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Stop the carry-on madness and just check your bulging bag

Fly, even occasionally, and it is impossible to miss the dramatic upswing in carry-on luggage being heaved, hauled, dragged and rolled aboard planes. "Never check bags," was once the mantra of million-mile fliers. Now it has become a ubiquitous badge of honour: Rare indeed is the person with any luggage in the actual hold of the plane.

Last week, while sitting in a plane on Vancouver's tarmac, I watched as overhead bins filled long before surrounding seats. The ensuing confusion would have been comedic, if it were not so common.

As a steady line of passengers continued to shuffle toward the rear of the plane, with large roller bags in tow, another group - those who had already reached their seats only to find the overhead bins chock full - struggled to retreat.

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The two opposing tides could not pass, and would not back down. Flight attendants yelled down the aisle, asking people to sky-check their bags, but no one could hear. Heavy luggage was passed overhead, strangers sat on each other's laps, and tempers soared as passengers watched their bags being moved and crushed by others. It was a complete cluster.

In the end, the plane pushed back from the gate 45 minutes late - ironic, considering our destination, Calgary, was just an hour away.

Why does everyone haul everything down the aisle these days?

Could it be that checking our luggage at the counter is too much of a hassle? Do we really need to hasten our headlong rush to the departures lounge (where we simply wait some more)?

Or is it about retrieving our luggage on arrival? It doesn't really take that long to appear on the carousel. And though there are horror stories of lost and damaged luggage, for the most part, this is rare. (Statistics suggest if you flew 100 times a year, it might happen once.)

The real reason we carry so much on board is selfishness. I am the first to admit I'm as guilty as the next traveller. I like my flying to be as simple and painless as possible, and carrying just one small bag helps. But I suggest to you that the amount of carry-on making its way onto planes is now absurd, and serves to delay rather than speed, to complicate rather than de-stress our journeys.

There are rules and limits that govern the amount of luggage passengers can bring on board, but enforcement is lackadaisical. It's time for change. It would be nice to think we might alter our travel habits, that all of us would consider others sharing our space and carry on just what we need for the actual duration of the flight (or perhaps a few days - not two weeks - away), or that we wouldn't book flights scheduled to land minutes before a crucial commitment.

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But that's wishful thinking. It's time airlines enforce the carry-on size and weight limits they already have in place. Cue the flood of righteous fury.

Bruce Kirkby, a best-selling adventure book author, writes a weekly travel column for Globe Travel.

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