1 What We Left in the Vilnius Airport | The Billfold

What We Left in the Vilnius Airport

“Four hundred fifty dollars,” said the lady at the airport counter in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“You are entitled to one 15 kg bag each,” said the lady. “But this bag is 30 kg. The charge for the extra weight would be $450.”

Once upon a time, my husband Ben and I traveled light. Now we travel with a baby. On this trip, we were also traveling for seven weeks and through several very different climates.

“How much would it be to add a third 15 kg bag?” asked Ben.

“Three hundred dollars,” said the lady.

For $300, we could buy our bag a business class seat on an ordinary airline, where it would be given hot towels and champagne and probably foot rubs all the way to London.

Unfortunately, we weren’t flying an ordinary airline. Our only choice for this trip was the budget British Irish airline RyanAir—reviled by travelers worldwide. And our only choice now was to get to the other side of security, buy a new suitcase, return to the Departures terminal, repack our luggage, check three bags instead of two for an added fee of $300, plus the cost of the new suitcase, and fly to England, assuming we made the flight, stewing in our own impotent rage.

Or was that our only choice? A helpful Australian behind us in line suggested another option. Why not empty out our two suitcases? (For if bag #1 was Santa Claus, bag #2 was the barely-smaller Mrs. C, just as surely over the 15 kg limit.)

We dragged all of our material possessions to the area near the luggage scale. The baby watched with interest as we unzipped Santa and Mrs. Claus and got to work. By the time our bariatric surgery on them was complete, Santa and Mrs. Claus were each halved in size, and the pile by the luggage scale consisted of:

  • One Athalon wheeled travel bag. Although it is a standard American-size carry-on bag, it was too big to meet RyanAir’s stringent requirements, and too heavy to remain tucked within the bowels of Mrs. C.
  • One bottle of conditioner
  • Two bottles of moisturizer
  • One bottle of body wash
  • One full tube of toothpaste
  • One pair of Uniqlo jeans
  • One pair of Levi’s jeans
  • One pair khaki pants
  • Two pairs of shorts, one including belt
  • One pair of Birkenstock sandals
  • One bra
  • One maternity nightgown
  • One maternity dress
  • Socks and underwear (assorted)
  • One bottle Johnson & Johnson baby wash
  • One unopened 36-pack of Lithuanian diapers
  • One unopened package of Pampers baby wipes
  • Baby toys
    (one stuffed duck, one “book”, some plastic something or others)
  • Waterproof changing pads (“They don’t weigh anything!” “Everything weighs something.”)
  • One (emptied) leather wallet, plus pharmacy club cards
  • One jar local honey (intended as a gift)
  • One jar local gourmet salsa (intended as a gift)
  • One unused handmade wooden cutting board and spoons (intended as gifts)
  • Travel adapters
  • Lonely Planet Guidebook
  • Pages of intelligent comments from classmates on Ester’s writing by participants in the workshops she had come to Lithuania to attend

    As hiking writers from Cheryl Strayed to Bill Bryson have learned, every ounce counts. We argued over certain items like umbrellas, which were heavy but would be needed in the U.K., a Spanish phrasebook, which hadn’t yet served its purpose, and the jeans (my only pair!). The scale, though, had the final word.

    In twenty minutes, we divested ourselves of half of everything we had brought with us to, or amassed over two weeks in, Eastern Europe. We returned triumphant to the lady at the counter and paid her exactly fuckall, as the British say. Then we dashed to security to just barely make our flight, during which we had to pay $8.50 (£6) for water and endure non-stop pitches from the PA system and roving flight attendants for other items ranging from food to cigarettes.

    So far, after several days in the British countryside, we’ve managed to replace many of the items, including the body wash, the baby wash, the conditioner, Ben’s khakis and shorts, and my sandals, and discovered that we didn’t need many of the others. When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose, and all that.

    We continue to mourn the loss of the gifts we bought in Lithuania that got chucked. Just assume, friends, if we return empty-handed from our nearly two months abroad, that we bought a gift for you, truly we did, and it’s probably still there by the luggage scale.


    Ester Bloom normally lives in Brooklyn.


    13 Comments / Post A Comment

    swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

    I have definitely seen an internet video of a guy who travelled with just a tiny backpack for an international trip on RyanAir, by wearing layers of clothes, including cargo pants and a fishing vest where he’d stuffed every pocket with items. I would definitely have made those jeans into a scarf and worn them proudly until I got past the gate.

