Thursday, April 29, 2010

LOFT LIFE: I’m sorry I’m a woman



Until yesterday, I was feeling apologetic that I consciously plan to find some willing male to assist me in lifting my carryon into the overhead bin on every flight where my hubby does not accompany me.   
I’ve been congratulating myselon having learned from George Clooney (Up in the Air) how to pack, now putting my laptop into my rollaway. Though the quantity of clothing I can fit into my luggage has diminished, my lower back pain has also. I bragged about this reasoning to the last man who helped me, and as he lifted my twelve extra pounds of bag, he commented a bit sardonically, “George Clooney taught you this, huh,” as  even he, with his extra testosterone, noticed the weight.
The fact is, packing the laptop in the carryon has a few inconveniences, even beyond the extra weight: having to unzip my rollaway at security, remove the laptop to a tray, and then having to unzip the bag again to get the laptop back in while donning shoes, raincoat, purse, etc. before starting my trek to the gate--usually the farthest down the C or B terminal aisle. I do have to add, that I feel sorry, especially for businessmen, who have smartly dressed for their next high profile meeting, and now must remove all of the evidence of perfect wardrobe choices, to comply. It is humiliating for us all, but I think it hits some harder than others.
Once boarding, I must attempt to lift said rollaway into the overhead bin. My shoulders just won’t stretch that high without creaking and groaning, giving me a clear signal that this is not lifting I am made for.  
As I said, before yesterday, I did have guilt about this. I would eye the line, looking for a man with the same boarding number as I, friendly but not too friendly, if you know what I mean. I look for a fellow traveler because somewhere in my past travels, I learned that it is not the duty of the flight attendant to assist weaklings with any need concerning baggage.
But, yesterday, on my return flight to Connecticut from California, my whole perspective on this weakling thing changed when a male flight attendant (do they call themselves pursers these days? I just learned to stop saying steward and stewardess.) began scolding a young woman who couldn’t lift her bag.

“If you can’t handle your bag, you should consider checking it,” he chastised, gruffly. His tone was truly a reprimand.
She lowered her chin, looked appropriately shamed, and sat down while he finished her job for her.
I was dumbfounded. Luckily, I had found my willing gentleman right before this event, so the attendent didn’t know to scold me as well.
I wonder if he realizes the ramifications of his suggestion: there is a $15 fee each way for checking the carryon-sized bag, and, only those not strong enough to lift 35 pounds above shoulder height should be, in his perspective, forced to this consideration--even though smart travelers fudge this by waiting until the gate to get told to check the bag, because usually there is no charge at this juncture. Still, this shouldn’t happen with true carry on luggage.
Does being a woman, or being too short mean paying baggage fees is a given? I mean, I have just invested another $60 in luggage to reduce the size of my carryon from 24” to 20” specifically to allow me to enter the gangplank, or whatever that airplane walkout thing is called, without being subjected to placing my largish carryon into the too narrow device they use to convince you that you cannot carry it on. Been there, done that. When my larger carryon had bulging pockets, the gate attendants shook fingers at me, insisting I place my bulging bag within the framework of that structure which showed anyone with a brain the right size for a carryon. That would be any size but the one you are carrying. Surely the overhead bin is NOT as small as this thing they have to prove the point. And, pulling it back out of that structure is even  harder, if you can’t manage lifting the bag in the first place.
Now I have the smaller bag, and don’t fill the pockets to bulging, even though I still place my laptop into the bag, making it too heavy to lift. Mostly, I have trouble with that lift height even without the laptop. I tried removing the Mac to see if that would help, and it didn’t, so I saw no reason to compromise my back and shoulders for the effort. I reasoned that on no flight would the same gentleman be helping me, so it wouldn’t have that, “there she goes again” factor. Also, no flight attendant would be the same to remember my continuous weakness. See, I felt guilt. I felt shame.
So, when this middle-aged flight attendant berated this young woman, something inside me flipped a switch.
“Wait a minute,” I thought. “Just because I am a woman, lacking testosterone, should not mean I cannot have a carryon, and should not mean that all of my trips will automatically cost at least $30 more than my male counterparts. That’s discrimination, is it not? And, in a climate where combating a flight attendant would be a stupid, if not treacherous thing to do, even when it has nothing to do with security or safety, no intelligent woman, which I consider myself to be, would dare question his dictate, which puts us women at a further disadvantage. I am by no stretch of imagination a feminist. But. This is wrong!
So, now, after this event, I don’t feel guilty. Now I feel enabled to start a movement. I can’t decide whether it should be a movement for gentleman volunteers to help weak women, or for weak women banding together to lift carryon luggage. Either would work. I am not quite sure how to muster either group. Should it be a letter to the airline? A letter to the editor? A letter to the president? (I mean, he seems to care so much about all the downtrodden and helpless, surely this would add to his roster of causes.) Or should I just continue to keep a low profile and conscript one nice man per trip leg to assist with the bag, lifting into and out of the overhead bin? 
I admit, it is taxing to continue to come up with the litany of fake impromptu requests. Because whether I feel guilty or not, it is really premeditated, and it is embarrassing. 
This all may become a non-issue if rumors that carryon bags will also engender a fee transpire. But, then, at least, the rules would be gender-fair.   
Would love your input.