Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Air Travel and High-Tech Luggage

In the coming months, Susan and I hope to have many speaking opportunities based upon our soon-to-be-published book, Aging Together: Dementia, Friendship and Flourishing Communities, which means that we will be living the life of Road Warriors. This is fine if the speaking engagement is in a place close enough to drive to, but air travel will be a part of the picture, and air travel has become increasingly unpleasant and uncertain. For example, we have an upcoming workshop in Quincy, Illinois. If you are flying from Appleton to Quincy, there is but one sequence of three flights that will get you there the same day, which leaves a lot of room for things to go wrong. Even though the sponsoring organization will pay travel costs, I have been hesitant to book the flights, thinking it might be safer, even faster, to drive.

It was pondering this next phase of life that set me to studying our luggage this past weekend. We own three suitcases: Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. Of the bear family, only Baby qualifies as a carry-on, and on smaller planes “carry-on” now means “plane-side check.” Which is why I have tended to use my duffel bag for travel whenever possible: I have never met the overhead bin it could not be stuffed into. Susan also has a duffel bag, which unlike mine is not held together with duct tape. Duffels are great when you need to run from one end of an airport to the other (if you don’t mind having your belongings crash into your hip with each step), but a contemporary carry-on with clever wheels and a handle has virtues of its own. We decided to venture out to see what options we might find in luggage departments.

We quickly found what seemed to be the perfect carry-on for our needs. It was reasonably priced. It appeared to be rugged and featured a clever padded compartment for a laptop that permits easy access for going through airport security. It appeared perfect until we actually opened it: between the framework for the handle and the laptop compartment, there was only enough room left inside for two pairs of underwear and a clean set of socks. Yes, we have reached the point where luggage has become so clever that it no longer works as luggage. We examined a bewildering range of carry-ons, some with as many as eight wheels spinning in various directions. In the end we purchased a duffel bag. I tossed my beloved duct-taped bag into the trash and donated Papa Bear to Goodwill (I cannot imagine ever checking a suitcase again for a trip shorter than a week). Even with our aging bodies, we will be tossing duffel bags over our shoulders for all trips that feature tight schedules.

Overall I believe that technological advancement is a good thing. I also grudgingly admit that air travel works remarkably well most of the time. But if I really need to be someplace the same day and it is less than 500 miles away, tossing the duffels in the back of the car makes a lot of sense. I am willing to buy my own peanuts.


rick in cos said...

How ironic, that I'm sitting at the airport terminal in Detroit as I catch up with your blog! The challenge of finding good luggage,for which I'm somewhat of a junkie, is finding a truly fine luggage store. There are few of them. Some of the online options are stellar, but I like kicking the tire before buying, which makes online very near impossible. As one who these days seems to fly 8-12 times a year, I have become averse to checking a bag unless more than a 3 night stay. But, the airlines have created an unintended nightmare when loading/unloading the cabin, as knuckleheads try to cram much too large and too many suitcases in the overhead. I actually PREFER to fly regional jets, where you check your bag at the jetway. You don't pay to check it, like full size suitcases, and you don't have to wait at the carosel, and I've yet to have one of these get lost like when you check it at the counter. My family now hates to fly with me (which is why tonight, i'ts probably good they're all on one airline and I'm waiting to board another one.) I have my rituals now that work for me, and when I can't follow them with precision, it makes mer figidity. This, in turns, makes my family crazy., huh.

Harry said...

Driving is always a first choice, unless one is flying to Europe or the Orient.

We are doing the Europe travel in May and are already pondering the problem of luggage.

John said...

yeah, driving to the Orient is a challenge. I agree with Rick about the advantages of planeside check-ins and the law of chaos accelerating with everyone trying to bring carry-ons. It takes longer to get on and off and the flight attendants are more stressed that ever. remember the glory days of air travel, when we all got dressed up, the food was good and the drinks were free? Now it is cattle cars and trying to be a bit better prepared that the other customers when things go awry...