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“You need to learn now to pack… you’re carrying too much stuff. You’re doing it all wrong.” That’s the unsolicited advice of the man in the seat next to me in the Charlotte airport.
He seems offended, possibly because when he moved his barstool to sit down, my rollaboard (with my tote perched upon it and leaning against it) started to tilt backwards, its balance now disturbed.
I was startled out the article I was reading and laughed nervously.
Surely he was joking.
He was not.
“You’re doing it all wrong”, he repeated. “You don’t know how to pack.”
I felt the blood rising to my now scarlet cheeks.
“I’ve got seven days-worth of things in that carry-on… I think I’m doing pretty good.” I quietly responded with an uncomfortable laugh the social contract violated between us.
“That’s nothing”, he replied. “I just did seventeen days in Africa with just that bag,” as he gestures to his TravelPro roller (the same size as my own bag) and a square ziptop briefcase. “And I have less stuff than you.”
“Well, it’s not that easy when you’re a girl”, I mumbled under my breathe as I paid my check and hastily left, seething.
Seriously, is that really where we still are in 2014?
It’s not enough that I’ve got a full week of clothing crammed into a business traveler standard Tumi square rollaboard and a stylish zip-top fits-under-the-seat tote bag (which also contain sales materials, electronics, and a hostess gift for my weekend trip as well as my purse). I’m always proud when I’ve managed to condense several wardrobe changes and all my necessities into what the airlines consider regulation and yet still manage to dress smartly. And yet that’s somehow “too much” because it’s more than Mr. Three-Changes-of-Clothing has less than me.
I thought maybe I was overreacting to be angered by his quick judgment. And then I stepped into US Airway Club to get a bit of work done. Across from me, another female traveler had her rollaboard unzipped so she could change out of her heels and into comfortable sandals. And I watched as not one, not two, but three male business travelers either let out a long sigh and/or rolled their eyes as they walked by her, glancing just a bit too long at her bag as they did. She too is completely within the limits and yet somehow has managed to invoke the condemnation of her fellow frequent travelers.
I look around. I see several other female travelers who are similarly packed – regulation suitcase, totebag on top. We are all playing the same game – doing what business travelers do.
Never ever check a bag. That’s the cardinal rule of some frequent flyers – checking a bag allegedly brands you as an amateur, someone who isn’t part of the club.
But apparently there is also another unwritten rule I have forgotten. Never carry on more than the barest minimum – in this case, not a cubic inch more than those who judge you.
To do otherwise would be doing it wrong. Right?