Sunday, March 23, 2008

22 Mar: SHA->BKK Baggage Hell

I'm in Bangkok now and what a trip getting here. I think I'm going to title this blog "Baggage Hell" because that's where I think I am.

After an almost comical drive to the Shanghai Airport after watching the poor taxi driver struggle with one after another of my giant gear bags, I grab a cart and lug all five of my bags to the check-in counter. I rapidly learn that China Eastern is essentially the AirTran of China. I was already concerned about weight- there wasn't any doubt about that. And this one leg of my trip was going to be the A #1 weak link in terms of baggage allowances. Star Alliance carriers, which I'm largely on throughout this trip will allow me up to 40 kilo of free check through weight thanks to my status with United. China Eastern is on their OFP so they don't have any special allowance for me. My allotted free baggage weight? 20 kilos. TWENTY KILOS. That's like one of my bags and I have three. It's not like I'm gonna toss my ice axe or anything, so this rapidly eroded into an exercise in creative pack job- and which also led to very little sleep last night preparing for this one evolution which admittedly was stressing me out.

I took just about everything of weight and that I knew I wouldn't have trouble with getting onto the cabin out and literally jammed it into one of my carry on bags. Items like crampons, boots, and ice axes were already going to weigh me down, but things like wet-wipes, Sour Patch Kids, and heavier clothing came out of the check bags. After several hours and many trips to the bathroom scale, I had all three check through bags down to 46.6 kilos.

I need to also point out that adding to the stress of this packing job were these two little fun facts: For each kilo over 20 kilos, I get charged $10/kilo. If I'm over 50 kilos the bag doesn't get put on the plane and I have to figure out some other way of getting it to my destination (as in, ship the thing). How you handle this when you are already at the airport and your plane leaves in an hour is beyond me. I had no intention of testing this.

My check in guy was pleasant enough, and then even more pleasantly informed me that my total baggage weight came to 49.6 kilos. So much for accuracy of that bathroom scale, huh. In essence, that meant that I came within a pound of having a bag not make the plane. Happy day, all bags are now on. My penalty? Well, since you seem like a nice guy, I'll only charge you $200. Two hundred freaking bucks! That's like a round trip flight from Seattle to DC. Wtf!? Fine, whatever I say, as the line behind me continues to grow and become even more irritated. Paying the fee at another counter, I have to run back over to get him to check my bags through and then I'm off to the metal detectors/ immigration.

Phase II

There is also rule in Asia that -if- your carry on weighs more than 10 kilo, security can make you go back to the counter and check it through. Ha! One of my bags- the North Face daypack weighs in at 20 kilo- or almost 40 pounds. This because of all the Sour Patch Kids I'm sure. so there I am, in the Shanghai airport lobby right before immigration cross-decking heavier bags and pulling my laptop out, which will remove some weight and which I have to X-ray separately anyway. Success, it actually worked and I was able to get all bags through without a fuss. I repacked while waiting for my flight, replacing the Sour Patch Kids to their rightful place and making room for my laptop again.

Arriving in Bangkok proved some of the same struggles of maneuvering all bags from Point A to Point B, only this time under the oppressive weight of a 90 degree sky. Man, is it hot here..

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