With one final
shove, the bin
Hook in America 5
Soon after I arrived in my friend's house in Florida he showed me – with great glee – the cover of a recent issue of the New Yorker. It depicted the inside of an airliner with passengers trying to stow their luggage into the overhead lockers.
The main figure was a big man trying desperately to push home what was clearly the rear end of his car – two wheels of which were already blocking the passenger aisle. I looked at the cover, thought it was oddly funny, but certainly didn't share Bill's glee. The truth was I didn't really get it. And the reason I didn't was that I lacked any understanding of the context within which the cartoonist was working. A few more internal flights within the US changed all that – and perfectly illustrated the general principle that works of art, including comic ones, often depend upon a shared experience in their audience for their point to be communicated effectively.
My re-education began at the airport in Columbia, South Carolina. (A small airport but one of the most attractive I've ever encountered: surroundings with a carefully manicured landscape of grass and trees and water, and immaculately white buildings with striking blue glass – producing an almost elegant effect.) I checked in at the Delta desk. Did I have luggage to hand in? Yes, one bag. Very good sir, that will be 25 dollars. I was amazed. Crossing the Atlantic with United/Continental, and continuing to fly with them internally, there had been no question of paying for luggage. My travel agent had failed to mention anything about payment when organising my Delta flight. Still, there it was. Another 25 dollars on my card.
It turns out that many of America's major airlines, facing increasing fuel bills in particular, are trying to balance their books by charging on internal flights for passengers' luggage carried in the aircraft's hold. What has been the result? An understandable increase in the number of passengers cramming their luggage into the kind of cases and bags which just match the dimensions for stowage in the overhead bins.
I waited on edge, suppressing a groan, waiting for something to split or break – already imagining the consequences, the inevitable delays, missing my Glasgow flight. But with one final shove, the bin clicked shut.
The consequences in the case of an aircraft with a full complement of travellers are both obvious and inevitable: the bins are jammed and crammed to bursting point. One way of dealing with this problem is for an announcement to be made just before take-off suggesting to passengers that their carry-on luggage can be placed in the hold, without charge, with the proviso that it can be collected on arrival on the ramp outside the aircraft thus avoiding the delay of waiting at baggage reclaim.
Inside the aircraft the problem remains. Sitting in my seat waiting to leave Fort Myers for Newark and my connecting flight to Glasgow, I watched in horror as across the aisle yet another bulging case (with wheels) was trying to be stowed into an already full locker. A powerful, sweating man pushed and heaved, but the wheels of his case remained jutting out. He tried to force the lid shut again and again.
I waited on edge, suppressing a groan, waiting for something to split or break – already imagining the consequences, the inevitable delays, missing my Glasgow flight. But with one final shove, the bin clicked shut. I was not the only one to sigh with relief. Seconds later a woman decides she has to recover something from her bag in the bin. The flight attendant remonstrates with her, advising her to leave well alone. But she insists and reopens the locker. Of course she is quite incapable of closing it. The attendant refuses to help. A burly passenger steps up and goes through the whole routine again: repeated almighty attempts to bang the lid shut. I hardly dared to look. But finally click shut it did. I made it to Newark on time.
Now the New Yorker cover with the man trying to stow his car comes completely alive for me. Comically but pointedly it hits the spot perfectly. This is flying today in the USA.
Andrew Hook is a former professor of English literature at