How to enlarge your bag collection? 

Here are some ideas. No, I haven't tried all of them, so cannot guarantee success. Any other ideas? Email me and I'll credit you!

Efforts to enlarge your collection fall into seven categories: steal, beg, get, swap, bid, buy and find.

Click here for a scientific analysis of how other baggists acquire bags.

Steal

Collecting your own bags is much the most satisfying way to build a collection. Indeed, some bagologists limit their collection to mementoes they have stolen themselves. But unless you work for the CIA, it takes time to build up a decent collection.

Booking your flight

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Travel on obscure airlines and "harvest" their bags.

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Choose an indirect flight. Got to go from Cologne to London? Then fly via Helsinki and Minsk, on as many different airlines as you can.

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Already got bags from that airline? Pick up some bags anyway. You never know - it could just be a new variation of an old design, subtle changes in the wording, a different shade of ink. And you can always offer them as swaps for bags you really want (see Trade below)

Before you board

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Wear the right clothes. I've found that a pullover and a loosely buttoned jacket is the best combination. This enables you to stuff bags unobtrusively under your jacket during harvesting forays. You can then transfer them to under your pullover (tuck the pullover into your trousers to prevent loose bags from spilling out) or better still, into your hand luggage. There are few things more embarrassing than dropping a dozen stolen bags on the floor while rummaging for your passport at immigration control.

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Ask the ground staff. In smaller airports, go to the airline offices in the check-in area. They sometimes have a stack of spare bags in a cupboard. They may even be willing to go out to the plane to pick up a sheaf of bags for you. This technique doesn't work in larger airports: there bags are handled by firms who do the catering and cleaning.

Choose your seat carefully

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Ask for a window seat: not only do you get to see the view outside; you can also remove bags from your neighbour's seat pocket after he or she has got off. 

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Checking in late, and no window seats left? Middle seats (on narrow-bodied planes) are a poor choice, as the person in the window seat wants to get off too. Aisle seats let you go for frequent walks around the cabin in search of bags (see "While on board" below).

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Seats over the wing experience less turbulence than at the back of the plane - so the bags are less likely to have been used.

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Downgrade to economy. There are more seats in economy, so more bags to steal. Plus, business class passengers deboard first, so there's less chance to swipe bags while you're queuing to exit.

Getting on the plane

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Be at the front of the queue. Elbow your way to the front of the queue, then remove bags from still-empty seats as you move up the aisle with your cabin baggage. Be careful, though: on one flight, my seat neighbour caught me red-handed rifling his seat pocket. I mumbled an apology and shifted to another seat, where I was able to remove bags unobserved. 

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Sit in the wrong seat. I discovered this technique by accident on a flight to Nairobi. Sit in the wrong seat when you board the plane - preferably one in business class. Try using the gate number (e.g. F07) as your seat number - it helps you look blameless if you're caught, as you can plausibly point to the number on your ticket. Quickly purloin the bags from your row, settle down and wait. If you're lucky, the plane will be empty and no one will claim your seat. If the rightful occupant does come along, profess innocence, apologize profusely, and move to your correct seat (where you will find a fresh batch of bags to swipe). 

While on board

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Pick up several bags, not just one, especially on a weird-and-wonderful airline. You can use these extras as swaps: because of its scarcity value, an Air Mandalay is easier to trade than a Lufthansa or British Airways.

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Empty the seat pockets from the whole row.

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Check the toilets. Some have a stack of spare bags in a special compartment. However, it's rude to take them all: someone might actually need to use one.

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On a flight with several stops? Change your seat at each stop so you can harvest a fresh pocket. 

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No bag in your seat pocket? Call the cabin attendant and ask for one. You can either pretend to be ill, or you can be honest and explain that you collect them. She may not believe you, but will probably get you a bag anyway: gives her something to tell her colleagues during the inflight movie. Once you've overcome the embarrassment, take the opportunity to ask for several bags, not just one.

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Wait for the right moment. On long-haul flights, wait till everyone is asleep. Get up and walk around the cabin to stretch your legs. While you are doing anti-deep-vein-thrombosis exercises, you can pilfer bags from in front of sleeping fellow-passengers.

Deplaning

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Don't be in a hurry to get off. You're going to have to queue again anyway to go through immigration, collect your suitcases, and report your missing baggage. A far better way to invest this precious time is to harvest bags on board.

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Use your cabin baggage as cover. Wait till the row across the aisle is empty before taking your cabin baggage down from the overhead compartment. Put it in the seat opposite, then raid all the seat pockets within reach.

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Keep your hands free. As you move up the aisle, grab bags from seat pockets and stuff them under your jacket.

Collecting other stuff?

Considering swiping other stuff from on board? Remember, there’s a difference between "equipment" and "consumables":

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Equipment, such as bowls, cutlery (silverware, to our American friends) and safety cards, are meant to remain on the plane, or are cleaned and reused. Swiping them is equal to stealing. By doing so you are smoothing your path to hell.

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Consumables, such as salt-and-paper packs, magazines, paper napkins and barfbags, are meant to be used up. Removing them from the aircraft is providing valuable assistance to hard-pressed cleaning crews. You are guaranteeing yourself a place in heaven.

Beg

You don't have to fly in order to partake of the delights of airsickness. Here are some ways to get bags direct from airlines or suppliers without having to part with the price of a ticket.

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Talk to your travel agent. They might have contacts with insiders who can feed bags to you.

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Visit airline offices. In smaller airports, the airline offices are often in the passenger check-in area. I visited several offices in the Kathmandu domestic terminal to beg for bags. The ground staff thought I was strange, but they gladly opened up their bag cupboards for me.

