21 DEC 2017: "Deck the halls with electrical folly." Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson - one of the world's busiest airports with an average of almost 300,000 passengers per day and about 2,500 flights - kicked off the festive travel season with an 11-hour blackout that resulted in 'terminal' passenger misery and some 1,500 flight cancellations. "Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!"

"Tis the season to be jolly…"

Following ATL's outage, over a million passengers' holiday travel plans all around the continent and beyond were severely interrupted for days as airlines struggled to get equipment and crews in the right places. It should all just about be back to normal by the time you read this… "Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!"

"Don we now our gay apparel…"

Ehm, okay! Maybe it's time to move on from this merry theme! But you get the idea: Air travel over the "holiday season" (to be PC) can be fraught with peril and can seldom be described as 'normal'…

"Fa-la-la-la-la, la-let's stay home."

"Normal" it is not - a better word for travelling over Christmas is perhaps "interesting."

Around December 20th last year, against my better judgment, I found myself on a flight from LAX to NYC and was witness to a festive scene that must play out a hundred times a day at airports around the system. A woman just ahead of me in the TSA line - the perfect Central Casting 'nice little old lady' - had two of the biggest canvas bags you've ever seen, both stuffed to overflowing with exquisitely wrapped, beribboned and bowed presents. "They're for my grandchildren!" she'd laughingly and proudly told everyone in line around her before she got to the TSA official - who appeared to be at the end of a long shift and was not laughing.

First off, the happy granny was told she'd have to put each of the packages through the scanner individually, which she did without comment but with much harrumphing. It was at the other end of the belt that it got serious: When a female officer politely but firmly said they were going to have to open two of the packages in order to inspect the contents, the 'nice little old lady' suddenly ceased to be nice.

"What - unwrap them? You can't be serious … They're just harmless toys!" she screeched. "You, you, can't do that!"

Well of course they could and they did. If I'd waited around to see what transpired, I'm sure they were indeed only harmless toys. Instead I just remember praying that she was not on my flight, as I didn't want to suffer act two at the gate where she would almost certainly be told that she had too much to carry on to a full flight and would have to gate check her precious bounty.

On their blog the TSA states that they really don't enjoy opening gifts that are not for them but make no bones about wrapped gifts being "allowed, but not encouraged."

Quote - "We're not the 'Heat Miser', however, we might have to unwrap gifts … Our officers try their best not to mangle the gift wrap but it's not a guarantee and it also slows down the line for everybody else." I love the word selection - "mangle" is a very clever deterrent!

They then go on to give some useful tips about things like snow globes: "To take one in your carry-on and comply with liquid restrictions, the rule of thumb is that if it's smaller than a tennis ball, it is probably okay."

It would seem to be a "needless to say" but apparently not everyone quite gets it that toy guns, toy swords and other items that resemble real weapons can look just like the genuine article in an X-ray. That "harmless toy" can and, all too often does, lead to concourse evacuations and delays while firearms professionals are called in to disable a water gun. Such things should go in checked bags or - now here's a great suggestion - they should perhaps be shipped ahead to their final destination.

The TSA also dutifully explains that, "fruitcake and other holiday treats are allowed … " They do not however say anything about the two-legged fruitcakes they have to deal with every day as the 'holiday season' whips up every, already nervous, traveller into a Christmas crescendo. So, all together now:

Sing we joyous all together!
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la!
Heedless of the wind and weather, 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
Until you write the complaint letters,
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la …… agh!!



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David Tait

David Tait's insight and irrepressible humour give us an insider's take on the airlines and the industry in general. He doesn't pull his punches, and readers find his columns thoughtful, informative, amusing and infuriating – regardless, David's views on our industry are always original. 

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