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Confessions Of... A Baggage Handler

By Tim Cigelske
August 7, 2007
0709_confessbaggage
"I loaded a cart of bags onto the wrong plane."

Tim Cigelske was a baggage handler for a major airline in Milwaukee from 2005 to 2007.

$7.50 an hour Baggage handling is boring and strenuous. The pay is terrible ($7.50 an hour) and the hours are worse (shifts begin at 4 A.M.). But off the clock, we can fly for free if there's an open seat on our airline or its partner carriers. I flew free--a few times in first class--to Cabo San Lucas, Orlando, Costa Rica, San Francisco, Denver, and Seattle. The downside is that airline employees are the first to get left behind if a flight is full, so travel plans can get screwed up: I had to spend a night under the Phoenix airport's fluorescent lights.

Still, we all took advantage of the perk; otherwise it was tough to justify flinging luggage when the windchill was 15 below zero. I tried to fly at least once a month. I heard of handlers who flew to Philly just for a cheesesteak.

Rookie fliers A baggage handler can tell when it's spring break or a holiday without looking at a calendar. That's when the bags bulk up because inexperienced travelers overpack (and get slapped with fees for bags over 50 pounds). I'd rather work a flight filled with hard-core bowlers checking their balls en route to Reno than a trip headed to the Caribbean. How much stuff do you need for the beach?

Luggage left behind Check in at least 30 minutes before the flight. Any later than that and your bag will probably miss the plane. Sympathetic ticket agents sometimes call and ask us to swing back and pick up late bags, so you might want to beg them for help.

Most times, bags are delayed or lost for other reasons. Depending on the airport, luggage is sorted by the three-letterdestination code, flight number, or both. (The ticket agent usually tears off bag tags from old trips, but it can't hurt to rip them off yourself to avoid confusion.) There was one day when a delayed flight meant that we had two departures at the same time to the same city, and I loaded an entire cart of bags onto the wrong plane. Another day, we loaded so many bags of golf clubs bound for Myrtle Beach that the plane ran out of storage and we had to hold 10 bags. And sometimes there's no explanation: Miscommunication is easy when everyone's wearing hearing protection and shouting over jet engines.

No special treatment Pristine new bags don't stay that way for long inside a cargo bin, so buy luggage that's durable, not fancy. But don't go the cheapskate route: An overstuffed duffel bag held together with duct tape is a mess waiting to happen. Baggage handlers can cram a Boeing 737 with 150 bags in under 30 minutes. Factor in even higher loads for bigger planes, and multiply that by several incoming and outgoing flights a day. Do you really think anyone's bag is going to receive special treatment?

Back pain In nearly two years I probably hauled 250,000 bags. If it weren't for that job, I wouldn't have traveled to half the places I did, but I'm glad I quit. My chiropractor says my back problems are likely related to the job--and I'm only 25 years old. While I miss the free flights, I'm pretty sick of airports. For my next vacation I might just go as far as I can pedal on my bike. But if I do fly, you can be sure I'll try to bring only a carry-on.

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39 Affordable Hotel Chains Only Locals Know

