Like cheap gasoline and easy credit, empty space in an airplane overhead bin is something you've probably taken for granted.
No more. In April, most of the major U.S. airlines began charging $25 for a second checked bag. Then, in May, American Airlines announced it would charge travelers flying on discounted fares $15 for the first checked bag, beginning June 15. It's likely other carriers will follow American's lead. (The baggage fee doesn't apply to travelers who pay full price, those with elite status in American's frequent flier program, or travelers bound for international destinations.)
Travelers who usually fly in coach and pack a laptop and other gear (like me), are likely to feel squeezed. And I don't mean just economically. To avoid paying the $15 fee each way, many travelers are likely to carry more of their baggage on board. That means there will likely be less room for our stuff in the overhead compartments--at a time when airplanes are likely to be more crowded than ever.
Then there's the financial burden. If most carriers follow American's lead, you could pay an extra $30 per roundtrip flight. For those who fly twice monthly, that's $720 a year. While that's not devastating, those of us who are self-employed or on a tight budget will feel the pinch.
So what can you do, other than avoid flying entirely? Here are three packing strategies for frequent flyers who carry laptops and other gear.
1. Pack Everything Into One Carry-On
That's easier said than done, of course. But not only is it possible, it's the only way to fly, according to Doug Dyment, whose OneBag Web site has received a lot of attention lately.
When traveling on business, Dyment says he packs everything--laptop, business papers, clothes, shoes, toiletries--into one carry-on shoulder bag, the Red Oxx Air Boss ($225). Dyment stows his laptop, a Lenovo ThinkPad T23 weighing about 5.5 pounds, in the bag's center section, padded by clothing. Accessories and other gear (cables, power supply, adapters, memory sticks, and such) go into a small pouch, which Dyment also packs in the center section. The bag's easily accessed center compartment allows him to quickly extract his laptop for X-ray inspection at airport security check points, he says.
Packing everything into one carry-on has many advantages. If you miss a connecting flight, you don't have to worry about reconnecting with luggage you checked on that flight. After the plane lands, you don't have to wait for your bag to arrive on the carousel. You're less encumbered with just one bag, so you can move more easily between, say, hotel and airport.
But packing everything into one carry-on has its downsides. You must be super organized, pare down your packing to its barest essentials, and pack a minimal amount of toiletries to meet the Transportation Security Administration's 3-1-1 restrictions on gels in carry-on bags. Also, the single-bag strategy means your carry-on is likely to be fairly large and heavy--which could put you in heated competition for space in crowded overhead airplane bins.
2. Ditch the Wheels
Dyment disdains wheeled bags. "Bags with built-in wheels are simply a poor design compromise," he says. They're heavier and offer less packing space than comparable un-wheeled bags. "If you need a wheeled conveyance, a better solution is to use a good lightweight collapsible luggage cart in conjunction with a well-designed bag," such as the Air Boss. Dyment recommends the Travelite, $30 at Magellan's Travel Supplies.
Though Dyment's points are well taken, I'll offer a counterargument: When you add a heavy laptop to an over-the-shoulder carry-on, you're asking for neck and shoulder pain. I've used wheeled carry-on bags to hold my laptop and other items for years, mainly because I don't want to schlep dead weight as I rush through endless airport terminals. As for luggage carts, you must hook and unhook the straps, fold the cart, stow it in the overhead bin, and remember to take it when you deplane.
3. Pare Down the Gear
I know, I know: This one's painful to contemplate. But there are ways to reduce the tech gear and accessories you pack without giving up too much. Here are some ideas for leisure and business travelers.
Buy a power adapter that recharges multiple devices. Adapters from IGo (like the everywhere130 and the Juice 70), Targus, and Belkin come with multiple tips, each of which can be used to connect a different device such as laptops and cell phones to the same power brick. Using these products, which cost about $60-$120, you can recharge multiple devices simultaneously without having to pack multiple adapters. Plus, you can leave the multidevice charger and necessary tips in your usual laptop or carry-on bag. That way, you don't have to unplug and pack your gadget's individual power adapters before each trip.
Do you travel with a smart phone and a portable GPS? Maybe it's time to combine them. GPS services are available for the RIM BlackBerry and Windows Mobile, Palm Treo, and other phones. There are trade-offs, however. For example, I've been testing TeleNav's GPS Navigator software and service on a BlackBerry Curve 8310 on AT&T's network. (The Curve 8300 series earned the number 59 spot on our list of "Top 100 Products of 2008." The 8300 is also a Reader Favorite.) The TeleNav service requires a $10 monthly fee (or $99 annually). At times, I've found the service to be slower at finding a satellite signal than some dedicated GPS devices I've tested. In general, however, TeleNav on a BlackBerry gave me good directions and consistently alerted me to upcoming traffic tie-ups.
Instead of packing a camcorder and a digital still camera, choose a camera that takes decent video or a camcorder that takes good still shots. For example, Casio's Exilim digital cameras take good-quality video. Some models, such as the Exilim EX-S10 (about $207) have dedicated buttons for video recording and come with software for easy YouTube uploads. You can see video clips taken with a Casio Exilim on my blog Traveler 2.0.