CEO of the Cockpit #54: Baggage

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Anybody else notice that right about the time wheeled suitcases started coming onto airplanes, airline profits started dropping? AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit didn't notice, but his Marine buddy did and pines for those earlier, testosterone-filled days.

The end of a not very long day. One leg from SFO to home at the end of a four-day safari and we were almost officially at the end of our week.

Humping our suitcases out of the luggage rack and with our flight kits dragging them to the front door, we paused only to hook up our brain bags to our wheeled layover kits.

We had company. Scattered around the bottom, airplane-door end of the jetway were the ubiquitous strollers, wheelchairs and child car-seats that our customers dropped off at another jetway a continent away to be stowed in the belly of our beast until debarkation at our home base.

Being the courteous professionals that we are, combined with the fact that there was no room for us to get by these baby barges, we patiently waited for mom and dad to find, assemble and load their fat offspring and waddle up the jetway to see Grandma or whoever else coaxed them away from the exotic beauty of the Pacific coast to the dusty, dull winter of the Midwest.

What Kind Of Mileage Does That Stroller Get?

Jim, the world's best co-pilot, wondered about the strollers -- their size, gross weight and environmental impact.

"Is it," he wondered, "the SUV thing? Are people hung up on having the largest, most difficult-to-maneuver stroller in the mall or concourse? Do they expect head-on collisions with other strollers, meaning that their stroller/SUV-riding ankle biters will survive to propagate the species?"

I've wondered that myself, Jim. In addition to your points, I have to wonder why airliners keep getting smaller and strollers keep getting bigger. Eventually, the strollers will be too big to load in an RJ luggage bin and then where will we be? I am all for protecting our little yard apes from potential injury, but I think an occasional upset in a stroller leading to a bonked head is good for the tykes. It teaches them not to respect authority and to expect disaster at every turn. No good future pilots can come from this overprotective regimen.

It is bad enough that the toys they'll later graduate to are totally hazard free. How can they learn thermodynamics if they never burn themselves with an Easy Bake Oven? How will they learn trajectories without dodging inbound lawn darts? The foam ones don't count, because it doesn't matter if one hits your foot. I guarantee that any child narrowly missed by a plummeting steel missile will learn about throw-weight and range safety.

If Mike Had Invaded Tripoli, He Would Have Rowed The Boat, Not Sailed ...

We were brought back to thoughts of aviation when Mike came ambling down the Jetway, oblivious to the uphill slog of the parents with strollers. He dodged one, skirted a second, and then nailed the third kiddie SUV with his Samsonite hard-sided, hand-carried suitcase.

That's right -- I said, "hand carried." Mike is the only pilot in the known universe who still carries his flight kit in one hand and his suitcase in the other as he traverses the shopping malls our airline terminals have turned themselves into.

It's a Marine thing, I guess.

During Mike's Marine career he had to do a non-aviation rotation. A lot of guys would have taken the Pentagon gig or maybe an ROTC slot. He volunteered for Recon School. If you are ever on a layover and need to kill somebody silently and then slip away, he is a handy person to have on your crew.

Neat guy.

A Tooth Fairy Two-Fer

Anyway, after he helped the toddler lose two baby teeth a little early and apologized to the incredulous Maury watcher who spawned this little person, Mike came up to us, threw his suitcase at the floor, narrowly missing my foot, and said: "I see you girls are still using your wimp wheels."

Good to see you too, Mike. Being a Marine, I'm pretty sure you may have missed some other important inventions lately besides the wheel while you were busy killing third-world people on foreign beaches. Modern society has perfected power tools, electric lighting and -- this is something you really should consider -- underarm deodorant has been developed!

By the way, I said, The left pack has been running a little hot, we never could understand what was being said on the intercom, and one of the center fuel-tank pumps has been MCO'd (maintenance carry-over).

Mike thanked us for the customary aircraft hand-off briefing and then got to the point.

Wheeled Bags Are The 'Debbil'

"Really, you guys ought to think about getting rid of those wheeled contraptions. I'm pretty sure that the airline world started going belly up right after everybody began using wheeled suitcases."

I think you have a good point. Years ago, during my 727 engineer and co-pilot days, we all carried our suitcases and flight kits. Only flight attendants, and by that I mean female flight attendants, wheeled their suitcases around.

