Thursday, December 24, 2009

Breakfast in Malta, Lunch in Spain, Dinner in Belgium….

This is one of the reasons why I LOVE Europe! Only in Europe can you leave your destination after breakfast, have a quick bite to eat while waiting to catch your next flight to your final destination. And in the process have eaten three meals in three very different countries. Refitting an old sailboat is what brought the 12 volunteers together. But together we are experiencing and learning so much more than any of us could have ever imagined. A costly injustice occurred to some of my fellow jet-setting counterparts this past trip. Let me explain...

I flew from Malta to Girona, Spain on my way home to Brussels Belgium for the holidays. In Girona, I waited through what seemed to be an endless layover of seven hours. To pass the time I decided to take a bus into the city center and walk around. I attempted to drop off my carry-on luggage which if anyone from Ryanair asks weighed exactly 10kg, but in reality, weighed damn near 20kilos. Having no success in finding a storage locker I was forced to lug around this inhumanely heavy backpack pushing the limits of Samsonite’s structural integrity. You will all be happy to know that my posterior-sack (aka backpack to the laymen & women) held up and passed with flying colors, I have become a staunch supporter of Samsonite’s product line. However, Samsonite is not (yet) sponsoring this blog or the boat so I will not dwell completely on their superior merchandise and I will move on accordingly.

At the airport in Girona, I saw something I have never seen before and if I see ever again in all my remaining years on this planet will still be too soon. My flight from Spain to Belgium was initially delayed, the gate was switched, and finally was cleared for embarkation when it happened. The delay and last minute gate changes would not even throw off a novice globe trekker. What I saw threw me through a loop and its continuation as an act left me flabbergasted and in utter disbelief. The Ryanair employee who worked the counter collecting boarding passes did something so extraordinarily out of the ordinary I could barely contain myself. The flight from Spain to Belgium was full and the pre-boarding ticket line was as it should be, a well mannered relatively single file swarm of eager-to-return-travelers. The Ryanair employee then dragged over the small sign and frame that gives the airlines suggested dimension and weight of an acceptable piece of carryon luggage. Everyone who has ever flown before knows it is exactly that, a “suggested weight and dimension.” This employee then proceeded to stand watch and stare down each and every passenger as they placed their carryon bag into said frame. I have never with my own eyes witnessed such an unadulterated breach of unwritten airline etiquette. Frequent fliers know what I am talking about, the 11th Commandment. Thou shalt sneak on thy own heaviest most awkwardly shaped objects and it shall be accepted as a carry-on satchel (Genesis: 10”x12”x20”).

The airline will get you every time with checked luggage, there remains little wiggle room in this category. The only way we the travelers can level the playing field is by bringing AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE onto the plane and classifying it as part of our “carry-on”. If it fits into, can be connected with, or held up next to our actual carry-on bag, it always has been and always should be considered one object. It is as simple as that. This smoke and mirrors charade is done in many different ways by the many different types of traveler. One thing is universal, once a traveler has a trick that works for him it becomes commonplace to push the envelope that much further the next flight.

For those of you readers who are a bit green to travel by aeronautics, the general strategy is quite simple and straight forward. The traveler (you) attempts to bring as much as possible while making it appear to the trained eye (airline employee) as being almost nothing at all. This can be done by wearing as much clothing as possible, splitting your objects between one large carryon and a well chosen selection of smaller bags (e.g., purses, plastic bags, paper bags, maybe all three), tying accessories onto the bag itself rather than putting them in, holding objects in and under a coat of some sort as to make it seem as if it does not exist.

This cat and mouse game has been around since the beginning of flight. It started when Orville Wright snuck his lunch onto the Kitty Hawk without telling Wilbur beforehand. Beating the system in this way is to flying as the seventh inning stretch is to baseball. So to deny us this right as travelers is immoral and unethical to the core. What is next? The airline will make us pay for our drinks? Oh wait, they do that. I mean our food? Oh, they do that too…. They will stop handing out salted peanuts because a select few have chosen to be allergic and ruin it for the rest of us? Oh man, they do that too. Pay a fuel tax and a check-in fee even though we do it online? Check, check and check. This carry-on luggage thing in actuality is the last thing we have left. Join me in my fight to win this one for the little man (the one with a lot of extra $h*t to carry on).