Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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When my former college ski racer came home for summer vacation this year, he brought "Big Blue" with him. A Continental Airlines ticket agent had attached a warning tag to the giant wheeled duffel bag in an effort to prevent a baggage handler from injuring himself.
"Heavy! Bend your knees. 70 lbs.," the tag read.
Thank goodness Austin had no reason to bring his ski bag home with him as he does at the holidays. Stuffed with six pairs of Nordic skis and a length of PVC pipe that protects three pairs of ski poles, that monster can easily top 50 pounds.
As it was, the rolling duffel added $50 to the price of the former college boy's airline ticket. It might have been more if we hadn't brought his red North Face duffel home with us on a separate flight - we booked our trip before the airlines invoked fees on a second piece of checked luggage.
Big Blue is a duffel I purchased from Cabela's about seven years ago and immediately realized I'd made a mistake. However, I don't admit mistakes easily, so I kept it - all 43 inches of it. Big Blue is so large that my 6-year-old nephew could climb inside and I could zip him into the bag without a struggle. That would save some money!
When Austin first stepped up to the ticket counter in New England for his return trip to Steamboat last month, Big Blue weighed in at a few ounces more than 70 pounds. The airline refused to load a bag heavier than 70 pounds onto the aircraft. Austin removed a pair of shoes from the duffel and stuffed them into his backpack. That did the trick.
On Father's Day we went skiing on Rabbit Ears Pass. The last time we were able to do that was in June 1997. I loaned him a pair of old rock skis because his were still in Maine. If you have a lively imagination, you might agree that in doing so, we helped reduce our carbon footprint by reducing the weight of the aircraft he flew home on minus his ski bag.
I know, that sounds outlandishly farfetched. However, I read a news report during the weekend that Southwest Airlines is cutting down on weight, and thereby reducing fuel consumption by scrubbing dirt out of the engine cowlings of its aircraft more frequently. And several airlines are reportedly reducing the amount of water they pump into their onboard toilet tanks before takeoff.
No amount of weight is insignificant.
It makes me wonder if the vacationing skiers we anticipate coming to Steamboat this winter will forever alter their travel habits. Will they leave their ski bags in the garage and make plans to rent brand new slalom skis? Will they carry their custom-fitted ski boots and load them into the overhead bin? Or will they send them ahead via express carrier?
Is one checked bag enough to accommodate extra ski clothing?
For that matter, how much will a two-legged flight from Orlando to Yampa Valley Regional Airport cost during prime time in the ski season of 2008-09?
I was disgruntled this week when I read the news that airlines are beginning to charge $15 each way for the first piece of checked luggage. But when I took some time to think it through, I realized that the airline's best customers often don't check a bag.
Business travelers typically pay the highest airfares and are magicians when it comes to fitting everything for a three-day trip into their wheeled carry-ons.
In effect, they've been subsidizing the rest of us who routinely check large bags.
Maybe Big Blue wasn't a mistake. In an era of costly jet fuel, a surcharge of $50 to ship 69 pounds of gear 2,000 miles just might be a bargain.
- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org