I was taken to the airport by a friend of mine who has a lot of experience moving from a country to another (he has lived in Germany, Japan, California and Toronto, that I know of). He was very impressed by how compact my move was: only one piece of luggage over and above the flight allowance. (Maybe I should qualify this compliment by saying that through all these countries the pots and pans he used had previously belonged to his grandmother. So it is understandable that one piece of excess luggage might not seem excessive at all.)
In the line up for checking in, we decided to play guess to kill time. For each suitcase, we would each make a guess of how much it weighed — just as if it were a thanksgiving turkey. Then he (the strong one of the two) would take the said piece of luggage and weigh on one of those scales that are there for this purpose. (I don’t think the turkey guessing game is necessarily part of the purpose. The scales might be there simply so that customers can know before they approach the counter whether their luggage is over the limit or not. Why any passenger would want to do this without playing guess first beats me.)
Papa Bear weighed approximately 70 pounds (about 32kg), which is the maximum allowed. Mama Bear, in turn, weighed much less, about 50 pounds (aprox. 23kg), but was so full she could not even breathe. Baby Bear, though in size much smaller than Mama Bear (he was tecnically considered “hand luggage”), almost surpassed her in the weight category. He was small, but full of books, which gave him enough substance to more than double the carry-on allowance of 22lb (10kg) maximum.
Having effected a routine reshuffle to ensure that Papa Bear’s almost 32 kilograms did not exceed 70 pounds, we proceeded, joyful and confident, to the check-in counter.
“Any luggage to check in, ma’am?”, asked me the check-in lady.
“You’re only allowed two. Why don’t you take the little one as carry-on?”
“Because I’m already taking two pieces of carry-on. ” I showed her my backpack and Archimedes, my guitar.
“Guitars are not allowed as carry-on”, said she calmly. “Why don’t you check the guitar, and take the little suitcase as carry-on instead?”
In a moment of unusual naïveté — caused perhaps by the extreme pang that hit me that moment — I foolishly replied: “Because the little one weights much more than 22 pounds.”
Check-in Lady did not hesitate: “In this case, you must check it too. I´ll have to charge you for two pieces of excess luggage. It comes to 240 dollars, please: $120 each.”
My previous post had as its sole and pedestrian aim to point out that my return to Brazil had been carefully planned and rehearsed.
I had zealously studied Air Canada´s page on excess baggage. There they say that after the second piece of luggage, the fee for each exceeding bag going to all international destinations is Cdn$225.
Admittedly, in the box where it says “All international destinations” there are two little asterisks. Below, the corresponding footnote makes a qualification: “Excludes Brazil and Japan – (Please contact Air Canada Reservations for details on excess fees to these destinations).
Consistent with the whole esterical meticulosity that characterized the preparations for this flight, I had even tried many times to call Air Canada Reservations to learn the exact fee. Each time, I was either fooled by the automated system or put on hold until the call or my patience was lost.
I eventually gave up finding out, but reasoned with myself that, since Brazil and Japan are very faraway, the excess fee to these countries would probably be higher than the $225 per bag charged to other destinations. Even so, this was considerably less than sending it via post or cargo.
I would like to point out that nowhere in the Air Canada website is it stated that guitars are not allowed as carry-on.
The Penny Drops
GUITARS ARE NOT ALLOWED AS CARRY-ON?!?”,
I asked incredulously after a few seconds.
“What do you mean?!?”
“No, it isn´t, ma´am. It´s never been.”
“But listen, in the last ten years I have travelled half the world with this guitar. It has accompanied me to the UK, the US, to Brazil. Last Christmas I even boarded this same flight with a bass guitar, which is much bigger and heavier. How could it not be allowed?!?”
“Some agents in this airport sometimes neglect this rule. But these are exceptions: the rule itself is clear.”
“But listen, this exception is much more in use than the rule. I´ve never seen this rule. And I read the whole Air Canada website.”
“But did you call Reservations? If you had called, they would certainly have informed you that guitars are not allowed as hand-luggage.”
“I did try, but didn´t get to talk to anyone. Though even if I had, I doubt that I would have asked whether I could take my guitar — it would never have occurred to me that I couldn´t.”
“Then I´m sorry, ma´am. All I can do for you is call my supervisor.”
The supervisor came and only repeated the lady´s speech. As they both continued irreducible, check-in lady asked my friend, in an attempt to seem helpful:
“Are you going to stay in Toronto, sir? Why then don´t you take her guitar with you? She can pick it up from you later.”
The woman probably had not realized that I was moving, and not simply going on a short trip. But since she wasn´t completely wrong, I considered for half a second leaving my dear Archimedes with my friend.
But that would have been too cruel to my friend: to go home that evening he would have to take a bus, then the subway, stop at the university to get his stuff, and from there bike for a good 20 minutes to get home. How could I ask him to do all that with a guitar on his back?
So I rejected the lady´s kind offer. “Because if I don´t pay for it now, I´ll still have to pay for it later. So I might as well be done with this right away…”
While she prepared all the labels, I turned to my friend:
“What makes me sad isn´t even having to pay for an extra piece” (especially because I had expected to pay $225 or more for a single extra piece, and she was charging me $240 for two — but I did not say this out loud). “What makes me sad in all this is letting my dear Archimedes travel all by himself in this tough wide world, going up and down these dirty baggage belts, when ordinarily I don´t let anyone even touch this guitar. And this thin cover, made of jeans, can´t be much of a protection — if it were at least one of those hard cases. But maybe once she puts those red “FRAGILE” labels, then perhaps they show a little more respect with the luggage…”
At this point, check-in lady interrupted me: “Please sign here, ma´am”. I read to see what it was. In very small letters, the paper said that I, the undersigned, was aware that Air Canada could not be considered responsible for any damage or loss that could occur to my dear Archimedes.
“YOU TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY?!?”
“No, ma´am. It is your choice to check a fragile object.”
At this point, my eyes filled with tears — which is something they don´t do often. Check-in lady, taking pity on me, suggested: “why don´t you take some of the clothes from this suitcase here and put inside the guitar cover, to cushion it a bit?”
I was stunned. I turned to my friend. This time, even his eyes were filled with tears.
“Uli, could you take Archimedes with you?” (My friend´s name´s Uli. Archimedes is my guitar.) “Take it to campus, put it in my carrel. Nobody will be using it for at least another week: just enough time for me to find someone to pick him up and take care of him until I come back. Could you do this for me?”
My friend, always willing to help, promptly agreed.
Having then paid the $120 excess fee, we proceeded to the food court to wait until it was time for me to board.
Long story, isn´t it? Very long. And it is far from being over. Please tune in for the next episode of this moving adventure.