Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is hand luggage no longer hand luggage? - SPANISH VERSION BELOW

Low cost airlines came into our lives about 15 years ago. In Europe their popularity grew amongst travellers offering cheap flights to most desirable destinations. And as they established themselves in the market, their rules began to change and their pricing strategy evolved by charging for services. And when Ryanair introduced a charge for your checked luggage, cheap travel became a thing of the past – unless, of course, you only took with you hand luggage!

Most commercial airlines include in the price of your ticket one piece of checked luggage and one piece of hand luggage. And when you read the airlines’ websites to understand what this is, we enter a whole world of what does “hand luggage” means, particularly as most of us like to travel with everything we can and believe we will need for our trip.

I was recently on a flight from Istanbul to London travelling with Turkish Airlines, who have very relaxed luggage allowance policies (as a frequent traveller you encounter all sorts of very inconsistence policies as to what you can and cannot take with you) Turkish Airlines will let you take a checked bag (of up to 23 kilos) and a piece of hand luggage, pretty standard apart from the 23 kilos. But as we have become more and more reliant on technology, the idea of one piece of hand luggage no longer applies. Most of us travel in fact with 2 pieces of hand luggage. One is our briefcase or handbag, which as a standard it contains, a laptop, a tablet (or both), music players, cables and papers for our day-to-day business. This in it self tends to be bulky and heavy and if you go by my standards you are talking at least 7 kilos! So technically this is now your hand luggage.

However, the concept of taking with you the “kitchen sink” has driven a whole industry of suitcases with standard dimensions of 56 x 45 x 25 which is what is considered “Airline hand luggage approved size” So most travellers now have one of these suitcases as well as a briefcase or handbag to compliment our travel arrangements and bric-a-brac we travel with. Some people will travel with a checked luggage and then the airline approved hand luggage and suitcase or handbag. Other travels, like myself, have opted for taking just the 56 x 45 x 25 suitcases with us as well as a laptop case or handbag so we can get out of the airport as fast as we can.

But as travel habits have changed and evolved, we face a challenge that is twofold:

First of all, almost everyone takes 2 pieces of “hand luggage” with them in the cabin. This, plus duty free shopping, your coat in winter and any other things you have bought at the airport, has to be stored in the cabin overhead bins which are not equipped for this volume of items we travel with (most airplanes were designed when people didn’t take so much with them). If you look at the dimensions of the overhead compartments vs. the number of seat and the amount of luggage we take with us, it’s like the number of rescue boats the Titanic had when it sank, not enough! In a full flight is almost impossible to accommodate everyone’s “hand luggage” needs and no one wants their precious “hand luggage” to be checked in and taken away from them.

The second issue we face is that this “Airline approved hand luggage” also comes with a variety of features, which actually take the whole concept of “standard” to another dimension. Namely the “expandable” feature most of these bags have. If it expands and you can put more in it, why wouldn’t anyone expand their “Airline approved hand luggage”? You get the picture?
We now face an airplane that not only it has exceeded its capacity to take “hand luggage” but also has “hand luggage” that no longer meets the “Airline approved hand luggage” dimensions!

So where does this leave us? Well if it doesn’t fit, force it!

As I sat on this Turkish Airline flight from Istanbul to London, I found myself being entertained looking at how the flight attendants together with some very aggravated passengers, tried tirelessly to fit in “hand luggage” in what was already overflowing overhead compartments.

Push here, shuffle there, squeeze that, move that one and if all fails, just give it a good tap! You may think what I am about to tell you is a joke but it did actually happen: the last few remaining passengers were boarding and by now we have run out of space. It is virtually impossible to fit anything else. Even the privileged Business class area is full. 2 young passengers got on and had, of course, coats, shopping, duty free, a large handbag and the 56 x 45 x 25 suitcase, each! And they wanted all of these just above them! (I wrote an article some time ago about the behaviour of passengers who feel the need to have their hand luggage above them, do read it if you have time is called “my life or my seat”) And we get into what I can only describe as a comical sketch to try and place these items above them. I say comical because is the stuff you see in TV Sitcoms!

First of all, one of them remarks that these are their seats and therefore should be able to place their belongings above them. She could not understand why other people’s stuff was placed there (I thought to myself “is she for real”) The flight attendant explains that the airplane is full and offer to place their items somewhere else in the plane (not sure where as every inch was full). The passenger was having none of it so they began the shuffle, push, squeeze and re-arrange of the overhead compartments to fit their stuff. Somehow they get most of it in except one suitcase, which by the way, was expanded and in my opinion no longer the official sizes! And she must have it near her.

The flight attendant spots a gap where she may be able to, literally, squeeze this piece of hand luggage. So she tries, to no avail, to push it in and as she is about to give up and find another solution, the owner of the luggage gets up and begins to use hammer like actions to push the suitcase in! “It has to go in” I could guess she was shouting this in her head. I was trying not to laugh - it was incredible! But what was more incredible is that SHE DID IT! Talk about “nailing it down” I don’t want to imagine what happened to the items in each side, I just hope there was no delicate duty free shopping.

So whose fault is it that we now face airplanes that cannot cope with the amount of “hand Luggage” we travel with? Is it the luggage manufacturers who have created a market for themselves with the so-called “Airline hand luggage…” ok I won’t say it again. Or is it the airlines that have allowed this to become a norm and therefore an issue? May be the airplane manufacturers need to rethink the design of airplanes to fit our new ways of travel? Or perhaps it is our fault (present company included) as we are becoming increasingly obsessed with our travel habits and this whole concept of “hand luggage” which in my opinion can no longer be called “hand luggage”?

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