‘Taking people’s emotional baggage on board is nerve-rackingly unpredictable,’ says handler Vic Smythe. ‘That’s why this strike is justified. Although a lot of us are terrified of the outcome. Terrified I tell you!’
Mr Smythe has been in the job five years. He explains: ‘This is a job that requires you to be genuinely sensitive to people, not like nursing, social work or being minister for disabled people. A new Samsonite his ‘n’ hers means a honeymoon, and your heart just melts.’
‘Next up a battered gap year rucksack, and if you’ve got kids who’ve left home, well it breaks your heart. But then next up on the conveyor, an innocent-looking old Antler. Using your empathy training, you imagine it’s just got a kind old lady’s nightie in it, and a few little presents for the grandchildren. But soon as you pick it up, it’s tears of rage time. How dare they let it through without a ‘heavy’ sticker? These orange faced overpaid women upstairs in the too-tight uniforms and the f*cking support tights, what are they doing???!!! It’s 30 Kilos if it’s a gram, it’s full of books I’m not interested in and my hernia repair says ‘enough!’ I come home drained after a shift, and my wife says it’s time for the pills again. Mood swings and roundabouts, I call it.’
Airlines point to the deployment of carousel counsellors, on duty to help handlers deal with issues relating to ‘sensitive’ baggage, and bag scanners that can detect ‘emotional time bombs’ that could even explode on board, with family rows or passenger depression threatening the sale of a wide range of hot and cold drinks and snacks, as well as fragrances and last minute gifts, including Samsung’s new ‘suicide’ watch.
‘Flying is a stressful business, with passengers carrying exaggerated expectations of sexual liaisons in Lanzarote, or the intention to mentally torture a loved one on arrival at Schiphol,’ explained psycho-tourism expert Dr Alex Smithers, in the designated smoking area at Gatwick. ‘All too often, the baggage itself can reveal….reflects…I’m sorry… My job is to…my job…look, I just can’t go on with this interview! My life is shit!’
A spokesman from the baggage handlers’ union reported that his members felt ‘a mixture of anger, disappointment, concern, nausea, despair, jealousy, incomprehension, disgust, fear, pain, hope and derisive amusement’ at current pay and conditions, adding: ‘These issues need unpacking.’