We were having lunch in the main terminal of the Budapest airport when we were called to board our easyJet flight to Basel. The walk to the gate seemed endless, as if the people who built the airport designed it specifically so that our flight would be miles from any other.
We reached the gate and were lead across the tarmac to what was basically an empty hangar. Inside the un-air conditioned space were narrow 4ft metal fences that funneled people towards the boarding counter. We continued through the line for a few minutes and then all at once the buzzing international chatter went quiet and things were oddly still. The collective pulse and tension in the room seemed to rise, as if fight or flight had kicked-in en masse. Expressions grew concerned and fearful as the eyes of those around us collectively turned to a single focal point at the front of the line. Those with roller suitcases glanced cautiously down at their baggage. We didn’t have to look forward to know the gauntlet lay ahead: The carry-on baggage sizer.
As we approached the counter we passed a man wearing two sombrero style hats – one on top of the other – who occupied the bag sizer. Sweat beaded on his face as he tried unsuccessfully to force in his roller bag. After getting all but the handle in he looked up at the attendant and made an expression that said “good enough?” The robust eastern european woman firmly motioned for him to move aside, like a bouncer at a club. A quiet middle-aged french man with a nice leather duffle bag stepped up.
We checked in and walked through. On the ground to our left sat a girl who was on the verge of tears. She tried for what seemed the 20th time to fit everything into her one suitcase. When it wouldn’t close she abruptly stood up, kicked the bag, and and let out a frustrated sigh. Behind us at the boarding counter we could see the french man sweating through his gray shirt and forcing his bag into the sizer with his foot. He ultimately succeeded and a few people applauded as he walked through.
Grateful for the entertainment while we waited, we tried to see who would be next through the gauntlet. His face was obscured, but the two hats standing tall above the crowd told us that it was the double-sombrero man. A few minutes later a loud, high pitched crack echoed through the room and the double-sombrero man walked through the crowd. He looked exhausted – like he had just finished a workout. One of his white-knuckled hands held the suitcase, which he dragged across the floor. The other gripped it’s plastic and metal handle, which he had ripped clean off in order to carry it on.
We weren’t sure what shocked us more: easyJet’s intensely strict baggage policy enforcement. Or, that some folks were so determined to carry on their bags that they would destroy them in order to do so. Either way, we’ll be sure to check our bags when using easyJet again.