June 2, 2010

June 2, 2010
5 More Things Baggage Handlers Will Not Say

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Wednesday and I we have already made it to the middle of a short work week because of the holiday. I hope you are having a safe and great one so far.

This past weekend was a busy one for Dab the AIDS Bear. This coming weekend, Dab the AIDS Bear will be traveling to San Francisco for the AIDS Lifecycle/Ride to End AIDS which goes from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Thanks to help from our Team Positive Pedalers, we will be getting some great shots from the event.

Dab the AIDS Bear will also be traveling to London for the Walk for Life 2010. The Walk for Life is the largest AIDS Walk in Europe. So stay tuned for some great pictures from that event also. As you can tell, Dab the AIDS Bear travels a lot. The other day, I started a blog called the 5 things baggage handlers will not tell you. Today, I will conclude the blog with another 5 things they will not tell you.

6. Not all bags are created equal.

In the movie "Up in the Air," travel obsessed downsizing pro Ryan Bingham (played by George Clooney) takes his firm’s ambitious new hire to a luggage shop after she brings a clunky suitcase along on her first business trip. Indeed, finicky fliers say the smallest details matter, and industry experts agree that some materials are better than others. According to Dawn Sicco, US wholesale marketing director at Samsonite, ballistic nylon originally used in World War II flak jackets has become the pinnacle of the industry since first appearing in luggage two decades ago. For hard shell suitcases, Sicco says polycarbonate is best. Lightweight but strong, this synthetic resin is found in police riot shields and bulletproof glass.

Baggage handlers can be picky too. Flores, the American Airlines handler, says she prefers bags with spinner wheels that rotate in circles; this makes it easier for her to push bags in any direction without lifting them. But that does not necessarily mean consumers should opt for spinners. Dan Bohl, a district manager at Colorado Bag’n Baggage in Denver, says the wheels on four wheel suitcases are more susceptible to damage and dislocation because of their placement.

7. Stressing about baggage claim? You should.

Ever wonder what happens if someone walks off with your suitcase at baggage claim? Airlines hope it will not happen. “It is more of an honor system,” says a spokesperson for Southwest. Legally, says travel attorney Anolik, until your belongings are back in your hands, they are still the airline’s responsibility, and on trips involving connecting flights with multiple airlines, it is the first carrier that matters. In the case of checked luggage poached at baggage claim, airlines say that they will negotiate a reasonable payment if they can not find your bags but that it is impossible to hunt for bags once they have left the airport.

Fortunately, the Department of Transportation has made it easier to get reimbursed for expenses ranging from a toothbrush to a new suit by cracking down on airlines that had been violating its baggage handling rules. Anolik notes the domestic limit for claims is now $3,300 but cautions that for international flights, calculating compensation can be tricky, since liability is likely to be priced in “special drawing rights,” a complex monetary unit made up of differently weighted currencies.

8. Many of us do not actually work for the airlines.

Not all baggagehandlers work for airlines; many are contract workers employed by so called ground handling companies. JetBlue employs a mix of both, while American uses contractors at airports where it has just a handful of flights per day. Major ground handling companies include Swissport International, which employs about 1,500 baggage handlers in the US and, like its rivals, gets most of its business from foreign airlines. According to Michael Boyd, president of aviation consultants Boyd Group International, third party vendors are popular as a way for airlines to save money, since ground handling firms compete for contracts, hire more short term workers and tend to be less unionized.

John Conley, director of the Transport Workers Union’s air transport division, says outsourcing baggage handling can mean slower service and mistakes. “If I were working for a contract group, it is likely that I will have less of a wage and probably less of an investment,” he says. A Swissport exec says that is not true, and Boyd agrees consumers should not worry, since it is a straightforward job most handlers can do no matter who the boss is.

9. We can not handle unusual items.

In the wake of 9/11, airlines have put more effort into specifying what things are always, sometimes and never allowed on planes. Rules on their Web sites address everything from a deceased relative’s cremated remains to an athlete’s vaulting pole. But issues still come up from time to time, such as when fliers try to check unusual items. When Mark Thomas, a wildlife biologist and avid hunter from Alabama, tried checking antlers at an Alaska airport in 2006, he says, airline workers did not want any part of it. “It is like it was nuclear waste,” he says.

Thomas is not alone. When United Airlines tried banning checked antlers on its flights last year, the US Sportsmen’s Alliance encouraged its members to bombard United with complaints; the ban was eventually reversed. (A spokesperson for United says the ban was due to the damage caused by antlers and animal horns; United now has new requirements in place for packaging and cleaning them for transport.)

10. If you think we are bad here, just wait till you go abroad.

In some parts of the world, smugglers have been known to transport drugs in the luggage of unsuspecting air passengers. In other regions, security may be especially lax, and pilfering of bags or their contents is of greater concern for travelers. Worldwide, 11.4 bags per 1,000 passengers were mishandled in 2008, according to SITA; industry experts say that figure is far lower in the US

Using luggage locks during foreign travel is a good idea, but to prevent smuggling and theft (at least of a bag’s contents), some fliers are wrapping their suitcases in layers of clear plastic. Smarte Carte, a provider of luggage carts at major airports, offers plastic wrapping stations in Auckland, New Zealand, and Perth, Australia. Florida based Global Baggage Protection Systems, meanwhile, operates as Secure Wrap in 47 airports worldwide. Not going abroad anytime soon? Domestic travelers can try out Secure Wrap for $9 to $14 a pop at John F. Kennedy International in New York, George Bush Intercontinental in Houston or Miami International. In Miami, where drug smuggling is an especially big worry, 2,000 to 4,000 pieces of luggage get wrapped on any given day, says Secure Wrap Executive Director Daniel Valdespino. But a Transportation Security Administration spokesperson says agents will open bags if they have to, even plastic wrapped ones.

So remember these things the next time you travel to save yourself some money, time and worry. Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab