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       Volume 11 |Issue 42| October 26, 2012 |


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Food for Thought

Who are You Calling Weird?!

Farah Ghuznavi

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that she liked reading my e-mails because, she said, "so many weird things happen to you". I will confess that her comment gave me pause for thought. Indeed, I felt slightly offended. It made me wonder whether - as my friend seemed to be implying - there was something intrinsically weird (or shall we say "interesting") about me that was making these supposedly strange incidents occur.

Anyway, after giving the matter careful thought, I concluded that similar things probably happen to everyone. It's just that in my eternal search for material for this column (you try finding something to write about every two weeks!) ridiculous things that happen to me are invariably grist for the mill. And while I am careful never to share other people's stories without permission, because of 'Food for Thought', many bizarre incidents experienced by my family and friends end up being shared with a more than averagely wide range of people.

So let's be absolutely clear about this just because I write a column about every weird thing that I come across (and also, by proxy, similarly weird things that my friends and family encounter) does not make me any more weird than the average person. And in my defence, the fact that I travel a lot probably contributes to the degree of strangeness I encounter. It's a lifestyle issue, not a personality thing. Let me repeat that, in case you didn't get it the first time: none of this makes me any more weird than average! I hope you're convinced now.

To back up my assertion above, I decided to discuss their travel experiences with other people, in order to see if they would agree with my hypothesis that moving between places, however briefly, invariably seems to bring out the freak factor in life. My highly scientific research indicates that there may be some validity to this claim. Of course, the decision to travel with certain airlines can in itself involve more of an adventure than you bargained for. One of my favourites in this respect is the low-cost airline, Ryanair. I have had many "memorable" experiences with them myself, not least because of their pathological determination to charge you extra for everything whether it's standing in the shorter boarding queue, drinking a cup of coffee during the flight, or every means imaginable of controlling the weight of your luggage.

I assume that Ryanair (correctly) deduce that most people will buy things at the duty-free shops before boarding, and (incorrectly) determine that it is acceptable to impose an additional surcharge for the weight of what they have picked up there. For most standard airlines, it is assumed that passengers will buy some things in the duty-free shops - and unless they have decided to buy an extra piece of baggage and stuff it with nuts, chocolates, cigarettes and/or alcohol, they are usually allowed to board the plane unmolested with their tax-free goodies. Not with Ryanair.

So on occasion, passengers have to adopt ingenious methods of avoiding being ripped-off by the carrier. My friend Irene found a relatively easy solution to the stringent weighing system when her tax-free items took her over the weight limit for hand luggage. She opened her bag, put in the tax-free goods and took out a very thick novel that had been stored in her hand luggage, which she proceeded to carry in her hand. The airline staffer made no objection to this rather pointless exchange of luggage contents, and her ownership of the total number of items and their weight remained unchanged with only their locations being shifted!

What extremes Ryanair is willing to go to was demonstrated by my friend Liv's story of having her hand luggage weight-checked after check-in and prior to departure. Anyway, as a result of buying a couple of things in the duty-free shops - nothing major - Liv's hand luggage was found to be one kilo overweight. This led the airline staff members to go through her hand luggage and suggest a couple of items she could take out to lighten the load unless she was willing to pay the excess baggage charges. At one point, it was suggested that she could just take out a pair of high-heeled shoes that were in the hand luggage. It wasn't quite clear what she should do with these shoes once they were removed from the hand luggage.

"Do they fit in your pocket?" the airline staffer asked her. Placing one shoe in each pocket, Liv found that they did indeed fit in her coat pockets. It seemed odd to her that this would solve the problem if weight was the issue, since she would still be taking the shoes on board with her just on her person, instead of in her bag.

Encouraged by the possibility that she might not have to throw the shoes away, Liv asked, "So can I take them in my pockets, then?" The airline staffer looked at her reprovingly. "Do you normally carry your shoes in your pockets?!" he asked rather rudely, completely ignoring the fact that putting the shoes into the pockets had been his idea in the first place. Liv didn't know what to say. Luckily for her, he lost interest in the discussion, waving her onward with her shoes poking out of those pockets.

Despite feeling confused, and more than a little humiliated, Liv had got off easy. Another friend was really put through the wringer. Apparently the metal pin in her hip (a legacy of her hip replacement operation) aroused deep suspicion amongst the airline security staff. Despite the fact that she could only ever have fit the most bizarrely offbeat terrorist profile -her age alone should have excluded her - they were determined to check out the security risk that she represented. To the extent that at one point she was asked to take her trousers off and stand on a chair, presumably so that they could get a closer look at the offending hip…

I came across a similarly peculiar story, albeit not one directly experienced by a friend or acquaintance, in news coverage from December 2011. Apparently a teenage American girl was stopped from boarding a flight because she had a gun. Perfectly reasonable, you might think (though one does have to think twice about a world in which teenage girls carry guns on aeroplanes). But the allegation was misleading. The 'gun' was in fact a metal studded design of an old Wild West handgun on denim cloth, and it was attached to the side of her handbag.

The 17-year-old missed her flight back home to Jacksonville, Florida from Norfolk, Virginia when an agent flagged her purse as a "security risk", claiming it was a federal offence because the design was in the shape of a gun. She was subsequently given the choice of checking in the bag or handing it over, before she was allowed to fly. Since the 'gun' was a few inches in size, and hollow, it is hard to see how it could possibly be considered a security risk - not least because she had already carried it with her on her outbound flight from Jacksonville.

The flight security agency, TSA, remained steadfast in their assertion that this could be considered a replica gun, and therefore constituted a security issue, because replica weapons have been prohibited since 2002. I'm sure that passengers on internal flights in the US will be reassured by this vigilance on the part of airline agents, particularly since, in contrast, the chainsaw found in the luggage of a traveller at a western New York airport would have been deemed to have been acceptable as checked baggage provided it had not been "gassed up" (which it had), as gas is highly flammable liquid and therefore not advisable to take on board! Seriously though, who travels with a chainsaw, gassed up or otherwise...?!


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