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22/09/2008 – Leaving Your Bag At The Stairs On Regional Flights, AKA: Valet Check, Stair Check, Planeside Check
Not a day seems to pass where I don’t get an e-mail or see an enquiry on some travel or photography message board regarding travelers being forced to leave their full-size roll-aboard bag at the stairs of a ‘regional jet’ or turbo-prop aircraft.
As more airlines reduce their mainline aircraft routes and increase their dependency on smaller regional jets and turbo-prop aircraft the question about leaving your bags plane side has moved from a problem faced only and smaller regional airports and moved into many mid-sized and larger regional airport routes.
Leaving your bag plane side, which has many names depending on the airline you’re flying, is a significant concern for many travelers. The obvious concern involves damaging the contents of your bag. As a photographer who travels constantly, and who flies regional jets and turbo-props constantly, I have been dealing with these issues for quite a few years now.
As I have mentioned previously on Flying With Fish my home airport, New Haven (HVN), only have five flights per day, each of those flights is on a US Airways Express Dash-8 turbo-prop. My preferred airport, Providence (PVD), has seen a significant increase in regional jet usage, particularly on short routes I often fly to pick up medium-haul and long-haul flights.
Over the past few years I have only had my equipment damaged once when being forced to ‘Valet Check’ my bag. It was an isolated incident at Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport (DCA) and I was lucky a ramp-supervisor witnessed the incident. A contract ramp handler from US Airways Express took my well packed bag and threw it from the back of a regional jet completely missing the baggage loader truck. As the incident was witnessed by a US Airways supervisor it was cleared up very quickly.
Other than this once incident my Think Tank Airport Addicted backpack has flow hundreds of regional jet & turbo prop flights loaded with a minimum of two camera bodies, five lenses, two flashes and other gear and has never had any of the contents damaged. My Mountainsmith Correspondent, which I have recently begun to use, has now flown on dozens of regional flights, has also not had any gear damaged when left at the stairs of a flights.
What is the secret? Well there is no secret.
– First off if you have your laptop in your bag remove it! Do not ever have your laptop placed in the cargo hold, even for a short flight.
– When you chose your bag make sure it is semi-rigid or hard sided. Make sure the interior of the bag has padding, preferably multiple layers of padding, around your equipment.
– Make sure the padding in your bag is secure. You don’t want the padding shifting around in the bag so it no longer protects the contents.
– If you have fragile contents in your bag do not be afraid to label the bag as such. My Think Tank Airport Addicted has strips of white duct tape on it with “FRAGILE” written in big bright red block letters on it with a permanent magic marker. My Mountainsmith Correspondent has bright pink duct tape strips on it with “FRAGILE” written on it in big bold black lettering with permanent magic marker.
– When you pack your bag make sure your fragile items are secure. You want in them in place and not shifting around. Damage comes from not only impact, but also movement. You can have some ‘give room’ but not so your items are sliding. For photogs who stack lenses, place something between the lenses. I use the ‘orange’ Ilford anti-stat cloths, but I have also used a sock and a small face cloth. This is just to reduce things from scraping together; it won’t protect your gear from a 15-foot drop (then again a Pelican case might not protect your gear from impact damage if it took a 15 foot straight drop…well maybe it would if you packed it properly).
– If you can hand your bag to a human, rather than just leave it at the stairs, and tell them the contents are fragile it can also be helpful. I know many flyers think the ramp agents damage bags just for fun, but most of them in my experience are nice folks and will take care with your bag if you ask.
I know leaving your bag at the mercy of the ‘Valet Check’ is never ideal, but with some careful planning, and knowing if you’ll need to leave your bag at the stairs (check your flights before hand to find out the type of aircraft you’ll be flying on), can minimize the risk in leaving your bags and potentially fragile equipments at the bottom of the stairs.
For those of you where the term I often use “Valet Check” comes from, it comes from American Airlines‘ “Valet plane-side baggage check for carry-on bags”