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On my most recent easyJet flight from Berlin to Copenhagen, the gate agent attempted to force me to check my small carry-on wheeled suitcase, because, she explained, “The flight crew has informed us there is no space in the cabin.”
I was a little more than peeved. It being a relatively short trip with constant, cool temperatures at my destination, I had very little in the suitcase to begin with. Unlike other trips in which I have donned every article of clothing or shoved books down my pants to make my bag lighter, I had absolutely no difficulty in this instance fitting both my purse and laptop bag inside to abide by their one-bag rule. You have to wonder what the sense of a one-bag rule is if passengers are then expected to sort out their valuable and fragile items into another bag at the gate?
I put the agent off by telling her my bag would need to be repacked, hoping that in the meanwhile she would forget about me and my unproblematic suitcase.
But she was diligent. And when she tried to insist again there was no space on board over my own insistence that the bag in question fits easily under the seat (which, unlike the overhead bins, cannot be argued to be anything other than my space), a manager was called to resolve the issue. He examined my small suitcase and allowed it to go on board.
It’s about time
And after all that, because they’d sequestered so many carry-ons and because the flight wasn’t full, there was ample storage space in the cabin that went unused. It was pretty clear to me that the real issue had never been one of space, but rather of time.
The inbound flight had been late, which meant our departure was also delayed. In order to turn us around quickly, we would need to board as smoothly as possible. By removing the need to wait for other passengers to stow their luggage overhead or to search for empty bins in an overfilled section, the cabin crew surely cut time off both the loading and unloading of the plane. EasyJet reckons that the ground crew is faster at transporting and loading our luggage into the hold than we can get it in and out of the overhead bins! And they are probably right!
Know before handing off to the hold
But you as a passenger need to be aware that when you relinquish your carry-on to the hold, any damage or theft that occurs to the items in your luggage is governed by the general laws concerning airline liability, which are fixed in amount and, further, may be capped by the weight of the bag in question.
Also, to quote Air Canada, these regulations generally exclude damages for “liquids, valuables or items whose loss may cause serious damage, such as money, jewelery, silverware, negotiable papers, securities, computers, cameras, cellular phones, business documents, samples, paintings, antiques, artifacts, manuscripts, prescription drugs, or irreplaceable books or publications.” This changes in no way when an airline insists you gate check an item, so be thoughtful about removing all such items from your luggage before turning it over.
easyJet’s uncertain carry-on “guarantee”
EasyJet has posted a “guarantee” on its website — if your luggage meets certain, more restrictive size guidelines, you are assured of a space for your carry-on luggage on board. Please read this less as a “guarantee” for travelers and more as an assurance that this time-saving strategy of confiscating bags is set to be rolled out across the continent this summer.
The “guaranteed” size is currently 50 x 40 x 20 cm, so measure your bag to have a sense of whether or not this might affect you. If it will, assume the worst and take the following precautions:
• Pack another foldable bag/tote to move items into;
• Remove all breakable and valuable items from the bag to be checked;
• If you are carrying fragile equipment, goods, or gifts, package them securely against breakage beyond the protection of your suitcase (i.e. in a cardboard box, not just paper or bubble wrapped).
Finally, as in my case, if you are unwilling to check your bag or worried about transporting your valuables without breakage, politely but firmly request an exception from the gate agent. If s/he is unwilling, request to speak to their manager.