Emotional baggage

Many moons ago, I worked at a major airport in the UK. The job was a mundane but necessary one - making sure that baggage trolleys were correctly distributed throughout the complex at all times.

This meant that vast teams of trolley blokes would work around the clock including night shifts, collecting the pesky things - often from the most unlikely places - and putting them back in their rightful place. It was a massive operation which involved a chain of command that no-one understood, walkie-talkies, lorries with trailers, long ropes and a happy band of brothers yelling "Mind yer legs, please!" at whomsoever might listen (which was usually nobody).

The general public gets very distracted in airports; it must be a paradise for thieves because you can bear down on a group of people with a line of twenty trolleys bellowing at the top of your voice and they'll just stare blankly into the middle distance, probably in a state of shock at the price they've just paid for a cheese sandwich.

Some of my more devilish colleagues used to lightly clip people's ankles on purpose in order to get them to move, arguing that shouting at them was a waste of time. They were probably right.

Anyway, because trolleys ended up everywhere and anywhere, we each had an access-all-areas pass. This meant that we saw all airport workers in their own environments. From snobby stewardesses to frightening customs officers, we were privy to everything that went on.

Generally speaking, everyone went about their duties in a highly professional manner but there was one department which had a terrible - and, sadly, well-deserved - reputation: the baggage handlers. Good God, sometimes it looked as if they were having a competition to see who could throw the most delicate-looking item down from the greatest height. Cases were trampled on or chucked only in the vague direction of the trailer. If one missed, it often just stayed on the tarmac. Musical instruments came in for special abuse; the greater the number of 'fragile' stickers it had on it, the greater the contempt it was tossed aside with. Scary stuff.

All this came to mind this week, when I read of a new directive stipulating that laptops and the like won't be allowed into the cabin on certain flights from now on because of the risk that they could be employed by terrorists as explosive devices.

A whisper to the wise, then - before you entrust your beloved computer to the baggage handlers, make sure its contents are backed up elsewhere because, based on what I witnessed, I'd put the odds of it arriving in one piece at about fifty-fifty. Happy Flying.