Baggage carousel etiquette: Could this be plane travel's most frightening moment?

The most terrifying part of air travel is not the flying. It's not the turbulence that arrives so suddenly it lifts cups of hot tea from the tray table and deposits them in your lap. It's not the squalling babies or the drunken fools or the torment of spending interminable hours hemmed tightly in the middle seat.

Air travel's most frightening moment, in fact, comes when the flying itself is over. When you've happily extricated yourself from the constrictions of a narrow metal tube but must unhappily attempt to extract your baggage from a carousel surrounded by a mob of exhausted and irrational people.

Irritable hordes jostle for space around the not-so-merry-go-round, wedging trolleys into place, elbowing people out of the way.

Passengers are curiously obedient as they stream off the aircraft and file ant-like down bridges and corridors and through immigration. But their character morphs from Dr Jekyll's into Mr Hyde's once they're released into the baggage claim area and have determined their carousel number.

Grown adults rush the conveyor, even when it's not yet spinning. Small children stick their fingers into the belt's flaps while their oblivious parents crane their necks in the opposite direction. Irritable hordes jostle for space around the not-so-merry-go-round, wedging trolleys into place, elbowing people out of the way, cantilevering their bodies over the machinery and thoroughly blocking the view. You'd think the carousel was about to deliver to them the world's most lavish package.

And indeed, one's luggage is precious (though not necessarily valuable) and there's an urgency that comes with this penultimate hurdle (there's still Customs to navigate) after a long and wearying journey. But the fracas that is the baggage carousel experience has never accelerated the delivery of one's luggage; the order in which one's bags arrive is far beyond our control.

Savvy airports paint a demarcation around the carousel and place signs in prominent positions instructing passengers to stand behind it. It's a simple yet effective solution, for the buffer zone allows for an unobstructed view of the belt, diffusing tension and allowing passengers to step forward in an orderly and sequential manner.

But alas, such delineation is absent in most airports, and so it's up to the individual to be the change they want to see. I stand back from the throng, peep through the few gaps they allow me and, when finally I see my familiar bag rolling around, march confidently through a chink in the human wall separating me from my precious possessions.

See also: The 20 rules for surviving new ultra-long-range flights

See also: World's safest, and least safe, airlines named in new rankings

Comments