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I Fly 200 Times a Year. Here’s Why I Always Check a Bag.

Airports + Flying
by Matthew Meltzer Nov 14, 2019

This is the Travel Take, where Matador’s writers and editors make the case for their favorite travel hacks, tips, and personal tics.

I never understand people who say, “I only do carry-on.”

Sure, I get it. Nobody particularly enjoys standing around the baggage claim watching a “Welcome to Fort Wayne” video while their bag is unloaded. And, yes, checking a bag can cost money. But I find checking bags makes traveling far less stressful and packing blissfully easy. That’s why any time I go somewhere for more than a day or two, I always check a bag.

I understand this puts me in the same minority as my penchant for well-done steak and my Android cellphone. It’s not a popular opinion, but unlike those other two things, this isn’t a matter of personal preference. It’s a practice that makes life easier on everyone. Though, somehow, it’s still a debate I get into with other frequent travelers who swear by carry-on only since checking bags is “a pain in the ass.”

A pain in the ass? Really?

A pain in the ass is having to roll 10 days worth of clothes like a Marine grunt on a field mission so it all fits into a TSA-approved roller bag. Then finding someone to sit on your bag while you try and zip it.

A pain is having to buy a whole new set of toiletries in three-ounce containers and stressing out over whether the TSA will confiscate your $65 Kiehl’s scrub. A pain is crowding around the gate before boarding like the plane will leave you at the airport, lest you board last and it runs out of overhead space. A pain is having to walk back to row 29 to get your bag when you’re sitting in the fifth row.

What is not a pain is throwing whatever you feel like in your suitcase, provided it’s not a lithium battery or a Schedule I narcotic. It’s looking at your black pants and your gray pants and saying, “What the hell, I’ll take them both!” It’s going to a winery that has the best Cabernet Sauvignon you’ve ever tasted and being able to buy a bottle for yourself and simultaneously buying Christmas presents for all of your single aunts, because limits on the amount of liquid you can bring don’t apply when you check your suitcase.

What’s not a pain is carrying only a laptop bag when you have to break into a full sprint to make it from Gate A2 to F67 in 12 minutes. I’ve probably made at least four tight connections thanks to traveling heavy and checking my bag. Granted, sometimes your suitcase misses the connection and has to go on the next flight, but that delay is negligible compared to the delay you’d incur by missing the connection. It’s a lot easier to get a suitcase on a plane than a person.

Some complain of the pain of waiting around in baggage claim, saying it feels like it’s wasted time. Maybe, but like so many things in life, it’s a matter of how you look at it. Rather than wasted time, I use baggage claim time to finish work I didn’t on the plane. Or read a book. Or just sit back and people watch. At the very worst, I see it as the price I pay for having the freedom to pack whatever I want, however I want.

The average wait time for a bag is about 20 minutes, which seems fair. According to the US Department of Transportation, an average of 4.7 bags are lost or mishandled for every 1,000 passengers, despite some people’s anecdotal claims of “they ALWAYS lose my luggage.” That means if you fly fewer than 100 flights per year, your bag is statistically almost guaranteed to be there as promised. And if it’s not, that’s just a chance for you to go out and buy some new clothes, on them.

Beyond all this, checking a bag makes you a better citizen of the skies. It allows the plane to board faster, keeps boarding areas clearer, and makes for one less person crowding the gate. Though my goals here aren’t even a little altruistic, it is still nice to think I’m making flying better for everyone.

Between the ease of walking through the airport and the peace of mind of never thinking about how much I’m packing, checking a bag is a no-brainer. If you’re worried about fees, there are literally dozens of credit cards that include free bags as part of the benefits. And there’s always Southwest. The debate may rage on, and I’ve come to an agreement with many that while carry-on bags may be more efficient, checking a bag is easier. And in my book, that will always win out.

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