Five at 8 – 1/29/10: The baggage fee loophole

1) Some readers are upset that the New York Times publicized “a wonderful loophole” to avoid paying the $25 baggage fee to the airlines. And a good loophole it is:

At the end of the jetway, before stepping onto the plane, Mr. (Greg) Hamilton simply inquired if he could check his bag right there. A luggage handler who was waiting for strollers, car seats and other carry-on overflow was happy to oblige. “They put a tag on it and we boarded the plane,” he said. No charge. No stress. “When we got off, the bag showed up pretty quickly,” he added.

Traveling to and from New Orleans last weekend gave me the opportunity to watch people try to jam baby grand pianos into the overhead bins. Flight attendants, of course, were exasperated, but there’s really no one else to blame but the airlines for whom they toil.

But why wouldn’t the airlines go this route? First, it’s easy money. Passengers are paying. Second, the IRS has ruled this week that the income the airlines get is not taxable.

Discussion point: Is there a better way?

2) Remember Haiti? It’s still out there. Here’s a terrific first-person account of a rescue flight, penned by a flight attendant:

One woman approached my fellow flying partner, sobbing, not wanting to go. She had just buried her daughter. Her son’s eyes were filled with blood all around the white parts, victim to some sort of trauma. One thing that struck us all was that they were dressed in their Sunday best clothing. Men in suits, women in dresses with head garb, children dressed nicely. In spite of everything they had gone through, they were dressed like they were sitting in first class. You don’t even see that in first class anymore!

It’s all starting to make a difference:

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Meanwhile, a TV anchor in Duluth says she can’t read news about Haiti anymore, so she’s moving to Haiti.

3) The latest battleground over government intervention is the mouths of preschoolers in Massachusetts. A new law has gone into effect that requires kids in preschool and day care to brush their teeth if they eat food there. “We’re supposed to have rest time, and now we have to eat a little earlier so there’s enough time for the children to brush their teeth. It’s not the happiest moment,” one day care provider says.

4) The full moon tonight is the largest of the year, says

A good time to look is around sunset when the Moon is near the eastern horizon. At that time, illusion mixes with reality to produce a truly stunning view. For reasons not fully understood by psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through foreground objects such as buildings and trees. Why not let the “Moon illusion” amplify a full Moon that’s extra-big to begin with? The swollen orb rising in the east may seem close enough to touch.

5) Contemplating how good you have it. What’s the worst job you can imagine? How about debt collector?

In the nearly three years that John Goebel has worked in debt collections, calling people on the phone to try to get them to pay their overdue bills, he says the responses break down into three categories: Most are angry, some are apathetic, and the occasional few break down in tears, right there on the phone.

Bonus: Cellphone bans don’t work, according to a study being released today by an insurance group. “If crash risk increases with phone use and fewer drivers use phones where it’s illegal to do so, we would expect to see a decrease in crashes,” the study’s author says. “But we aren’t seeing it. Nor do we see collision claim increases before the phone bans took effect. This is surprising, too, given what we know about the growing use of cellphones and the risk of phoning while driving. We’re currently gathering data to figure out this mismatch.”

Maybe. But the group studied only four states and a limited amount of data in each of them. Besides, who among us hasn’t — and probably recently — encountered a careless driver on the road who coincidentally was chatting it up? Who are you going to believe: Researchers or your lying eyes? But the study I’d like to see done. Who are these people talking to? What’s so important?

Postscript: If you missed Laura Yuen’s series on Somalis in Minnesota, you missed an opportunity.


Yesterday famed author J.D. Salinger died at the age of 91. His books, most notably Catcher in the Rye, have been formative reading experiences for generations of young people. What book changed your life?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: The link between salt and health, and the economic, social, and scientific reasons that we choose the foods we eat.

Second hour: Grammy winners interviewed by Kerri Miller in 2009

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: A preview of the major education issues legislators will face in the 2010 session starting next week.

Second hour: TBA

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – It’s Science Friday! First hour: A look at NASA’s newly stationary rover. Plus, high arts at the Planetarium, and the secret of the sexless rotifer.

Second hour: A discussion with theoretical physicist Sean Carroll about the mysteries of time and the universe.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – “Accordo” is a new chamber quintet made up of players from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra. Accordo is performing at the Southern Theater on Sunday. Chris Roberts reports on what the group brings to an already rich chamber music scene.

Several school districts in southwestern Minnesota are banding together to come up with a common calendar that would include a pre-Labor Day start, a move long opposed by the state’s tourism industry. MPR’s Tom Weber will have the story.

With Haiti’s devastating earthquake fresh in mind, NPR looks at one way that damage could be minimized from a large quake in this country. Scientists cannot predict precisely when an earthquake will hit, but they are developing ways to give people up to a minute of warning before the shaking starts.