Luggage lashing

This item appears on page 16 of the May 2010 issue.

My husband and I did a tour to Mali, Jan. 3-18, 2010. We used Air France because it was nonstop San Francisco-Paris and nonstop Paris-Bamako, Mali — as easy as it gets for such a long distance.

Air France allowed two checked bags, not to exceed the usual dimensions and the usual 50 pounds. It was not a problem for us, as we never travel with more than one suitcase of 15 pounds or so plus, perhaps, an extra-smallish duffel for any purchased items.

On our trip of 11 travelers, three were serious shoppers. As Mali is a very poor country (fifth from the bottom on the UN Human Development Index), we felt this was good, since tourists’ purchases are an efficient way of transferring money from a first-world country to a third-world country.

However, for the buyers came the moment of truth. After packing their goods, they had to deal with check-in and paying for extra baggage.

I was in the check-in line behind one of these shoppers, who knew she had to pay extra for three of her five pieces. The baggage handler placed two smaller, lighter pieces on the scale.

“No,” she said, trying to explain that she wanted the two bigger, heavier pieces to count as the allowed two checked pieces, with the three lighter pieces to be the ones for which she would be charged extra.

There ensued a lot of futile discussion between the traveler, the check-in clerk and the baggage handler — she spoke no French and they spoke no English. At one point, all of her luggage was moved to the side. She was fuming, and the personnel were equally frustrated as were all the not-so-patient people waiting behind her on line. Finally, one of our guides who spoke French and Bambara came to assist.

It turns out that the counter clerk was trying to get her to move out of the way so she could lash together the smaller packages so they could be counted as only one extra bag rather than three — saving her money.

A tip for all travelers — tie your pieces together and it may cost less.


Berkeley, CA