Boldest of all, PeoplExpress sought to persuade all its customers to carry only hand luggage. Big, butch luggage racks were installed in its Boeings, and passengers were invited to cram in as much as they wished. Anyone with the temerity to consign bags to the hold was charged a fee, reflecting the cost to the airline in time and money of handling luggage.
Now British Airways is going in exactly the opposite direction. When I arrived at Gatwick's North Terminal for a flight to Vienna, it was clear that the summer crush at Britain's airports had already begun: the queue to go through security stretched half-way to Crawley. I had almost reached the head of the queue when a stranger - not in airline uniform - tapped me on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, sir - could I see your boarding pass?"
All over the world, there are villains in various guises demanding to see papers as part of elaborate scams. Even though I was in Sussex rather than San Salvador, I reacted cautiously. "Who do you represent?"
"I represent British Airways, and I'm making sure that people don't exceed their hand luggage allowance."
Starting this summer, BA has decided to implement its rules on hand luggage vigorously. Just so you're prepared when you feel that tap on the shoulder, here's the drill.
This individual wants to see your boarding pass to find out a) if you are a BA passenger, and b) if so, what class you are travelling in. The last piece of information is necessary because not all passengers are equal. Economy passengers are entitled to 6kg, while business-class passengers qualify for half as much again. If the security man suspects your bag weighs too much for the class you are in, he will take it, and you, out of the queue and lead you to a large set of scales, on to which your bag is plonked. If it tips over the limit you will be instructed to return to the check-in desk to consign it to the tender care of the baggage handlers.
Eventually you make it back to the security queue, which has grown even longer since you were unceremoniously expelled from it half-an-hour earlier. You spot the man whom you hold responsible for the 30 minutes of palaver, and ask if you really have to join the queue again.
Of course I don't have a trolley-wheel to stand on in complaining. The airline says: "We are sure that the introduction of a clear, simple policy on cabin baggage will be a measure you welcome - particularly as it will improve the level of security we provide and reduce the amount of stress you experience during your journey. Putting a limit on the size and weight of baggage in the cabin has two major benefits. Exits are less likely to be blocked in the event of an emergency, and there is less risk of injury if a bag should fall from an overhead locker."
The higher weight limit for business-class passengers appears to imply that people who buy expensive tickets have stronger heads than economy travellers. And what about the touchy subject of duty frees? Any rule- abiding traveller who strays into the duty-free shops is likely to tip over the limit; I could wander off and buy 50 litres of beer before turning up at the gate.
Hand baggage, and rules pertaining to it, aren't worth getting steamed up about. But the new measures could cost BA a lot. Planes will be delayed because passengers will be held up by having to queue umpteen times. Some of the extra checked-in luggage will inevitably be misdirected, causing grief for passengers and expense for the airline. And people who find the whole performance undignified will be tempted to travel on airlines that do not step up the anxiety index in this way. But I could be wrong; after all, British Airways is still in business while PeoplExpress is not.Reuse content