The trouble with knee-jerk regulations is that they are the product of panic, and are usually done for political reasons rather than to ensure safety. Of course, our safety on flights IS political, but flying anywhere is becoming so gosh-darn unpleasant that I’m wondering whether it really is cheaper, easier (and possibly quicker) to take the train. They are also a wonderful excuse for Airlines and BAA to employ tactics to relieve travellers of their cash at the airport.
I made an internal journey by plane, using Ryan Air. I flew from Glasgow Prestwick to London Stansted, for an appointment in London, and the following day I flew back. I had with me one small wheeled overnight bag, such as is commonly used by travellers for cabin baggage, one small handbag/briefcase, which had (among other things) my anti-nausea medications for the flight, and a blue folder with my reading material. That is all. I had dutifully put all toiletries (gels and liquids) into a ziploc bag in advance. It should be noted that I am a frequent flier. I never have ANY problems when I fly directly to Scotland from Europe. The problems always arise in English – and dare I say it, London Airports.
This time was no different. Apparently my briefcase and my wheeled bag was dangerous on the way BACK to Scotland, but not on the way DOWN. The attendant at the Ryan Air ticket desk didn’t seem to think my briefcase broke regulations. When I tried to enter the security, an uppity, nasty BAA attendant told me I couldn’t take my briefcase through. I asked her who made the rule. She told me (wrongly) that this was an airline rule. To save time, I tried to consolidate my baggage there (oh, she didn’t like that!) and I said that the rule was ridiculous, inconvenient and humiliating (and I didn’t berate her or raise my voice, or make a personal attack in any way) she actually stood up, while I was on my knees, and aggressively barrated me because she “didn’t like my tone” and it was “your airline’s fault”. Then she decided that my luggage was now “too big” to be allowed through as hand baggage and sent me back to Ryan Air.
Back at the Ryan Air desk, I was told that to check my cabin baggage in would cost £12 (that’s about $24). I told them that that was ripping their customers off and I would not pay it. So I made a lengthy show of repacking my suitcase again, while I was waiting for their manager. I took my blue folder out my bag and asked if taking reading material on the flight incurred an extra charge was well. She replied that I could take it. The manager then came and informed me the one-bag rule was BAA, not Ryan Air, (but the decision to charge passengers £12 for checking cabin baggage was ryan air’s rule, wasn’t it?) and that I should complain to BAA. I asked them why, as BAA’s clients, the airlines didn’t complain to BAA. He then said ” Your smirking. Stop smirking! I’m not going to talk to you any more because you’re smirking!” And he stormed off, leaving me to wonder whether he had some sort of autistic spectrum disorder which rendered him incapable of reading facial expressions. Certainly a smirk is used when you have got the better of someone, not when you are making a complaint.
Having repacked my bag, and tucking my folder under my arm, I got through security. When I got home I tried to complain to BAA and to Ryan Air. Mysteriously though, there are no central complaint numbers for either organisation. Both organisations have been informed that I have placed material on the web and invited their press offices to respond.
So for BAA, (don’t worry, Ryan Air, I’ll deal with you separately) here are my questions.
(1) Why do we have a one-bag rule?
It’s stupid, it’s not uniformly enforced in the UK and Ireland and certainly not enforced elsewhere in the world. It does not make security checks quicker, or more effective, it makes things much harder for families or parents travelling with children. I does make security slow and unpleasant, and stressful for the staff and the passengers. There is NO earthly reason why, as before, we cannot take a handbag/briefcase, a wheeled cabin bag, and reasonable reading material for the flight. I would remind BAA that women’s clothing does not have pockets, as men’s clothing does, and therefore when you deprive us of our handbags you make our passports, boarding cards and travel money less accessible. This holds everything up. In London airports (but no-where else) you scream at us coming off long-haul flights to consolidate our baggage, yet make us remove toiletries and laptops for the check. So why don’t you just be sensible and allow the laptop bags to go in separately of wheeled cabin bags? Or is there something wrong with your x-ray machines that you cannot see through a few millimetres of canvas or leather? I also notice that since the Duty Free started protesting and sales of airport-bought goods started plummeting, you are now allowing people to carry on their shopping. So much for having our safety at heart, when it might hurt your commercial enterprises.
2) Have you lost your bottles?
A truly determined bomber (and most suicide bombers are pretty determined) will not be put off by the fact that you restrict liquids to 100ml. And in fact, there was a recent Channel 4 dispatches programme where an explosives expert combined two innocuous 100ml of clear liquid together and blew the side of an aircraft. Now, you may be screaming RISK ASSESSMENT at me and other passengers, but basically, you know, and I know, and the terrorists know that you can’t test every bottle going through security, regardless of whether it contains 100ml or not.
3. The Little BAA who cried wolf…
BAA might just have to accept that you hand terrorists a victory with every knee-jerk, ill-thought restriction it places on travellers, and also diminish how seriously we take you. And this is very bad, because security threats DO exist in airports, and really, you want to be believed when you say there is a real one.
Might I suggest a return to the following:
Each passenger is allowed one cabin bag, one handbag/briefcase/laptop bag, and reasonable reading material for the flight.
If you make a security rule at one British Airport, enforce it at all of them, not just at London. For example, if you want people to take their shoes off, have them take their shoes off everywhere, every time. That way, people will know to wear slip-ons when they come to the airport.
Remember that not everyone travelling through airports is a single man. Consider applying common sense to families. They have enough on their plate without you making it harder.
Before you make a security rule, consult frequent fliers of both genders, and with families, to find out how those rules are likely to affect things on the ground.
Be aware that London culture is a rotten, hard-bitten, aggressive, rude one. That aggression is displayed by your staff, which you hire locally. This culture is not representative of the UK and those of us from outside London object to being treated like that. That your airports are busy is not an excuse.
Finally, do not expect your staff to deal with complaints and place firewalls up between decision makers and your service-users. Train your staff to forward customer feedback to you regardless or not of whether a formal complaint is made. I consider my complaint to have been made the moment I speak to your staff. I don’t have the time to find the “desk”. Encourage feedback from the airlines,. who are your clients primarily. Act on the information you receive. I was not in any way impressed that when I tried to make a complaint there was no central number I could call, and the number that did exist was a premium rate one. Customer Complaints lines should be central, and they should be free.
BAA (and Ryan Air) made what should have been a simple, one hour flight an absolute misery. BAA should bare in mind that the very first people that foreigners meet when they come to Britain are BAA staff. What kind of first impressions do they get about the UK?
The BAA press office is particularly welcome to respond.