A few weeks ago, I gave you a preview of my new carry-on suitcase, the one that transformed me from a suitcase-checking, carousel-haunting commoner to a free-wheeling traveller who’d never have to worry about lost luggage again. All that was left was to actually use it. Well, I did, and here’s how it went.
With temperatures plunging into brass monkey territory here in Toronto, I needed some Mexican sunshine. And booking on short notice, I found myself flying to Puerto Vallarta on WestJet airline, with connecting flights in both directions. That’s pretty much the opposite of my ideal flight experience, but I was going to Mexico any way I could.
And on the good side, these flights would give me a good opportunity to try out my new carry-on skills. Right away, there was one advantage to travelling with a carry-on suitcase: there was no way the airline could lose my luggage between flights. I had a couple of hours leeway on the way down, but strange things can always happen.
Arriving at the airport, I had a moment of concern. At the entrance to the WestJet counter stood the airline’s carry-on tester, a little wire basket you could lower your bag into. If it fit, you could carry it on. And looking at the little basket, it was obvious my carry-on wouldn’t fit if I jumped up and down on it.
But not to worry: no one else’s carry-on would fit either, and no one was even approaching the basket. And when I checked in and told the airline rep I was taking both my bags on the plane, she smiled cheerfully and wished me a pleasant flight.
I felt guilty as I stashed the suitcase, my overstuffed shoulder bag and my coat into the plane’s overhead compartment — and guiltier a minute later when the flight attendants asked anyone travelling with a carry-on to put one of their bags under the seat in front of them. But by then I was trapped into a window seat alongside a couple of big Calgarians, so it was easier to live with my guilt than make them both move and dig out my shoulder bag.
In Calgary, I breezed off the plane and into the departure lounge with the greatest of ease. I had a couple of hours to kill, lots of time to wander the concourse and look around. But I soon found that wherever I went, I now had to take all my belongings with me: restaurants, seating areas, even the washroom. Good thing the carry-on was small enough to fit into a cubicle.
On the second flight, I was a model citizen and tucked my shoulder bag under the seat in front. But with WestJet’s skin-tight seating plan, there was no room left to put my feet. I spent the next few hours trying to fit them around the sides of my bag.
In Puerto Vallarta, having the wheeled bag made it easy to get around the airport, and helped when I changed hotels (although those little wheels weren’t made for cobblestone streets). And as I added a few things to take home, the expansion zipper saved me from having to use pressure tactics to get the case closed.
The internal compartments were good for organizing things, too — though it would have been better if the toiletries pouch were detachable so I could have taken it into the bathroom.
On the way home, with a slightly fatter bag and a five-hour (you heard that right) layover in Calgary, I swallowed my pride and checked the carry-on. With five hours to get my bag to the next plane, there was really no excuse for the airline to foul up. And in the meantime, my suitcase was their problem, not mine.
So, the verdict? Flying carry-on felt a little strange, and it had its problems, especially when you’re flying a budget airline and stuck with long layovers. But at the same time, wheeling the bag around was easier than lugging my nylon suitcase when I had to cover a distance of ground or make my way across an airport.
As for my concerns about carrying on liquids and gels, I had no problem finding 100-ml toothpaste and shampoos. And as for sunscreen, I bought some in PV.
Looking back later …
After another year of travel, I’d say the carry-on suitcase works well when I’m flying direct to a major airport for a city vacation. On a trip to Beijing where I stayed in the city, it was ideal — and I carried on in both directions.
But on trips that go to rugged places that don’t offer good sidewalks — Belize, for example — I’ve still travelled with my old nylon suitcase, the one with the hidden straps that can turn it into a backpack. Much easier to tote over rough ground.
Oh, one other thing I’ve discovered: if you’re riding the subway with a four-wheeled carry-on suitcase, keep one hand on it. If the train stops suddenly, it may carry on without you.