Flying when you’re seven months pregnant isn’t easy.
The usual gestational inconveniences—swollen extremities, frequent restroom visits, beached whale agility—are exasperated not only by high altitude but also airline incompetence. My wife, Julie, and I are no strangers to airline dysfunction, and usually we take measures to protect ourselves, but last year when Julie was in the late stages of pregnancy, Air Canada succeeded in finding an unlikely chink in our armor.
We were flying from Victoria to Winnipeg. As we usually do on short trips, we schlepped only carry-on baggage to minimize the chance of losing a suitcase along the way. If the gear is with us in the sealed and pressurized cabin it can’t go on a walkabout, we reasoned. An hour after takeoff, Julie nudged me from my magazine.
“I have to go to the washroom but I can’t find my shoes,” she said. “I took them off when we sat down and now I can’t find them.”
Julie’s swollen belly made sub-seat spelunking rather challenging, so I took on the task. I peered under the seats in front of us and then crawled up and down the aisle on my hands and knees, examining the floor. The shoes were gone. I was flummoxed. The shoes had to be somewhere inside.
Finally, Julie asked a flight attendant and the uncomfortable truth was revealed: the shoes were still in Victoria.
The flight attendant explained that the passenger sitting in front of us had reached under the seat, pulled out the shoes and handed them to her. She reasoned that a previous passenger must have forgotten the shoes on the plane. Most might think it rather odd that someone would leave the plane in socks and consider the possibility that the shoes might have migrated from an adjacent row, but those thoughts didn’t cross her mind. Instead of consulting nearby passengers, she handed the footwear through the closing doors. Now we were about to land in Winnipeg and my big-bellied wife would be walking in the snow in socks. Great.
The shoes weren’t waiting for us when we returned to Victoria three days later. The perplexed man at baggage claim explained that the shoes had been there, but now were gone. His conclusion: they were stolen. Our next series of steps involved filling out forms, phone calls and return trips to the airport, all of which have, one year later, remained fruitless. Or, more specifically—shoeless.
The lesson from this story is that you can never be too careful when it comes to safeguarding your possessions during airline travel. The most common issue is checked bags not making it in time to the final destination, but other issues include baggage abuse, theft and outright incompetence. Over my many years of flying, I’ve learned most missing baggage does eventually turn up, but not without a huge amount of inconvenience.
When an exciting adventure begins with a flight, the last thing we want is positive emotions to become clouded before the real journey even begins. So for next time you travel, here are seven tips to keep in mind:
- When bringing outdoor gear such as skis, paddles, bikes and small boats, be sure to research size restrictions in advance. Most airlines now charge for every checked bag (for domestic flights), but it doesn’t take much to be hit with an additional oversize surcharge. Many airlines list “165 cm” as the maximum allowed dimensions (length + width + girth) before they add a $100 (or more) fee. And don’t bring items exceeding 203 cm in length, otherwise they may simply be left behind.
- Flying with camp stoves can be frustrating. Officially, you are allowed to transport a stove and refillable fuel bottle as long as they contain no fuel, have been thoroughly cleaned and are devoid of vapours. Despite the official rules, inexperienced TSA employees will often remove empty fuel bottles and/or stoves. MSR has a letter on their website that they recommend consumers print and wrap around fuel bottles and stoves when flying. The letter is addressed to TSA employees, and diplomatically gives them guidance on how to correctly do their jobs.
- Bring all your essential items onboard. Try not to be a straggler onto the plane, as the chances of needing to gate-check your carry-on will increase. Keep an eye on your baggage, especially near takeoff and landing. People mistakenly pick up the wrong bags, and, as with our flight to Winnipeg, on rare occasions staff will remove items from the plane.
- Choose airlines carefully. We’ve twice had baby car seats go missing on long-distance flights. Lufthansa went to efforts to remedy the situation, including providing a complimentary baby carrier until ours had been located and returned. Another airline didn’t provide a complimentary carrier, and we needed to pay several hundred dollars to rent one after it went missing. If multiple airlines service the same route, check reviews to see which ones offer better reliability and customer service.
- Be vigilant in airports—opportunists often hang out there. I once had someone attempt to steal my wallet in LAX while I was napping, and my laptop was stolen from under my nose in a Tim Horton’s in the Toronto airport. People are often weary and disoriented in airports, and thieves will attempt to take advantage of this
- Don’t book flights with tight connection times if your baggage is being checked. You might have no problem dashing through the airport to catch your flight, but the chance of your baggage not making it is higher.
- Be sure to pay close attention to banned carry-on substances. There’s nothing worse than losing a fine bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label at the security gates.
This article originally appeared in our Fall 2015 issue.