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Think Twice About Airport Shopping

Two weeks ago, when our niece left for a week in Hawaii, we asked her to bring home one of the pineapple three packs that are sold at Honolulu’s airport. A week later, the niece returned, minus the pineapples. “It would have cost an extra $25 in baggage fees,” explained the niece. Her carry-on bag was full, and to make room for the pineapples, she would have had to check the bag. That little experience points up still another frustrating problem with the proliferation of baggage and other airline fees: You can’t enjoy some traditional departure purchases at the airport.

If you’ve never tasted really ripe pineapple in Hawaii, you’ve missed out on one of the world’s great flavor treasures. That’s why my wife and I always bought pineapple packs at the airport on our then-frequent visits to the Islands. Because we typically checked our bags, we always had plenty of carry-on room for the pineapple packs. And I suspect that the Honolulu Airport sold more pineapples than any other single outlet in the Islands.

But baggage fees have changed the world of flying. Not wishing to pay out the outrageous fees to check bags, our niece and other travelers routinely opt to avoid checked baggage and instead pack their stuff into large carry-on bags. And that leaves no room for any other last-minute carry-on purchases. {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}Over the years, I’ve passed quite a few airport shops that sell local specialties to departing passengers.

  • When I was working in San Francisco and traveling frequently to Kansas City, I would have lost most of my KC friends had I not bought San Francisco sourdough bread at the airport. In those days, San Francisco Airport was the city’s largest single outlet for that wonderful San Francisco-based concoction.
  • On departing from Boston a few years ago, my wife decided to buy a live lobster, packed in a cardboard container and stuffed with damp seaweed to keep the lobster alive as carry-on during the flight.
  • I’ve also seen big packages of smoked salmon sold at airports in Seattle and Anchorage, and probably others, as well as a store in Portland’s airport that sells jars of marionberry jam—a delicacy not well known outside the Pacific Northwest, but a welcome gift for those folks back east. I’m sure you know of other situations where airports sell local products that may not enjoy national distribution.

The problem is not with airport purchases, per se; it’s with purchases that are too big and bulky to be stuffed easily into an already full carry-on at the last minute. Unless you’re buying a half dozen or so jars, marionberry jam can pretty well fit into some tight places (as long as they conform to the 3-1-1 rule). But some of the other items are too big. A pineapple three pack, for example, is bigger than a typical computer carry-on or briefcase, as is the lobster carrier and some of the smoked salmon packs I’ve seen.

Obviously, if you know beforehand that you intend to buy something like that, you can account for it. You can leave some extra room in your carry-on, or take it as a separate package if you plan on checking your main bag, anyhow. But if you really don’t want to check any baggage and have a full carry-on, you really have no choice but to forego anything as big and bulky as a pineapple three pack. And that’s sad, because pineapple you buy in Hawaii is just better than anything you can buy on the mainland. I suspect the same thing is true for that smoked salmon and those lobsters, too.

Your Turn

How do you manage to find room in your carry-on for souvenirs? Share your best tips for packing last-minute vacation mementos by joining the discussion below!

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