Jason Wu/Sun Senior Editor

Travelers wait for an OurBus in downtown Ithaca.

February 1, 2024

Got Baggage? Inside Cornell’s Luggage Transport Woes

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“I start in Alliance, Nebraska. I fly into Denver on a nine-seater plane. Then, I either fly from Denver to Detroit or Denver to New York City. And then, from either of those places, I fly into Syracuse. Then I take an OurBus ride from Syracuse to Ithaca, which is usually about an hour and 45 minutes. All in all, that usually makes for a 15-hour travel day.”

Like many Cornellians, Carver Hauptman ’27 faces a long and arduous journey to Ithaca every semester. However, students must bring more than themselves to The Hill — their baggage.

With students relying on multiple modes of transportation to reach Ithaca, varying baggage policies on airplanes and buses and climbing costs of shipping complicate how students can bring their belongings to Ithaca. 

OurBus, a company that partners with various bus companies to arrange transportation for passengers by offering intercity and commuter bus routes, is a staple of Cornellians’ travel plans back to Ithaca. According to Axel Hellman, co-founder and head of transportation planning at OurBus, between 240 and 500 people rode the OurBus from New York City to Ithaca every day between Jan. 18 and Jan. 22.

Although airplanes allow customers to bring extra baggage for a small added cost in comparison to the price of the ticket, busing companies’ policies on extra luggage differ drastically. Unlike airplanes, buses do not have massive luggage holds, limiting passengers to one large bag per person.

“The current policy is that space for one bag is guaranteed for each ticket. Additional bags can be accommodated at no charge if and only if space is available once everyone else boarded,” Hellman said in an interview with The Sun. “Generally, at Cornell move-in times in August, December, January and May, almost every passenger brings large luggage, so extra space is extremely limited.”

Hauptman, an OurBus customer familiar with these rules and the packed buses heading back to Ithaca for the spring semester, plans in advance.

“I bring one checked bag and one personal item, so my backpack,” Hauptman said. “Last time, my bag was over the weight limit by 5 pounds, so I had to wear a heavier pair of shoes and pack a jacket and my vest in my backpack. I had to leave a lot of stuff at home to have it shipped out to Cornell later.”

During busy travel periods, passengers can be guaranteed two large bags on OurBus only by buying two seats. In the past, OurBus has experimented with solutions to transport multi-bag travelers. 

“A year or two ago, we did an experiment to offer one bus a day at busy times that would allow passengers to bring extra luggage and charge a little extra for it, less than the cost of an extra ticket,” Hellman said. “Our plan was — if this was popular — to investigate other solutions like having a cargo van follow the bus or to attach a luggage trailer. But we found that people found the option of having only one bus a day be the ‘extra luggage bus’ too limiting, and they wanted to travel at their preferred departure time regardless of the luggage policy.”

Current policies to curb baggage issues involve hiring staff to load buses. Hellman explained that bus loaders can effectively maximize space in the storage compartments under the bus. However, Hellman mentioned that it is not feasible for a skilled bagger to help out at every stop every day. Hellman added that he himself helps load buses whenever he can.

One solution Hellman recommended for passengers who hope to bring extra baggage is to travel at less popular times.

“For instance, that could mean coming back early Monday morning for a break that ends on Sunday, or by taking the first or last buses of the day, which are generally less popular,” Hellman said.

Still, many students will be traveling to Cornell during high travel time. As Hauptman pointed out, shipping serves as an alternative solution to bring needed luggage into Ithaca.

Big Red Shipping and Storage, a Student Agencies company, partners with FedEx to offer storage, shipping, packing and pre-arrival services, with shipping prices based on current FedEx rates. Recently, however, FedEx and UPS have raised prices quickly, after relatively slower increases over the last decade.

But surges in incoming packages as students return to campus have posed capacity issues in recent years. 

On Sep. 6, 2022, Cornell sent an email to North Campus residents requesting that they “be circumspect regarding what [they] are ordering,” as the Robert Purcell Community Center could not handle the influx of early-semester packages. According to the email, the service center had processed nearly 28,000 packages since the start of the semester just two weeks earlier.

Shemin Nurmohamed ’94, Executive Vice President and President of Sending Technology Solutions at Pitney Bowes, a shipping software company, described smart lockers as an emerging solution to such issues.

“Campuses are increasingly turning to smart locker solutions as their mailrooms become overwhelmed with inbound deliveries and students can’t always pick up packages during the mail center’s business hours,” Nurmohamed said, adding that smart lockers provide “safety, flexibility and convenience” for students when traveling between home and school.

Locker systems have emerged at Cornell through Big Red Shipping and Storage, offering a potential solution for travelers. Nevertheless, students still face steep costs in bringing their belongings to school.

Luca Pavlovich ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].