It was interesting to see the latest Coronavirus-related advice from the Department for Transport regarding hand luggage when taking a flight. The department claims that travelling without cabin baggage makes it quicker to get on and off the aircraft, reducing the chance of transmitting the virus. “You are strongly encouraged to check in baggage to the aircraft hold and minimise any hand baggage. This will speed up boarding and disembarking and minimise the risk of transmission.”
Cabin baggage has become something of a hot potato in recent times, even before the current Corona pandemic. It’s a subject I’ve got my own views on as well, even though I’m unlikely to be flying anywhere at the moment.
When I started taking regular commercial flights, some 15 years or so ago, the term "hand baggage" normally referred to the small “carry-on” bag taken onto the aircraft by passengers. Typically, the bag would contain items needed on the flight such as medication, make-up, reading material or possessions of high value that the owner wanted to keep a close eye on.
I also seem to recall that checked baggage – the heavier and bulkier suitcases etc that were carried in the aircraft hold, travelled free. It was the advent of the budget airlines which turned the whole concept of baggage on its head.
Because they charged such low costs for the flights, they attempted to claw back money from elsewhere and started charging passengers a fee for hold baggage. Canny flyers cottoned onto this and switched to travelling light, with just a small suitcase of rucksack Unfortunately, many of the established major airlines, followed the lead of their low-cost competitors, by cutting the cost of fares, whilst re-cooping some of their costs by charging for checked baggage.
Now I fully agree that travelling light i.e., with cabin baggage only, has its advantages, especially as it avoids the whole time-consuming baggage check-in and reclaim processes. There is something liberating in turning up at the airport, having checked in previously at home, as most airlines now insist, then going straight through security and into departures.
It’s even easier, once you reach your destination, as it’s off the plane, straight through border control and customs and out into the arrival’s hall. No hanging about waiting in the baggage reclaim area and wondering whether your bag is going to appear on the carousel.
The downside to flying with just hand-baggage is the world and his wife is doing the same, and the onboard, over-head lockers do not have the capacity to cope with the demand. Not only that, but people have started to take the p*ss by turning up with cases that are obviously too large, safe in the knowledge that hard-pressed airport staff rarely challenge them to try fitting their over-sized bags into one of the gauges provided.
I’ve often seen many a poor slip of a stewardess, struggling to lift, and then force one of these cases into the locker, so it’s poetic justice when one of these tight-wadded passengers does get challenged at the gate. “That bag is too large to fit in the lockers sir; it will have to travel in the hold. That will be £50, please.” Serves them right!
Leaving aside current, potential virus issues, the Department of Transport are right about checked baggage speeding up boarding and disembarking, but only because these selfish numpties insist on trying their luck.
There are also other issues at stake, whatever your feelings about hand baggage. Passengers, understandably, may want to have more of their possessions to hand during the flight. They might also want to avoid the risk of having their checked baggage lost or damaged (it happens), but on the other hand, financial incentives and safety concerns (including take-off weight limitations), have caused airlines to impose limits on how much, and what, passengers can take into the aircraft cabin.
With regard to safety, there are unbelievable stories of passengers struggling to retrieve bags from the overhead lockers when having to evacuate the aircraft in real life emergency situations. Imagine your life depending on getting off that plane as quickly as possible, only to find your exit route blocked by some ignoramus struggling to extract their bag. Perhaps they should also stop to put their coat on, and brush their hair, whilst they’re about it?
Whatever happens in the next few months, the vexed subject of hand baggage will be one which will continue to impact both airlines and passengers, but unless the former begin enforcing the rules rather more strictly than at present, we are going to see a lot more cabin crew off work, with bad backs, hernias or worse.
I've had a few formatting issues with this post, which I'm sure the observant amongst you will notice. This is primarily due to the new-look "enhanced " blogger layout. Time for a re-think!