It is no secret that checking luggage at many major U.S. airports is a pain and a gamble.
Unrelenting long lines at airline check-in counters and kiosks make it a pain. So does the wait at destination pickup carousels. It’s a gamble because, though the odds are low, bags do disappear. In July, Delta flew an Airbus full of lost luggage — no passengers, just 1,000 bags — from London’s Heathrow Airport to Detroit’s Metro Airport, a Delta hub. The airline called it “a creative solution to move delayed bags.”
It’s true that checking a bag also can add $30 or more per person per leg of the trip, though with some airline credit cards or a carrier like Southwest, you may find you can check bags for free. But all expense, chance and travel chaos notwithstanding, I choose to check almost every time I fly, particularly when I go solo. Shedding that rolling weight makes me feel free as the birds that zoom around inside of Denver International’s tented roof peaks. Generally, I have a backpack to tote, but without the added burden of my suitcase (no matter the size), I can move around, without awkward body contortions, to get into bathroom stalls, for example, or the tiny convenience stores.
Here’s what else I do once I’ve jettisoned the baggage.
I fly through TSA
It’s just me and my backpack. And with TSA PreCheck, Clear or Global Entry — all programs for which you pay to move to the front of the line — you may feel like a VIP. Purse or backpack on the conveyor belt, me through the scanner — done. Without any of the aforementioned programs, it’s still no big deal. Shoes slip off, computer slips out, and that’s it. No lifting a cumbersome wheelie bag onto the belt or pulling out a bag of liquids because the liquids are in the checked bag!
I fitness walk
Long concourses are great for counting steps, but some airports, among them Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth, have indoor fitness “trails” or “loops” marked for eager exercisers. At Phoenix Sky Harbor International, for example, go from Gate A30 to D8 and you will have walked a mile, plus seen the city’s skyline, Camelback Mountain and more.
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Among my airport treasures have been a now threadbare Detroit Motown T-shirt, a smart mustard color leather backpack, a personalized ceramic wedding plate for a friend (it had to be shipped), kids books with corresponding stuffed animals for my grandnephews, and local delicacies like Seattle’s Chukar Cherries to bring as house gifts or take home as thank-you presents. I take advantage of the MAC makeup stores, Tumi luggage, local clothing stores like Tyler’s Austin Warehouse at Austin-Bergstrom International, and duty-free shops everywhere! In Switzerland’s Geneva International, I wandered so long in duty-free stores that I filled a tote with the yummiest of Swiss chocolates, some of which didn’t quite make it home. I wouldn’t have wandered into any of those places — tight spaces most — with a suitcase the size of an Amazon delivery box alongside me.
I relax in a spa
On a three-hour layover in Orlando on my way to Key West, Florida, I had a fabulous, relaxing mani-pedi. In Chicago’s O’Hare and Detroit’s Metro airports, I had an invigorating chair massage at the chain spas. In Denver I did some yoga in a now-departed studio that supplied mats and streaming videos. Each helped alleviate my anxiety about flying.
I enjoy a proper meal
I stride right past the various fast-food or grab-and-go counters and find the real food, like sushi bar Chaya at LAX airport, or Vino Volo at Baltimore’s BWI airport, or Elways (as in the former Denver Bronco QB) at DIA, or any other good bistro or diner with hot food and a waiter. I savor the last real meal I’ll have for a while — which is easy to do when I do not have to squeeze in around a big ole bag. (Plus, I don’t eat the handout junk food on the flight.)
I play the slots
Truth. I did this just once on my way out of Las Vegas, but I didn’t have to worry that my bag might disappear when I was jumping for joy over a big win (not!). My suitcase full of girls’ weekend fancy clothes was already snug in the luggage hold while I was losing the last of my money.
I have zero worry about the overhead bin
As I start down the jetway I am at ease, even when I am in the last boarding group. I am confident there will be no embarrassment when I can’t get the roller bag into the tight space above my head, nor will I have to look in vain for space before or beyond my seat, only to be told I must gate-check. Rather, I sit, stash my backpack under the seat, buckle up, breathe deep and keep fingers crossed that we’ll leave on time.
Lorrie Lynch is the former executive editor of features for aarp.org.