pounds. Susan Foster, author of "Smart Packing for Today's Traveler," has finally drilled this important point into my head: Wear your heavy shoes on the plane. Pack the other pair. (Yep, she means one other pair and maybe some flip-flops.)

Even if your bag weighs less than a bowling ball, some flight attendants cannot help you hoist because the carrier's policy prohibits it. If they're injured doing something the policy nixes, this can become a workers comp issue, said Candace Kolander, coordinator for air, safety, health and security for the Assn. of Flight Attendants, a Washington-based organization that represents 55,000 members on 20 carriers.

OK, let's say your bag is feather-light and you know you can lift it, but all the overhead bins are full. Then what?

A flight attendant generally will check the bag for you. Usually there is no charge.

Smaller regional airlines probably will take away your carry-on because it won't fit in their proportionately tinier bins. Horizon Air, for instance, has a "cart waiting plane-side for folks to put their carry-on luggage on, and it's waiting for them on a similar cart when they get off the plane," said Jen Boyer, manager of media relations.

Hmmm. Might this be a good way to avoid checked-bag fees? Not if the case is larger than the airline's size limit for carry-ons to begin with, Boyer said.

That goes for the bigger airlines too. Tim Smith, a spokesman for American, said airline personnel are watching "at every customer touch point" for carry-ons that are too big. If you do manage to elude the size police on the way to the gate, the jig will surely be up at the gate. The passenger "will have their bag gate-checked, but it will not be for free," Smith said. "The normal checked-bag charge will apply."

You can avoid the hassle if you use a luggage shipping service that will have your bags waiting for you at your destination. The drawback: It costs far more than checking a bag.

My advice: Pack lightly. Leave most of your stuff at home. It can keep your cares and woes company because, with luck, you left those behind too.


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