Here's the best advice I've heard for holiday fliers: Act like a business traveler.
Think ahead. Take along only what you absolutely need. Know your equipment and the airline's rules about it. And finally, don't back down when someone of questionable authority gets in your way.
This is especially important when it comes to your carry-on bags.
Fliers are lugging more roll-aboards, backpacks, laptop cases and shopping bags. Airlines fees for checking luggage — $15 or $20 each way for the first bag — are inspiring vacationers to travel like pack animals.
At the same time, there's less room to stash carry-ons inside the cabin. Airlines have cut flights and switched to smaller aircraft on many routes to improve profitability. That means more passengers are squeezed into each plane, often with less overhead bin space. Do the math.
Airlines are on the lookout for bags that exceed their size limits. You might get sent back to check your carry-on (and pay that fee). Or maybe just be in for an inconvenience, like Stephen Sharkey of Dade City.
He was headed to a US Airways flight at Tampa International when a security officer checking his boarding pass flagged his tightly packed leather duffel. Sharkey had to get a bag from an airport shop and move clothes from the duffel. "This,'' he grumbled, "makes no sense at all.''
Here are some hints to avoid a carry-on hassle.
Know what's legal: Each airline has its own baggage rules, usually expressed in linear inches or the sum of the length, width and depth. The most common is 22-by-14-by-9. But check on the airline's Web site.
Know your bag size: Measure the outside dimensions. Include the handle and wheels. Together, they can add 3 inches. Don't go on past experience alone, says Susan Foster, author of the book Smart Packing for Today's Traveler. "Just because they allowed it last time doesn't mean it's legal,'' she says.
Stand tall: If you know what the airline allows and the dimensions of your bag, don't back down when someone with questionable authority challenges it. The person most likely to reject your carry-on is a private security guard, called a line checker, hired by the airline. Be insistent that they measure.
You might still lose: Even if you do everything right, there just may not be any more storage space when you reach the plane. An agent should gate-check your bag at no charge. It will ride in the cargo hold for the trip, so take out anything you need during the trip, such as medicine. If you're catching a connecting flight, make sure the bag is tagged for your final destination.
Much as I wish the idea of flying like a business traveler was mine, it came from Joe Brancatelli. A longtime business travel writer/editor and founder of the Web site JoeSentMe.com., he's probably the top expert on road warriors.
Business travelers, Brancatelli says, are meticulous for good reason: They know what it's like when things go wrong on the road and will do most anything to slide through without a hitch.
Wouldn't that be a holiday blessing?
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.