The Humor and Life, in Particular Web site
author:  Margie Culbertson

December 2005/January 2006 Humor Writing Contest winner
Best Short Humor!

The Carry–On Club


Jacqueline Hurst

As a frequent traveler flying can become mundane. However, there is one aspect of traveling by air that causes me intense anxiety. It's actually a crisis that is sweeping America:  Out of control carry–on luggage! In my opinion carry–on luggage is rapidly becoming a serious problem in the United States ranking right up there alongside illegal immigration and the energy crisis. Entirely too much luggage is being carried on, or in most cases "wheeled on" to airplanes these days. Fist fights over the in–demand yet limited overhead bin space are commonplace. Fragile items are often broken. Jackets get crumpled or torn. And, people have been permanently injured from being run over by those dreaded wheelie bags!

If I recall correctly the maximum allowable dimensions of carry–on luggage used to be based solely on the available space below the seats. Gradually this restriction was lifted and passengers were allowed to bring onboard two small pieces of carry–on luggage, one of which needed to be placed under the seat in front. Nowadays when I take I look beneath the seats of other passengers all I see are feet. Even purses are now being placed in the overhead bins. Ladies, what are you thinking? What if you have a lipstick emergency and you need to get your purse down, but the "fasten seat belt" signs are still on? And, when did the "acceptable" size of a carry–on bag become large enough to hold a set of twin 5–year old children? Can it really be called "carry–on" luggage when it's painfully obvious that most airline passengers can barely even lift their bags let alone actually carry them?

We all know the rules and restrictions. We've heard the frequent and threatening announcements made by the gate agents. But, remarkably few passengers follow these rules. How do they continuously get away with this?

Years of frustration and aggravation have led me to the following conclusion:  I have determined that there is a secret, exclusive Carry–on Club of which I am not a member nor do I know how to join. Members of this Club seem to have numerous priceless benefits. One of these benefits – the most important and valuable in my opinion is:  "Increased Carry–on Allowance with Special Security Clearance". Members seem to be allowed to check one of their pieces of carry–on luggage at a secret location outside of security and then pick it up at another equally secret location closer to their departure gate. I was able to discover this after countless hours of exasperating observation. As an amateur sleuth of sorts (actually, I'm simply observant, although many would label me "nosey") I carefully scrutinized all of the passengers waiting in the security line with me. Increased security has resulted in very long lines at the security check–points giving me ample opportunity to closely examine the types and amounts of carry–on luggage belonging to my fellow grumpy passengers. Dozens of flights later I was able to record my findings. What I discovered to my utter astonishment was that the carry–on baggage of every passenger I studied in the security lines fell within the allowable carry–on limits. No one was heaving those huge 18–wheelers we see thundering down the narrow aisles on planes taking out limbs and crushing toes onto the X–ray table. Heck, even if they tried those bags would never fit into the narrow x–ray openings anyway! I observed people grudgingly taking off their belts, shoes, jackets, and even underwire bras (this to avoid the awkward hand search) and pushing these items along with their single small over–the–shoulder bags through the X–ray machines. I observed no bags that were too big to fit under the airplane seat. No one had more than the allowable two pieces. I figured this had to be too good to be true! And, I was right.

No sooner did I finish putting my clothes back on and gathering up my dignity after passing through security than the colossal bags started reappearing almost out of nowhere! The absolute shock of this felt like being slapped in the face by an authentic wooden Didgeridoo souvenir slung over the shoulder of a passenger hurrying by on the way to his plane to claim his overhead bin space.

As I proceeded towards my departure gate the enormous bags started coming in swarms! It was like they were materializing out of thin air. Where did all these bags come from? They weren't in line with me in security – I had copious notes and pictures to prove it. That's when I finally came to the conclusion that this secret Club had to exist and extra carry–on luggage with secret check points was one of their coveted benefits. There simply was no other explanation.

Accepting the existence of this Club enabled me to uncover yet another member benefit:  "Priority Boarding Allowing for Premium Overhead Space". I have spent innumerable hours waiting in airport lounges and watching streams of passengers flooding in to the waiting area with more carry–on luggage than I even have possessions to fill. This is when my anxiety kicks in and I have to start mentally preparing myself for the inevitable pain that comes with boarding a plane. I try to reassure myself that I will find a spot for my small carry–on bag and it won't have to be gate checked even though, to my dismay, I am apparently once again in boarding "group" 84 and will undoubtedly be the last to board! I sneak peaks at the boarding passes around me and I see no groups higher than one or two. Will they even get to group 84 before they close the gate and takeoff? I'm doomed.

