Time for United passengers to pack an overnight bag

A little piece of news snuck through last Friday: Beginning this October, United Airlines is imposing minimum stays for its economy class round-trip tickets. How long you have to stay depends on the price of your ticket and where you go, but this is yet another way a major carrier is trying to find ways to increase revenue. From someone who’s flown on United for no purpose other than to get enough miles to bump up to the next frequent flyer status (and who sat at the airport in New Hampshire for three hours), this is really heinous.

If you must do a previously unnecessary overnight trip and you’re on business (and you’re not a Mileage Plus Premier member), you have the additional challenge of trying to minimize your stuff to avoid United’s $15 first-bag check-in fee. The main thing you need to do is to minimize your entire load and still take the things you need to be able to work:

Consider switching to an ultralight portable laptop, like the Asus EEE or the Apple MacBook Air.

Asus EEE
The Asus EEE PC might not have all the bells and whistles of a 15-pound brethren, but it does most of the things you want to do while on the road.

The Asus EEE is tiny, but it still lets you do a lot of your computer work.

If all you need to do is check your email, browse the Web for fun and stay in touch, consider getting something even smaller, like a Blackberry or iPhone. If you are making presentations, consider storing everything in a portable USB flash drive, and using the computer at your client’s site.

USB flash drive
A USB flash drive takes up almost no room in your belongings, but can pack tons of data.

The main goal here is to lighten your electronics as much as possible, because doing so frees up a lot of room in your carry-on for overnight items, such as clothes and toiletries.

Make sure you keep your work stuff separate from your overnight stuff by keeping the two in separate compartments. The easiest way to do that is to pack your overnight items in something like an Eagle Creek Cube. Get ones with a mesh side and a carrying handle so that you could easily remove them from your carry-on.

Eagle Creek Cube
An Eagle Creek Pack It Cube makes packing clothing a little easier.

Finally, chuck that horrible laptop bag! There’s nothing as heavy and cumbersome as the traditional black leather laptop case. You can tuck your laptop into a compact sleeve (made from padded materials like Neoprene) and slip it into the side of a regular carry-on bag.

Redmaloo laptop envelope
The Redmaloo felt laptop sleeve is an innovative little laptop case that folds out to provide a built-in mousepad (product Web site).

If you need it to look presentable for work, consider purchasing a laptop sleeve that comes with carrying handles and that looks presentable on its own.

The Sherpani Laptop Sleeve
The Sherpani Laptop Sleeve (available from Luggage.com), is easy to slip into a carry-on but has a shoulder strap so that it could be carried around on its own and still manage to look presentable.

This may be heresy but one option is to go the way a lot of business now do, and just start flying the low-cost discount airlines where you can (like Southwest). The perks aren’t as great but their counter service is terrific—it will be the friendliest bus ride you will ever take.


  1. I just wanted to suggest a Nintendo DS with the DS Browser as an alternative to the iPhone or Blackberry if you want to check email or browse the internet.

  2. Another laptop alternative is a thumbdrive loaded with Portable Apps from PortableApps.com. One can load up a simple USB drive with an office suite, Firefox browser, SignupShield (password manager), email client and more. Plug it in to any computer and it becomes “your” computer. It leaves no traces behind when unplugged and is much safer than putting your passwords onto trojan-infested computers at internet cafes. The downsides: Many internet cafes block applications from running on USB drives and many public computers are infested with worms/viruses, etc. that are just waiting to transfer themselves to a thumbdrive. Vigilence is always required!

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