The sample rates are for a double room on a weekday this month. WORLDWIDEBarceló Hotels & Resorts Properties: 129 properties, in 14 countries, that include the moderately priced Barceló Comfort hotels and the more stylish Barceló brand. Based in Spain. Sample rate: $161, at Barceló Valencia. barcelo.es Domina Hotels & Resorts Properties: 11 hotels in Europe and North Africa, often with locally influenced decor, on-demand movies, and concierges. Based in Italy. Sample rate: $136, at the Domina Inn Fiesta in Budapest. dominahotels.com Etap Hotel Properties: 370 low-budget locations in 11 countries--standard rooms contain a double bed, a bunk, and a bathroom. Based in France. Sample rate: $59, at the Etap Hotel Nice Palais Nikaïa in France. etaphotel.com Husa Hoteles Properties: More than 160 properties that run the gamut from remote resorts to inexpensive city hotels, in countries like Spain, Belgium, France, Argentina, and Egypt. Based in Spain. 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Sample rate: $64, at Tryp Burlada in Pamplona, Spain. solmelia.com Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces Properties: 77 mostly high-end hotels with Western-style amenities in India, as well as in other parts of Asia, the U.K., the U.S., Africa, the Middle East, and Australia. Based in India. Sample rate: $90, at the Taj View Hotel, in Agra, India. tajhotels.com ASIA & THE PACIFICAmari Hotels and Resorts Properties: 15 hotels in Thai beach-resort areas and major cities. Sample rate: $62, at the Amari Coral Beach Resort and Spa in Phuket. amari.com APA Hotel Properties: 52 high-rise hotels in Japan (APA stands for Always Pleasant Amenity). Sample rate: $61, at Tokyo-Ojima. apahotel.com Dusit Hotels & Resorts Properties: 18 properties with gourmet restaurants (some with poolside chalets) in Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, and the United Arab Emirates. Based in Thailand. Sample rate: $110, at the D2hotel Chiang Mai in Thailand. dusit.com Evergreen International Hotels Properties: Nine sleek, modern hotels (five in Taiwan) with soundproof rooms, plasma TVs, and marble bathrooms. Based in Taiwan. Sample rate: $146, at the Evergreen Laurel Hotel Taipei. evergreen-hotels.com Ginger Hotels Properties: Eight locations in India with self-serve check-in, well-equipped gyms, and flat-screen TVs. Sample rate: $45, at Ginger Bangalore. gingerhotels.com Jin Jiang Hotels Properties: 192 properties in China, ranging from high-end Jin Jiang Hotels to budget-priced Jin Jiang Inns. Sample rate: $138, at the Jin Jiang Hotel Shanghai. jinjianghotels.com EUROPECab Inn Properties: Five cheery, efficiently designed hotels in Denmark--small, simple rooms modeled on cruise ship cabins (hence the name). Some rooms have bunk beds. Sample rate: $118, at the Copenhagen Cab Inn City. cabinn.com Dedeman Hotels & Resorts International Properties: 17 locations that tend to be either chic and modern (in big cities) or traditional (in resort areas), primarily in Turkey, northern Cyprus, Eastern Europe, and Uzbekistan. Based in Turkey. Sample rate: $130, at the Hotel Dedeman Istanbul. dedemanhotels.com Fosshótel Properties: 13 unexciting, moderately priced hotels and guesthouses in normally expensive Iceland. Sample rate: $113, at the Flóki Inn in Reykjavík. fosshotel.is Grecotel Properties: 20 luxury properties with spas, infinity pools, and other high-end amenities in the resort areas of Greece. Sample rate: $300, at the Grecotel Eva Palace in Corfu. grecotel.com InterCityHotel Properties: 28 mid-level hotels in Germany and Austria, often located near train stations and airports. Based in Germany. Sample rate: $170, at the InterCityHotel Berlin. intercityhotel.com JJW Hotels & Resorts Properties: 40 properties, mostly located in France, including the JJW Luxury Collection at the high end, Stars Hotels at the low, and the Median brand--no surprise--in the middle. Based in the U.K. Sample rate: $81, at the Median Lyon. jjwhotels.com New Hotel Properties: 13 small hotels in France and one in Brussels. Sample rate: $123, at the New Hotel La Baume in Nímes. new-hotel.com Omena Hotels Properties: Five automated hotels in Finland; guests check themselves in with a preset door code and contact housekeeping through interactive TVs. Sample rate: $49, at the Omena Hotel Eerikinkatu in Helsinki. omena.com Premier Travel Inn Properties: 480 mid-level U.K. locations with a king- or queen-size bed in every room; kids under 16 stay free and get breakfast free. 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Sample rate: $174, at the Safir International Hotel Kuwait. safirhotels.com MEXICOFiesta Americana/Fiesta Inn Properties: 70 properties throughout the country, including full-service resorts in places like Puerto Vallarta (Fiesta Americana) and more-standard, business-style accommodations (Fiesta Inns). Sample rate: $151, at the Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancún; $106, at the Fiesta Inn Centro Histórico, in Mexico City. fiestamericana.com, fiestainn.com SUB-SAHARAN AFRICACity Lodge Hotels Properties: 40 properties, all in South Africa. The company's Courtyard brand is at the high end of the spectrum, its motel-like Road Lodge is at the lower end, and City Lodge and Town Lodge are situated in between. Sample rate: $48, at the Road Lodge Durban. citylodge.co.za Protea Hotels Properties: 113 properties, mostly in South Africa with a few in Tanzania, Nigeria, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and even the U.K. Hotels range from mid-level city properties to deluxe safari lodges. Based in South Africa. Sample rate: $154, at the Protea Hotel Aishi Machame, near Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania. proteahotels.com

How Was Your Trip?

'The Kids Were So Comfortable' "Ben, Peter, and Laura really responded to everyone they met," says Karen of the Gordons' time in South Korea. "They could really tell that the Korean people cared about them and wanted to connect." Korean Folk Show "We got to the folk village near Suwon just in time to see the shows--with a wedding, acrobats, and a farmer's dance." Meeting the Locals "We brought an album with photos of our life in Alaska to help people see what it's like where we're from." A Really Neat Meal "A woman at a tourist center arranged a meal for us at Hahoe Folk Village. We sat at a low table in the open air, with birds singing and the river nearby." Pretty in Pink "We bought Laura a hanbok at a market in Daegu, where she was born. She wanted a purple or blue one, but we could only find them in pink or red--it turns out that those are the colors most often used for girls' hanboks." Bulguksa Temple "We rode a shuttle from the temple to a nearby grotto, which looks over the countryside. It was so beautiful up there! We took a hiking trail back down to the temple." Guest-House in Gyeongju "Sarangchae Guest House was by far our favorite place to stay. It's a 200-year-old hanok (a traditional Korean house), and each room is a little different. It's a special place." Biking in Seoul "We all really enjoyed the evening that we spent biking along the Han River. We were just an ordinary family riding together, just like all the other families that we saw."

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