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Write to the airlines and ask for examples of their bags. Who knows? -- your message might be opened by someone with a sense of humour.

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Write to the bagmakers. Click here for a list of these fine firms. If you're in the area, visit their factory to raid their stocks.

Get

Get others to collect for you. Normal people think bag-collectors are either amusing or sad. You can play on both emotions.

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Tell your friends, relatives, neighbours and officemates that you collect bags (makes good conversation over dinner). They are often willing to collect bags for you. Express deepest gratitude and credit them on your website, and they might even do it again. Make sure they pick up several bags at a time, not just one.

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Talk to a tour guide. Someone who leads tours round China gets his participants to collect bags for me: gives them something to do during those long plane and boat trips. 

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Poach someone else's list. Desperate for bags? Trawl through other collectors' websites and write to all the people they name as sources of bags. Several of my friends and relatives have started getting begging letters as a result of my acknowledging them on this site. Note: I've removed all email addresses of donors and other collectors from bagophily.com in order to combat spam.

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Do another collector a favour. They might feel grateful enough to donate.

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Get a Starter Pack. I offer a free package of spare bags to new collectors. There won't be anything rare, but it's better than nothing... and it's free. Contact me to ask for one. Several other collectors also offer a similar service to newbies.

Swap

There are huge numbers of closet baggists out there. A bag common in Europe may be as rare as bird's teeth in Latin America, and vice-versa. Opportunities for mutually beneficial trade abound.

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Swap with other aficionados. The World Bagtrade Organization specifies one-for-one swaps, but a rarity may collect a premium. Most deals are done nowadays by email. Convinced? Click here to see my swap list.

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Put your bags on a website. That makes yourself known to other collectors, who may be interested in swapping with you. Try to make your site different so it attracts visitors. Register it with search engines, and publicize it to other collectors.

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Put together a list of your collection and your swaps (a spreadsheet is good for this). Send this as an attachment to other collectors, who can then browse it for items they don't have.

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Send a boxful. It can be hard to tell from a picture - still less a mere description - whether a bag is different from others already in your collection. One way of trading, pioneered by German baggist Gerhard Lang, is to send a boxful of extras to your trading partner. The partner picks out any he or she wants. He or she then sends you a boxful of spares for you to sift through.

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Subscribe to the barfbags email group: exchange messages with other collectors, seek out those hard-to-find bags, and offer your own extras as swaps.

Bid

An increasing number of bags are being offered for hard cash on eBay. For some collectors, particularly those on bag-benighted North America, where every airline seems to carry plain whites, this is a major way to acquire bags. Bidding can be fierce, so be prepared to part with wads of cash for rare items: up to 200 for a single bag.

Many of the vendors on eBay are not baggists themselves: they are collectors of other "airline memorabilia" (i.e., stolen stuff), or perhaps have found a stash of old bags in their uncle's attic and are out to make a quick buck.

Sadly, many people who might once have looked for a baggist to donate their uncle's collection to have discovered there's money to be made by selling it instead. On the other hand, the prospect of cash has meant that more bags are now appearing on the market (so are available for serious baggists) rather than disappearing into the dustbin.

If you are bidding for bags, you may find yourself competing with non-baggists for a particular item. Lots of people collect airline memorabilia - indeed some airlines (e.g., Virgin Atlantic) have gained a reputation as "cool", and even seem to encourage people to purloin their property. So if Virgin Atlantic comes out with another Limited Edition set of bags, expect competition to be fierce. If you are first to buy such a set, you get bragging rights, but you are probably paying more than you should. Wait a few weeks until more come on the market, and the price is likely to fall.

Note: I don't buy or sell bags (OK OK, I did buy some Virgin Atlantic Limited Edition bags, but they were must-have items and didn't seem to be available in any other way...).

See Gerd Clemens' quarterly eBay report for a summary of prices paid.

Buy

When it comes for the tawdry bags-for-cash trade, eBay is not quite the whole world. It's possible to buy bags from other sources too.

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Visit airline collectible shows. Baggists are the shady-looking characters hanging around in the darker corners of these events. Click here for a list of such shows.

bulletNegotiate direct. Know someone with that must-have bag? Don't let him/her know that you're that keen. Keep your cards under the table until you have reached a deal. The time to gloat is after you have the prize bag safely in your grubby little mitts.
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Go shopping. A few suppliers sell bags in retail stores or on the internet. Sicksaver is one such outfit: it supplies an attractive design aimed at a niche market: pregnant women and parents with carsick children.

bulletPrint your own. Need a lot of bags - for an advertising campaign, for example? Make sure you get a nice design printed, preferably with a couple of spelling errors to keep people entertained. Order a few more bags than you will need so you have spares for your friends.

Find

This is a rag-bag category of methods that don't fit into any of the classifications above.

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Inherit. So it was your uncle who flew on the first transatlantic passenger flight and told you he had picked up a barfbag on board? But can't remember where he put it? Now all you have to do is search that attic. Hint: bags of this vintage were made of coarse brown paper.

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Lurk. No aging relatives? You can also try lying in wait for passengers as they emerge from Arrivals. In their alacrity to greet their loved ones, they sometimes drop the barfbag they have saved from the flight. You have to be quick, though: other baggists may also be lying in wait, and you don't want to become part of an unseemly scrum pouncing on a stray bag as it flutters to the floor.

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Check the litter bins around airports. But be warned: the bags they contain may carry a significant bacterial load.

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Marry another collector. A bit drastic, but an excellent way to build a collection quickly. Make sure you get written agreement beforehand on how to split the collection if you break up. 

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