Anyone who has travelled with their Filipino family knows the routine. You get two pieces of luggage per person. Each piece is only allowed 50 pounds before you incur extra charges on your airline fare. Long before the actual trip, the bags are packed, weighed, repacked, and weighed again. Once they are all exactly 50 pounds each, you find something else that absolutely must also go along.
Marlyn has become expert at this routine. She can estimate the weight of a piece of luggage to within a couple pounds or so. Still there are last minute choices to be made. Do we take one more U.S. luxury item and ditch some underwear? Or do we try to remain practical? But there is always that final balikbayan box. And Marlyn has developed a useful tactic. She purposefully leaves one bag a bit underweight. That way, if any are overweight at the final weighing, we can redistribute things right there.
We also have our carry-on bags. I prefer to travel light in that regard. But, on this trip, that was not an option. This was the “big jump”. We were taking everything we could. We pushed the limits. Marlyn had a normal carry-on bag full of stuff, and a satchel containing two laptops and some other things. One laptop was to upgrade the old equipment in our boarding house business in town. The other was to be donated to the barangay hall in the rural area where our ranch is located. I had a backpack with a change of clothes and such, my little tablet, and some writing materials. I also carried my guitar. Those of us who own and play musical instruments are notoriously reluctant to entrust their care to other people. Airline travel with an instrument is particularly stressful.
First, there is the TSA. Law enforcement officers always seem to be rather suspicious of guys traveling with guitars. I wasn’t surprised when the screeners set the instrument aside for a closer look. I was called over and asked to open the locked case. The officer had a look at the electronic tuner and all the spare strings I had stored in the case. In the end, it was my needlenose pliers he was most interested in. He measured them, explaining that by regulation, they had to be less than 7 inches long to be allowed on the airplane. They were 6. He smiled and carefully repacked everything. I thanked him, and we were on our way. The guitar got the same scrutiny at our layover in Japan. This time, I was informed that my “pinchers” must be less than 6 inches long. Someone in Tokyo has a pair of used needlenose pliers now. All of the security folks were polite to me, and careful with the guitar.
Then, there is the baggage handling system. That can be rough on normal luggage. In this case, I couldn’t help but recall an incident involving the world famous, poor customer service of United Airlines and a guitar. (LINK United Breaks Guitars). We weren’t flying with United, still, I elected to hand carry it rather than trust the conveyor system.
As expected, we were told at the gate that we would have to “pink tag” it and check it there, to be picked up at our next stop. That actually went well. We picked it up, undamaged, in Detroit. We were told the same thing when we checked in for the next leg. Here, however, the ground crew never bothered to give us a “pink tag”. So, I carried it all the way to the door of the aircraft.
The flight crew were mostly Asian folks. They politely told me that the guitar was too large to fit in the overhead bin or under the seat. They were very, very sorry, but they would have to take it and secure it in the large closet in the first class section. I thanked them for the consideration, and the guitar had more roomy accommodations than I did.
Our next layover was in Tokyo. There, the guitar was once again collected and “pink tagged” at the boarding gate. It was set apart from the other odd sized luggage, so I kept an eye on it. A baggage handler was called up. Animated and emphatic instructions were given in Japanese. Large “FRAGILE” stickers were plastered on the case, and the baggage handler hustled it off to the plane.
In Manila, the guitar was nowhere to be seen. I inquired about it at the lost/oversize luggage station. They told me that they didn’t trust the conveyor system with fragile items like musical instruments. The guitar was being hand carried into the terminal. No sooner had that been said, when a baggage handler appeared with the instrument, safe and sound. I had already gotten my balikbayan visa stamp as we passed through the immigration lines. The customs folks looked at out passports and waved us through with our 200 pounds of luggage and the guitar.
As is usual for us, friends met us at the airport with a van. We stayed in Manila for a day or so taking care of some business. Then we made our way north to our new home in Nueva Vizcaya.