I get confused. I am flying transatlantic to Geneva and my trusty Briggs and Riley bag is ready and set for carry-on, but the Swiss Air representative at the gate tells me it is too heavy.
I should’ve hidden it, as I usually do if the carry-on scene looks dodgy, but I knew that the bag would fit above the cabin and I had a very tight connection in Zurich. Swiss Air informed me that their weight requirements are very restrictive and my bag was just too heavy. In fact, the airline only allows passengers one piece of main baggage up to 17 pounds.
I ended up checking it in, doing the usual ritual of saying goodbye, and told the check-in person that I had absolutely no confidence of ever seeing my bag again even though this was Swiss Air. Yet she assured me that it would show up at my final destination of Geneva. So when I asked her why I had to check my bag in when British Airways and Virgin Atlantic willingly takes my bag all the time, she simply said that the Europeans (i.e. the countries in the European Union) have a different policy than Switzerland.
How confusing is that? I can’t wait for these guys to be in the E.U.!
I was curious and looked up the weight restrictions for other airlines. Virgin Atlantic allows one piece up to 22 pounds, British Airways allows one piece up to 51 pounds, and Air France allows one piece up to 26 pounds; an obvious difference from the mere 17 pound bag that Swiss Air requires. Not to mention that my bag does fit in the overhead compartment.
Anyway to cut a long story short, the bag miraculously showed up in Geneva, which restored some of my faith in the system of checking in. What was crazy on the return was that from Geneva to Paris on Air France, a much smaller flight with not a lot of luggage room, I looked sheepishly at the check-in agent and asked, “What do you think of my bag?” and she said, “Looks good to me. Carry it on.” And at Charles-de-Gaulle when you arrive, not waiting at the baggage claim saves you at least 35 minutes.
So maybe I have to revise my strategy. If it is Switzerland inbound, you will probably see your bag again. Otherwise, under no circumstances check your bag. In the event you are travelling to Rome’s Fiumicino airport, be assured that even though you may see your bag if you’ve checked it, you’ll have to wait at least an hour for the guys at Aeroporto di Roma to get your bags to the carousel. Got to love Italy!
Popping Around Paris
A momentary break from talking airports…
It is always fun to jump around Paris. This year is Notre Dame’s 850th birthday so in true Parisian style they have rigged a huge platform that overlooked the cathedral so tourists could get a different perspective of this fantastic church that has dominated the Île de la Cité for all of these centuries.
Every time I go to Paris, it reminds me of how much I love this city. It is elegant, beautiful, and even sparkles at night. It is an iconic city and has a fabulous metro system that is inexpensive.
But what I really love about Paris is their boldness in faux architecture.
Putting this huge platform in the middle of the square could have been a huge mistake. Some think it is, but in my mind, it has changed the perspective through a piece of modern mixed in with the old. It has left numerous tourists in happyland with their cameras looking at Notre Dame from a different angle. The French take chances with architecture and modernism. It made me smile.
Of course, every time I am there, I always jump on the REI train for a morning or afternoon at Versailles. I have been doing that for…yep about 850 years! On a beautiful day, there is nothing more magical than a walk through the gardens. My advice to everyone travelling to Paris is to never deny yourself at least an hour in Versailles. Too much history went down there. The consequences of which were the foundation for our constitution and potentially a role model for a new Italian constitution…yeah right.
Thanks to all of the teachers and tour managers that I bumped into on my sunny but cold days in France.
More Adventures in Airports, This Time in London’s Gatwick
I have my go-to airports. If you have a choice, these are the places where you fly into. I also have the ones you avoid like the plague unless you have to. Then I have the ones where honestly I feel like I can spend the whole day wandering through the bookstores, grabbing a sandwich, and watching people as they leave each other or greet each other; it’s really a movie.
Then there’s Gatwick.
I am familiar with Gatwick in a very intimate way because when I was a student, I helped build the parking garage (or the “car park” as we called it). Gatwick is closer to the south coast of England than to London and quite close to my other hometown of Brighton. I had taken a late afternoon flight from Rome’s Fumicino airport to London’s Gatwick as British Airways flies there from Rome.
From the moment you get off the plane at Gatwick, it is a good half an hour by travelling walkway (if you are lucky!) to immigration. At immigration, it is at least a 40-minute wait. The good news is that by the time you eventually get to the carousel if you’ve check your bag it will almost certainly be there. However, the journey is not over yet, assuming your bag did show up!
Now you come out and have no idea where you are going, as there are no sign postings and you have to drag your bags into an elevator that doesn’t work or find a stairway that isn’t well marked, to get a train to take you to the main terminal hub. From there you must take the train to London; there’s no other choice. Thankfully, the trains are frequent and the journey time is only 30 minutes, but before you get on the train, you have to buy a ticket.
The ticket machines rarely work so you have to get someone’s assistance, but when they are working with someone else it means you may miss a couple of trains. But no problem, when you get your ticket you can be on the train and go.
But if you have aspirations to take a taxi, there are many people standing in line. And all of these people look like they’ve been standing there a long time, which they have, because there are no taxis. But this is Victoria Station and taxis avoid it. So after a few minutes you must abandon ship and take the Tube instead. This was the smoothest part of my journey! The trip from Rome to Gatwick took two hours and 20 minutes by plane, but the journey from Gatwick to London was a lot more. Not that I had a choice, but Gatwick goes down on my places to avoid if you can. Did I mention it was raining, too?
[Photos: Swiss Air by Jorge Sanchez; 850th Celebration of Notre Dame in Paris; Peter meets with a student group at Versailles]
Peter Jones is the founder and President of ACIS. Knowing the important difference between a trip that’s mediocre and one that’s extraordinary, he built ACIS from a deep belief and understanding that teachers and students deserve the best—from itinerary development to hotels to perhaps most importantly, the people hired to guide teachers and students throughout the journey.