The wheels weren't built-in; they had to strap their bags on weird, metallic contraptions with bungee snakes. It was the bane of my existence as an engineer to try and extricate those stupid carts out of the crew luggage bin that was in the 727 cockpit behind the jump seat. They always got tangled in the bin webbing and I got whanged more than once with a bungee snake in a very sensitive area of my body.

Then a few captains who cited "back problems" (as if!) started using suitcases with built-in wheels. Before we knew it, we all were pulling our suitcases behind us like Bronx house fraus coming home from the market.

When we carried our bags like Neanderthal men, the airline business was a robust place where a person could earn a living. Now that all pilots are pulling their swag through the concourse like effeminate beasts of burden, we've got a system melt-down. Everybody cites rising fuel prices and high employee costs, but maybe it really is as simple as a few wheels on a few thousand crew bags.

Mike Refers To Flight Kits And Their Place In The World

"We'll all know that the airline business has gone the rest of the way to Hell when we start seeing flight kits with wheels," said Mike.

"When layover time came at the end of the day, we always used to carry our flight kits down to Ops and leave them in racks until the next day's flying. The only pilots who would take their flight kits to the hotel were either jerks or studying for recurrent or both. Now everybody has to load their flight kits into the van for the trip downtown. It is just an indicator of how low we have sunk."

That was back when we had real employees of the airline working the ramp, not part-time, minimum-wage proles. I can't imagine anything in my bag worth stealing, but apparently nowadays if you leave your flight bag downstairs don't expect it to have anything in it when you go to pick it up.

Booze? That's Mouthwash ...

Now that we are screened like common criminals by over-eager TSA grunts, we have also have to doctor what we carry in our wheeled, layover-survival kits.

Years upon years of airline custom and history used to compel co-pilots and captains alike to carry a little bottle of late-night alcoholic comfort. It wasn't because we had a problem with drink -- heck no -- we loved the stuff. It was just in case we got in after the bar had closed or if we wanted to have a crew confab in one of our rooms.

Our luggage is now scanned like the Governor of California arriving at Mars station, leading to questions such as, "What's in that big liquor bottle, Captain?" It is unseemly and unacceptable for them to question a patriotic, domestic-brand bourbon drinker and captain like myself, and they don't buy the mouthwash excuse like they used to.

This has led to many pilots losing large sums of money when they have to actually purchase drinks at local motels and can also lead to hearing loss for them as they have to suffer through "Mel and the Jazz Fusion Funky Sounds" slog their way though a thousand-decibel rendition of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

Heavy Wheeled Suitcases Lead To Unfriendly Skies

Mike left us with one more thing to ponder as he took our bird to Newark and we took our Toyotas to the wives and kids.

"Those heavy, wheeled suitcases have made all the crews unfriendly, obtuse and boring," he said.

"Because you have wheels and don't have to actually carry anything, you have added all sorts of stuff to your suitcases. Everybody carries a laptop now, leading to sitting in your room watching porn on the internet instead of seeking your porn in the traditional layover locations. This has led to a precipitous drop in pilot/flight attendant marriages and divorces, leading to a drop in the income of lawyers. That, in turn, has led those attorneys to chase more ambulances and produce those stupid personal-injury-lawsuit commercials on TV.

"You now carry cell phones in your wheeled bags, which makes you talk to your family all the damn time. If you wanted to talk with your family all the day long, you could have become a farmer, not a jet pilot. I'm embarrassed for you, quite frankly.

"Finally, because you have no weight limit to your bags, you feel it is okay to pack all sorts of clothing. All I carry is a change of underwear in case we have an in-flight emergency, a pair of jeans and my Saddam Sucks t-shirt. Lightweight and mobile, baby! You guys are dragging around enough crap to supply a small platoon, and all it has led to besides the demise of the airline world are unwanted consequences.

"Because you wimped out and drag your stuff on wheels, you aren't having dangerous affairs and you talk too much to the wife, which can't lead to anything good, and you are ruining aviation for the real men."

"Wow," said Jim. "A four-day trip with you must be a real hoot."

I draped my trench coat over the extended handle of my wheeled suitcase and began to drag it up the jetway to the concourse and freedom. We may have wrecked the airline world by utilizing the wheel and other modern contraptions, but I suspect not. I'm pretty sure the real reason for the downfall of the major airlines is probably the introduction of the jet engine.

Want to read more from AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit? Check out the rest of his columns.