Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Why air travel is sending its passengers into a tailspin

All 166 passengers were taken off a Ryanair plane in Lanzarote after a row broke out over baggage fees

There is always something particularly heartwarming about stories of consumer mutiny against corporate greed.

And this week's reports about a group of Belgian students going into tailspin after one of their number was ordered to pay a hefty fee for a piece of over-sized (Ryanair description) hand luggage is a cheering example.

The revolting passengers refused to take their seats, secure the table in front and fasten seat belts as the plane prepared for lift-off in Lanzarote. The Civil Guard was called and the protesters (all peaceful) were escorted off the plane.

In all over 100 took part in a demo which will strike a chord of solidarity with the travelling public everywhere.

Fair enough, we all know you get what you pay for in life.

But the greed of the no-frills airlines (and let's face it, the frills airlines too) coupled with loony security regulations are turning your average air journey these days into about as much fun as a boat trip on the Bounty with Captain Bligh.

Security restrictions seem to vary from airport to airport. In one you walk through the scanner without pinging. In another, wearing the same clothes you set off alarm bells that necessitate full body frisking. It's not the fault of the security staff who are only following instructions and doing the particularly challenging job they're paid to do.

But some of the rules seem bizarre.

Why is it you're not allowed to travel with say, a razor bought at Boots in Belfast? But you are allowed to travel with exactly the same razor bought in Boots at Gatwick Airport.

Unnervingly, one member of our party travelled on four separate flights with an undetected Swiss Army knife. (Totally innocent, your honour, he didn't realise it had been in his bag until he got home.)

And ok, the knife blade, at two inches long, was hardly a machete. But, as security chiefs apparently believe it is possible to nail-clipper someone to death, it could presumably count as suspect. Even more unnerving is that having mentioned this to several people almost everyone has come up with a similar story of accidental smuggling of potential weaponry.

They include the girl who opened her handbag to discover she'd brought along an undetected pair of scissors. And a bloke who took his metal cigarette lighter on board.

The 'strange liquids ruling' means you can carry on board small bottles of various potions in a see-through bag (is Aldergrove the only airport in the world where they make you pay for plastic bags?). There's no limit to the number of 100ml tubs and tubes so long as they all fit in the bag. Surely, though, there's potential for a couple of determined terrorists to bring on board enough explosive liquids (disguised as lip gloss and anti-wrinkle lotion) within those parameters?

As for the bag carrying regulations - again these vary not just from airline to airline. But within the same airline, depending seemingly, on the whim of who's in charge on the day.

The 'one-bag rule' we were told by our carrier in one airport was "strictly enforced by the airline".

Oddly the same airline didn't strictly enforce it in two other airports - even though the flights there were equally full.

It entailed female passengers (mainly) zipping their handbags into carry-on cases (their own or a friend's). Same weight on board in other words.

Just more hassle for the passengers. The same passengers who got a brief apology when the flight was delayed. A delay that meant an extra quid on the car park fee for waiting friends and taxis at ever-welcoming Aldergove.

And they wonder why the passengers are revolting?

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