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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Plan ahead to avoid shock of baggage charges

Posted: 12/20/2008 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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With only a few days left before the holiday travel season, I wish you all the very best for a joyous Christmas and/or holiday season. At the same time, the season brings forth a number of important questions about policies and regulations for carry-on and checked-in luggage that need to be paid attention to before you head out to the airport.

Q. Are my golf clubs still allowed to be taken as an extra bag outside the weight and bag allowance?

A. Airlines are all over the place on this question, and it can depend whether you are flying on a charter or regular scheduled flight. At Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations, sports equipment is subject to all excess baggage fees if over and above the free allowance.

However, on a few items, these charges will be waived if the specific sporting equipment is pre-registered. To my surprise, the fee waiver does not apply to golf clubs, but does to pre-registered hockey bags, hockey sticks, skis, snowboards and ski or snowboard boots.

Even with these, if you arrive at the airport without pre-registering them, you will be subject to all additional charges which are usually applicable. Air Transat, on the other hand, indicates on its website that golf equipment will be transported free of charge if it is 20 kilograms or less.

The same holds true for Westjet and Skyservice flights. On the other hand, Air Canada's initial weight allowance is much more generous. You can check in two bags, with 23 kilograms allowed for each, which is more than the free allowance for golf bags from the others.

For normal bags being checked in, the restrictions on Air Transat and Skyservice are tight at 20 kgs total -- even if you are wanting to check in two pieces. So be advised to carefully weigh your bags ahead of time, because the extra charges are steep at $20 per kilogram. And that applies to both outgoing and return flights. Keep in mind as well that you are very likely to be purchasing souvenirs at your destination.

By planning ahead you may be able to prevent the shock of finding out that the extra baggage charges are more than the cost of the souvenirs you purchased.

Q. Is it correct that I should not take wrapped gifts as carry-on luggage when I travel over the holidays?

A. Everything you take onboard will have to go through the X-ray machine. It really all depends on what you have in the wrapped luggage and what shape it takes.

Certain shapes can make security people suspicious. Carry-on bags are not asked to be opened if security people conclude there are no identifying problems appearing on their screens.

The same could be concluded for your wrapped parcels, but it would be frustrating for you if you are asked to unwrap your parcels. It is likewise frustrating and irritating for the long row of people behind you to have to be slowed down as you try to preserve the paper and not disturb the contents of your meticulously packed gift.

It likely is a better idea to wrap your parcels at your destination. And whatever you do, make sure you are not trying to take aboard children's play items like toy knives, guns, or other weapons. Security people do not think any of these are innocent child's play when they suddenly spot them passing before their eyes on the monitors.

Q. I heard you talk about luggage identification not long ago and wonder if you can explain what you were recommending.

A. There are two important elements to consider for proper and secure identification of checked-in bags. The first is not to let potential thieves know you are from out of town by displaying your home address on the exterior tag. Write your name and address on the tag paper insert, and put it back into the slot blank side out so it can only be seen by removing the ID from the inside.

This is not likely to happen quickly so is pretty safe as a result. Most new bags have a hidden ID tag which must be unhinged or pulled out of a secure pocket. The second element is to include a location where you can be reached if your bags do not arrive with you.

Include all your destination information on a piece of paper on the inside of the bag in case your bags do not arrive with you and end up in some distant airport.

If you go to www.aircanada.com, you will find an excellent format for this very purpose. It includes all your regular contact information, plus your temporary address while travelling, with a notation for the time frame that temporary address is valid.

It also should be noted that, while the United States has developed locks for luggage approved by the Transportation Security Administration that gives each location codes to open these various "Sentry Certified" locks as they are called, Canada has yet to adopt this system.

In fact, Canadian security suggests not locking luggage. I find this disturbing, considering the potential for theft and/or the placement of contraband inside your bags during some point of the transportation process.

For the cost of a broken lock, which security may feel compelled to cut, I rest much easier knowing I have prevented the other two possibilities.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravel.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2008 E2

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