Of course, it's even worse when the gate agent makes that dreaded announcement that the flight is completely full. Now I will never find my poor bag a spot in the over head bins! Why does this make me nervous? I don't want to be that one loser who gets on the plane last only to be called out and ridiculed by a flight attendant over the intercom system: 

"Ma"am? Yes, you – the lady standing in the aisle. All the overhead bins are obviously full. That's why they're shut, so please stop opening them. We will have to gate check your bag. Please return to the front of the plane immediately with your nasty, hideous bag and give it to the gate agent. You're holding up the flight. Because of you all of these passengers will probably miss their connections. Shame on you!"

Yup, that's my constant flying nightmare. However, then comes the next announcement in the waiting lounge that touches the optimistic part of me (an extremely small part of me I must add). They advise us all that since the flight is so full they will have to enforce the set carry–on limits rule! Hooray! Each passenger is allowed only one piece of carry–on and a personal item such as a purse or laptop. And, one of those pieces must be placed under the seat in front. Finally! That means that all of these people are screwed! I appear to be the only passenger in compliance.

I breathe a sigh of relief. I will find a spot for my bag after all. Pre–boarding is announced. Suddenly I feel like I have been hit in the stomach by a runaway wheelie bag and I can't breathe. Over 90 percent of the passengers in the lounge jump up and start shoving, pulling and dragging their bags with them to the huge line that just formed at the gate. It's pre–boarding, not general boarding. What's going on? How is this possible? It's the Club! It has to be the Carry–on Club and the priority boarding benefit. I look around the now practically vacant waiting lounge. Only a handful of passengers remain, all with looks of horror and confusion on their faces. All with small, acceptable carry–on bags like me. All non–members.

There is still one chance, my optimistic side reminds me. The announcement stated that all unacceptable bags would be gate checked. I watch the front of the line with eager anticipation. In some sort of sick way this is exciting to me. I may actually get to see these rule breakers get what's coming to them. Finally they will have to pay for taking up more than their fair share of overhead bin space!

The first passenger in line is a middle–aged lady hauling a 300–pound wheelie with a slightly smaller bag strapped on top of it. Over her shoulder she has a purse large enough to carry the kitchen sink and in her hand is a massive pink Victoria's Secret shopping bag. Four bags! She'll never make it through. I find myself wondering which bags she will gate check. Surely not the Victoria's Secret bag, I predict. I can just see one of the gate checkers reaching in and removing one of the lacy under–garments. Then again, if the lady is lucky they will take an underwire bra and save her the trouble and embarrassment of the security alarm bells and ensuing intimate pat–down on her next trip! Anyway, my attention goes back to the front of the line. The gate agent looks at the lady, smiles and then takes her ticket. Finally an airline is going to enforce the rule! My fellow losers remaining in the waiting lounge all start to form small smiles. The gate agent is about to speak. She takes one more look at the lady and blurts out:  "Have a nice flight." The lady nods and then proceeds down the gateway, with all four of her bags in tow! This is how it goes for every Club member in line. Not a single member is stopped or questioned regarding their blatant disregard for the laws of carry–on luggage. Apparently membership does have its privileges.

Three hours later pre–boarding is complete. The cheerful gate agent chirps that she will now accept those passengers in group one. The rest of the lounge empties and I am left alone. I wait as the agent announces groups 2 through 83. People at other gates are watching me. I'm sure they are all Club members and they're laughing at me. Finally general boarding is announced. Not group 84? No – the gate agent lost her patience and decided to go straight to general boarding after calling 83. I make my way alone to the gate and down the gateway towards the plane which is now bulging at the seams. I don't even bother attempting to bring my bag onboard to find a spot. I simply hand my bag to the airline employee smugly waiting at the plane entrance to gate check my intimate belongings. "Help yourself", I offer, "my underwire bra is in the outside pocket."

©Jacqueline Hurst

Jacqueline Hurst is an aspiring writer currently living in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband. She has spent the majority of her career so far working in the travel industry. Living through numerous painful traveling experiences over the past few decades – mostly those spent in or around airplanes – gave her the idea to share this pain with others in the hopes of making others laugh at her expense.

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