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Confusion in the air

Airlines make it hard for travellers to know what they can and can't do. Time for a bit of transparency, says Roddy Glen

It's the Bank Holiday season, and another flights-rush is upon us. Security regulations haven't changed for a while, but people often don't fly enough to be up to speed with them. The potential for perplexity, not to mention stress, abounds. Air travel - at least the ground part - has become a highly complicated affair, unrecognisable from even six years ago.

Such precautions are good but, confusingly, inconsistent. Last year, for instance, we were told to remove laptops from cabin bags for separate scanning - but not always. A year on, this inconsistency has been transferred to shoes. Some airports ignore them, some ask passengers randomly to remove them and some, like Gatwick, allow no booted foot to pass.

A similar condition exists regarding whether or not the clear plastic bag for our liquids, pastes and gels must be presented to the interrogating machinery inside our single permitted cabin bag or separately.

Then there are the various documents we must show: passport (or credit card or frequent flyers card), and, when we get it, our boarding card. Confusion is rife, as requirements seem to vary by airport. Between checking in and boarding we will have shown our passport once or twice and our boarding card twice or three times. This depends on the airline. The pattern is sufficiently obscure that many people put their card away after being checked at the gate only to be caught unawares by the boarding inspection, requiring them to rummage for it in the aircraft doorway, holding up those behind.

Airline choice has other implications, too. Low-cost carriers often have short turnaround times, meaning that some procedures must happen concurrently. Hence the bewildering boarding instruction not to fasten our seatbelts because the plane is being refuelled and we may need to exit quickly!

Perhaps most mysterious of all is the announcement on some low-cost flights that we may switch our phones on after landing, but must switch off again when leaving the plane. This turns out to be the result of tension between pandering to our phone-besotted culture and the need, when using steps and not an air-bridge (more expensive), to avoid radio signals on the apron - another fuelling issue.

If only airlines and airport operators were prepared to be a little more transparent. But perhaps they have reached a point where they feel it's easier and cheaper simply to process us by herding and cajoling in situ than by informing us in advance. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the air...

 

Roddy Glen
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2007