Is checking luggage a life hack?

I don’t currently own a suitcase small enough to serve as a carry-on for most domestic flights. For my work travel, then, I typically check my bag—and cough up the thirty-dollar charge (thank goodness for reimbursable expenses).

For most people, though, that checked-bag fee has changed air travel. To avoid paying extra, many passengers opt for carry-ons instead. On every flight I board, the overhead bins are jam-packed.

The bag fee’s side effects extend beyond the cabin. Because there are fewer checked bags, tarmac employees have less unloading work to do after a flight arrives. They can quickly clear the plane’s luggage compartment and promptly deliver the bags (via carts and conveyers) to the baggage claim. In fact, by the time I’ve disembarked from the plane, stopped by the restroom, and found my assigned baggage claim area, my bag is often already there!

This is a stark contrast to years past, when retrieving a checked bag guaranteed a twenty-minute, shoulder-to-shoulder wait, glumly watching as other people’s bags toppled down the chute.

Now, though, there’s no real penalty to checking a bag (beyond the added cost). There’s no extra travel time, since I have to pass through the baggage claim to leave the airport, anyways. And my journey is more convenient; I don’t have to clear a suitcase through security, or keep tabs on it during airport bathroom breaks, or maneuver it through the Starbucks queue, or steer it down the narrow plane aisle.

Eventually, I’d imagine that airports will reconfigure themselves to accommodate the new luggage economy. Does it really make sense to build and maintain twelve baggage claim stations that barely get used? Do you really need the conveyor belts at the check-in counter, or could you have passengers haul all their luggage (whether carried-on or checked) straight to the gate?

Until that happens, though, I’m reaping the benefits of an air travel infrastructure built around checked luggage. ■