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Wednesday April 10, 2013

Mary Poppins wouldn't have bothered with budget airlines

Easter is nearly upon us and countless families are heading to Spain in the hope of glimpsing that rare and wondrous fiery bauble that melts on the horizon like liquid gold. But just how much pain are the poor souls prepared to endure in their quest for a small dollop of Mediterranean sun?

If only all budget airline passengers had a Mary Poppins carpetbag
Yesterday at one of the UK’s regional airports I joined an excited throng of humanity bearing suitcases, rucksacks and handbags that formed a snake of a queue for a budget flight to Majorca. It was unbearably early and everyone was sleepy but there was a general feeling of euphoria. No doubt images of sun kissed beaches, glasses of chilled cava and plates of paella were coursing through their weary heads until that is they reached the check-in desk.

The elderly woman ahead of me appeared to be in trouble. The words ‘over the baggage limit’ and ‘additional charges’ assailed my ears. A moment later she began disgorging half her suitcase in an attempt to transfer it to hand luggage. The check-in assistant looked on with the compassion of an SS officer, seemingly delighted when the case still registered a rogue one kilo over the limit. By this time I was facing my very own female Attila the Hun at the next desk. It’s at times like this that one senses how the Three Billy Goats Gruff felt as they attempted to outwit the fearsome troll lurking under the bridge.

It transpired that my case was over the limit and my son’s bag, weighed down with school revision books, teetered on twenty three kilos. Mirthlessly I was informed that unless we could magic away the books, we’d be in for a hefty penalty charge. Boy did we struggle but finally we squeezed them into our rucksacks. A fellow traveller offered the thumbs up sign with a cheery ‘Good luck getting those through the departure gate!’ His smile soon faded when he discovered that his wife’s case was overweight. Rather than pay a large fine he enterprisingly returned by taxi to his home nearby to deposit excess items. I discovered this titbit when we spoke on the plane.

It was in the ladies lavatories that the tricks of the trade came to light. A woman I took to be pregnant showed me a rucksack she’d ingeniously strapped around her midriff under her coat. Another had placed a handbag under her arm and worn outerwear to cover it up. At the departure gate the vultures were circling.
As I stood eyeing up the metal measuring device used by budget airlines to foil passengers with hand luggage who’ve already run the gauntlet at the check-in desk, I thought of Mary Poppins, the world’s beloved fictional nanny. How I longed for a mysterious bottomless carpetbag just like hers. A holdall so voluminous, so cavernous that it could effortlessly absorb a reading lamp, hat stand, mirror, clothes, medicine bottles and all manner of item. How Mary Poppins would have given these budget airlines a run for their money as she triumphantly revealed to them what she could fit in just one piece of hand luggage. Ha! No fines for our Mary, you blackguards.

As I waited for the chop, a miraculous thing happened. A telephone rang at the departures desk. Distracted, the stewardess glanced my ticket and the vast hump of books on my back but wafted me through nonetheless as she bent to answer the call. I belted onto the plane before she came to her senses. I may not have had a Mary Poppins bag but I had survived the surcharge game intact. Of course that doughty nanny wouldn’t have deigned to fly on a budget airline –or any airline for that matter. After all, she had her trusty black umbrella that would carry her on the breeze wherever the whim took her.

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