In case you’ve missed it, the airline regulation Nazis have been at it again. In cahoots with Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), they’re now enforcing strict limits on carry-on baggage. Passengers are allowed one small-ish bag, not to exceeed 7 kgs, and one “slimline” computer laptop case. No exceptions will be made and these regulations, say various spokesmen, are in force everywhere else in the world.
The last part of that sentence is simply not true. A number of airlines do enforce this rule or a variation thereon (SAA = 8kgs) but just as many others hold to the size restriction whilst taking the view that if you can lift it, you can place it in the overhead bin. The underlying premise is also completely distorted by very contradictory approaches to carry-on duty free purchases: some airlines allow duty free over and above the 7kg allowance, others include it.
I suspect that locally this has a great deal to do with the low-cost airlines – kulula.com in particular – wanting to keep their planes to the 25-minute turnaround rule. OK – I’m all for on-time departures and can accept that passengers blocking the aisle as they search for overhead stowage space with giant backpacks and two metre souvenir wooden giraffes can delay the boarding process.
At any rate, there are now prominent signs on display, just before the security checkpoints, warning passengers about the new rules and exhorting them to check the size of their hand-baggage or risk being sent back to check it in. There’s a beady eye’d ACSA official lurking beside this measuring gauge, waiting to pounce as if transgressors were bomb-carrying terrorists.
But if the airlines are enforcing their rights in this regard, isn’t it time they also enforced my rights, too?
I flew from George to Johannesburg on Monday morning. It’s a regular flight for me, usually full, and this was no exception. I had checked in online and had an aisle seat at the back. Just as the doors were about to close, a very large young man politely asked me if I would move to allow him through to occupy the middle seat of the three.
Very large? Yes, very, very large – enormous, in fact. I have no idea if he was simply obese, or if he was trying out for the Springbok Weightlifting Team. Perhaps he was a front row forward for a professional rugby side? He was not particularly tall, but having wedged himself between the two arms of his seat, his bulk spilt over into mine. I assume it was much the same for the person on the other side in the window seat. I estimated that at least 20% of my space was now occupied by this other person. With the flight booked to capacity, there was also no possibility of asking to be moved.
Suffice it to say that the flight was extremely uncomfortable as a result, although I gave thanks that it was not a long-haul, overnight to somewhere distant. That would have been truly intolerable.
My argument is a simple one: isn’t it time that airlines measure passengers in exactly the same way that they expect passengers to measure carry-on bags?
It’s not an unheard of concept. I recall seeing something similar at Gold Reef City some years ago – there at the entrance stood a stone, or perhaps metal, figure holding out a hand. If your child’s head could not reach the hand, he or she would not be allowed on the ride. Terribly sorry, they’re not big enough – it’s for their safety.
Shouldn’t there be something similar at airports? A measuring framework based on the dimensions (ever-shrinking it seems to me) of the standard airline seat. Pass through it and you’ll have a relatively comfortable flight. Fail to pass through it, terribly sorry, you’re too big and you’ll have to buy an extra seat.
Airlines need to think about this quite carefully, especially in light of increasingly tough consumer legislation which prohibits the sale of things that are not there. My attention was drawn to this in another article (EWN, if memory serves?) about overbooking. It’s standard practice worldwide, said a spokesman for – curiously enough – kulula.com. That may be the case, replied a spokesman for one or other of the consumer watchdogs, but you can’t sell something – i.e. a seat on one of your aeroplanes – that doesn’t exist.
In the same fashion, because of a lax approach to passenger obesity, I was deprived, unwillingly, of a significant portion of my seat. Effectively, it was no longer there. It no longer existed. Isn’t that a contravention of the law? Is anyone offering to refund 20% of my airfare for the space stolen from me by my fellow passenger?
You can be very firmly assured that there is not the slightest possibility of a refund of any description. Not even a word of apology will be forthcoming. But the moment my carry-on bag goes past the 7kg mark, I’ll be sent back to check it in, and if necessary I’d certainly be charged for being overweight.
My very overweight, oversized companion was charged nothing.
Where’s the justice in that?