    Worker Parasite (#2,292)

    @swirrlygrrl I’ve worn layers of clothes to get around weight requirements. It wasn’t fun, but damned if the airline was getting another penny out of me!

    tussock (#1,296)

    Yikes! Ryanair is kind of the worst. Equally terrible to me is their habit of announcing possible new charges (for instance, a charge to use the toilet in the airplane) really as a way of generating outraged press coverage on the theory that all PR is good PR. They’re actually an Irish airline, though.

    At least you remembered to print your boarding passes, right?! (They charge for that. They charge for everything)

    RyanAir and other low-cost European airlines are fine, if you read the fine print and know exactly your baggage allowances, check-in requirements, and all that. If I still lived in Germany and wanted a cheap weekend away, I’d fly them no problem. That said, legacy carriers (BA or Lufthansa) frequently end up being cheaper in the end, after calculating costs of getting to the random airport that really isn’t in Barcelona (or whatever your real destination is) and you’re bringing a larger bag (by which I mean something like the Patagonia MLC and a laptop case) because you’re coming from the U.S. and plan on doing some shopping (books and bath products for me) on your trip.

    I’ve had this discussion, recently, with a friend who responded to my woes about the strangely high cost of airfare to London with the response I should just fly “someplace in Europe” and take RyanAir the rest of the way. A very detailed list quickly disabused him of that notion.

    Tuna Surprise (#118)

    @angry little raincloud
    The trick is to be absolutely paranoid that they are trying to screw you at every turn. Reading all the fine print and expecting the worst will help you come out ahead. I understand how some people don’t want to do this, however, because what you save in money you lose in a headache/hassle.

    The weirdest requirement they have is that for non-EU passport holders, you need to go to baggage check-in and have your boarding card stamped before you go to the gate. For no reason. I saw them deny a guy boarding (even though he had his boarding pass and a valid passport and time to go back and get it stamped). Makes no sense. Yet they were able to squeeze more money out of this poor bloke by making him pay rebooking fees for the next flight.

    @Tuna Surprise Absolutely! What’s that saying: it’s not paranoia if it’s true? They are out to get you.

    WayDownSouth (#3,431)

    Yes, the low-cost airlines are often horrid.

    The current CEO of Qantas came from one of the low-cost airlines and is ruining the Qantas brand. Qantas charges premium prices AND also charges the high prices for minor exceptions as well. For example, a 10-minute call to fix a booking problem (which could only be done over the phone) cost $280. A written complaint to the CEO’s office went nowhere.

    We fly overseas regularly (usually once per year), Because of these exorbitant fees, Qantas is at the bottom of our preference list. Now we fly Singapore or Emerites going west and Virgin going east. It’s similar for our friends. We used to spend our money with Qantas, but that $280 cost them many, many thousands over the years.

    matthieugd (#4,553)

    Not to be picky but RyanAir is a Irish airline not British, and it’s a French saying that, I’ve been corrected several times about this “confusion” :)

    jquick (#3,730)

    I would have worn as much extra clothing as possible, and fill up the pockets. Cuz really, all you had to do was make it thru security.

    LHOOQ (#1,634)

    I was in this same situation in St Petersburg flying SAS to Amsterdam, having spent a year in Russia. I should have done what you did. Instead I paid up like a sucker, mostly because I panicked, and partly because I was already late, having been stuck in gridlock for an hour on the way there.

    msperception (#2,737)

    The secret to Ryanair, have two bags. Check one, and shove everything else into a carryon paying no mind to carryon size requirements. Either the attendants won’t give a damn about carry on size (as once happened to me) or you’ll pay $80 to gate check, significantly less than you would pay at the gate.

    And that’s how I got six weeks of clothing on to ryanair. That said, I will NEVER fly them again.

    @fo (#839)

    “For $300, we could buy our bag a business class seat on an ordinary airline”

    What “ordinary airline” has $300 business class seats to *anywhere*? Please do tell, as I would like to buy many many $600 return *international* business class tickets, especially at last minute fare rates.

    sariberry (#4,420)

    I love Vilnius. Just putting that out there. One of my favorite cities on the planet.

    Comments are closed!