To Carry, or Not to Carry (on)

What are the rules on carry-on/checked  luggage these days? Am saying this because of my most recent experience when I arrived here in the US from  Canada just 4 days ago. I have always considered myself to be a savvy traveler. I pack a lot of stuff efficiently on carry-on luggage because, unless it’s absolutely necessary, I don’t want to bring along checked luggage. Not only is it cumbersome to bring it along as well as to look after it, I’m still in disagreement  over the ridiculous fees. Paying the airlines when I’m the one bringing in my own stuff?! Where’s the logic in that? I don’t buy the notion that the airlines are losing $$$ not with those outrageous fees that they’re all charging.

It was 4 days ago- I still remember it as clear as day…..  I had just arrived at the airport en route to the US. I went to queue at the US Immigration line for the usual inspection. The officer whom I encountered asked the usual query as to the purpose of my trip to the US, how long I’m staying, where I’m staying and what kind of baggage I am bringing along.

As soon as I said that  I was  only bringing along a carry-on for a 2 and a half week stay in the US, I got a negative vibe out of him. He suddenly gave me both the left eyebrow lift and the the left lip smirk and appeared to be deep in thought as if he was undecided as to what to do next. He asked me again where I was going and how long I was going to stay there. I told him that I was going to stay at my sister’s place for 2 and a half weeks for a family reunion.  I was starting to think that he was a bit deaf. He couldn’t believe that I could survive in the US for 2 and a half weeks with just carry on luggage. I was about to explain to him that I very well could when he cut me short and told me that my carry on needed to be checked by Customs.

He then took my passport and customs declaration form and walked ahead of me, telling me to wait in the detention area. The immigration officer placed my documents in a bin next to the customs officer(he was reviewing the contents of another woman’s bag at the time). The immigration officer  then said a few words with the customs officer then left without even looking back.

I was starting to stew inside, but I told myself to stay cool and act accordingly.  At least I was cleared by Immigration; the worse thing that could happen to me with Customs would be confiscation of my carry on. The customs officer called my name a few minutes later and asked what my story was. I said that I was there to have my carry on inspected. He replied, “What I meant was ‘what was the purpose of your trip’.” He gave me the typical spiel, and gave my usual answers. I suppose it was fair of him to ask as to how I can get by with just a carry on for 2 and a half weeks. I told him that since I was going to stay at my sister’s house that I usually borrow her washer/dryer so I have a set of fresh clothes to wear over and over. I also told him that I also can bring a lot of stuff with just my carry on because all it takes is just efficient packing. I explained that as unless necessary, I don’t bring checked luggage because I’d rather not pay checked luggage fees.

The customs officer did nothing but nod to everything that I had just told him. He told me that he didn’t need to see my carry on but I told him that I already had it unlocked and he might as well see it. My intention was to let him know that I had nothing to hide and he can tell that immigration officer if he asks him during their coffee break. He then  just said that this was  only a random screening  and I told him “It’s all right, I know that you’re only doing your job.” He said “Have a nice day.” and directed me to the terminal. As I was going to my next connection’s gate, I couldn’t help but wonder why they make such a fuss about bringing only a carry on for a few weeks when a lot of people nowadays do the same thing; I’m pretty sure that they don’t like those new luggage fees either.

There are a lot of advice columns out there on  how to pack one’s carry on efficiently to save on those checked  luggage fees. I have my own travel tips as to how to pack efficiently as well, but that’s another topic another day.

While in the next airport, waiting for my flight to my final destination, I heard an announcement over the monitor: “All carry on luggage will be randomly inspected as needed”. It gave me some comfort that it’s the norm now in terms of airport screening, but I wish I’d been given notice in advance– not be placed in the dark to keep second guessing as to what and why it happened.

I know that some airlines are now starting to even charge carry on luggage as well and I hope it gets stopped at some point as it really doesn’t make sense to me. I also know that if you are in an airline’s frequent travelers’ elite club or sign up for that airline’s credit card to get more miles, you will also get the privilege of not paying any luggage fees at all. If joining such a club or getting their credit card free of charge is possible, then it’s worth it as well. However, I believe that being in the elite club would involve earning your spot there by flying a lot which I don’t think is still free. Perhaps if you look at it at another way, paying the fee to be part of  such an elite club  might be the fastest way to get your foot in and not do more extra traveling (on your money!) and earn your way there too.

That’s my 2 cents’ worth on the matter. Well, my focus now is to just  enjoy my US trip here before heading back to Canada; enjoy each day as it comes and make the most of it. That airport moment was one adventure in itself but a learning  experience as well. It didn’t screw up the rest of my travel itinerary, thank God! Will keep you posted ,guys! Au revoir!


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