Wednesday 10 November 2021

Carry On Luggage


jet-setting cultural aficionado on the road again

Being a cultural aficionado, I’ve always loved jet-setting to different world locales, dropping into different countries, immersing myself into different communities with people of different ideas and aesthetics. 

Head in the clouds again...literally!

Though one constant within the global hopscotching is the monotony of airports. My standard routine for years has been arriving at departures lounges (huffing and puffing), searching for a baggage trolley (hopefully no ‘accidental’ elbowing involved), finding my airline check-in (of course on the opposite side of the airport), waiting in the passenger queue (always at least one baby practising for the opera), and then staving off boredom-induced vertical sleep because that’s what the impending horizontal flight is for.

A departure from the norm

A few years back, it was time to do it all over again as I headed from London to the Egyptian Red Sea coast for a writing hiatus. So I started packing my bags and bought my Turkish Airlines ticket. The flight wasn’t leaving as usual from Gatwick Airport south of London but from Heathrow to the west of the city. This had me grinning as the latter was more easily accessible by public transport. Though after exiting the tube and going through the standard departures routine, I was greeted by a check-in lady with short blond hair and a perpetually furrowed brow who apparently didn’t know what a smile was. I surmised she was a recent hire and still learning the ropes, hence the slightly stern look of concentration on her face that was to overspill into our interaction.

Check in chagrin

‘Good morning’ I said, which she labouredly reciprocated before adding, ‘Can I see your passport?’ I was in half a mind to say ‘Can I see YOUR passport?’ just to mess with her. But thinking airports these days were not the best arena to try out my comedic chops, I decided against it and produced the required document. The check-in lady flicked through with stern fingers before lifting her stern face and saying in a stern voice, ‘Where is your visa?’ ‘I don’t need one’ I replied. Still, considering the standard UK tourist visa to Egypt was 2 weeks, she was adamant to see permission for my 4-month stay. With an upturned smile to neutralise her downturned frown, I explained about getting a visa extension whilst in Egypt like I’d previous done and showed her the accompanying stamps in my passport. Ah, she had me worried for a moment as I was thinking 'they’re never this thorough at Gatwick! Now, I wish the flight was leaving from there after all!' But after some discussion with her supervisor, the newbie agreed I was good to go and we could continue checking-in. Phew!!

Passport piss take

I passed her my big suitcase to be weighed which was well within the allowance. However, she then eyed my slightly ‘bulky’ laptop bag and pointedly asked to weigh that too. Damn it, again the Gatwick crew weren't that observant!! It came up on the scales as 14kg, whereas the max carry-on weight was 8kg. Little Ms. Stern Face declared I'd have to lose the extra 6kg of weight from my carry-on luggage. My mind split into 2 tracks. In the background, I ruminated how Turkish Airlines seating was slightly wider than other carriers, meaning they didn’t mind the extra 6kg on my backside (Sir Mix-a-lot would be proud), but not when I was carrying that weight independently. In the foreground, I just gave the stern-faced newbie a blank stare as I contemplated throwing away some of my clothes in my big suitcase or my research documents in my laptop bag...and I needed both! Aagghhhhh!

Carrying excess baggage

On a side table I was thinking how to swing this? After opening up my luggage, inserting my papers and looking at my overspilling clothes, the answer came to me, I would wear them all at once! Right there in the departures lounge I did an inverse striptease (dress-tease?), buckling 2 belts around my waist and putting on 7 t-shirts as well as a cardigan! After that, I pulled some stretchy trousers over my jeans, and stuffed more jeans down the front (damn, it really pays to be a big lady sometimes!) Next was my smalls and I remembered the large coat pocket hole that I'd been planning to sew for weeks. Lucky I hadn't, because I stuffed at least 5 socks and 25 pants down there (damn, it really pays to have a large bomber jacket!) The last weight reduction tactic was to just carry my laptop by hand as I causally swaggered back to the check-in wearing half my wardrobe. As luck would have it, the stern-minator was nowhere to be seen, replaced instead by another check-in lady who was oblivious to my 'clothes change' and sudden bulkiness. So with the scales singing the right number of kilograms, she let me through. Hurray!

This lady stole my moves!

I confidently proceeded to the security checkpoints. However, my swagger slightly morphed into a stagger as I started roasting under the extra insulation. Now, sweaty and panting in wintertime is not the ideal persona to present to security. Regardless, I nonchalantly went through the body scanner, and some random buckle elicited a dreaded beep. A female security guard asked me to step aside and patted me down. She was clearly bemused feeling all my bouncy softness, as well as seeing how the excess padding further accented my killer curves. But as those in themselves weren’t weaponised, I then retrieved my laptop bag and headed to the my boarding gate. Passing through duty free, I always indulged in the free perfume samples. This time though, the spray had to penetrate through the additional layers, so I practically showered myself in flowery spritz. By that time, the oven vibes matched the desert heat of my destination. Still, I decided to keep my walking wardrobe status until safely on the plane. I cleared the final gate check-in and just ignored the curious side-eyes at the panting perfumery entering the jet bridge. Sorted!

Duty free = free perfume bath

After embarking and safely in the skies, I stood up and began doing my ‘undress-tease’. Off came my fragrant t-shirts one at a time. From my eye corners, I could see the acrobatic reactions on flight attendants and other passengers' faces, eyes fluctuating from wide to squinting to furrowed to ‘huh?!?’ When I did my final magic trick pulling 'nuff pants out of my coat, they were properly perplexed if not plain traumatised, LOL! Finally free of the superfluous fabric now stuffed in a duty free carrier bag, I settled into my seat before my amusement morphed into annoyance at the airport/airlines' money grubbing. Excess carry-on luggage really isn't an issue considering passengers can buy loads of heavy stuff in duty free like large bottles of booze and perfume JUST BEFORE boarding the plane. Those items bring your total hand luggage way above the allocated 8kg, so they are just screwing us over! Anywho, it was still a series of ‘carry on’ capers which the inflight entertainment had no match for.

'Undress-tease' as in-flight entertainment a.k.a. trauma...

And how was Egypt? Sunny!! It was lovely being back in the natural (vs insulation-induced) heat balanced out with breezy ventilation in my t-shirt and sandals. No more need for socks and heavy coats…until the return flight that was…

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