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The Hill I Will Die On: People Really Need To Step Back From The Baggage Carousel

The Hill I Will Die On: People Really Need To Step Back From The Baggage Carousel

The Hill I Will Die On: People Really Need To Step Back From The Baggage Carousel

It’s the 2020s, the planet is burning, and human suffering has become the background noise of a distorted suspended reality. And honestly, change is not coming. Not until we have a society where people correctly use a baggage carousel.

Yes, it’s bold — possibly completely stupid — to talk about climate change in the first sentence of a whinging piece about airport etiquette. But I stand by the logic! The world needs immediate collectivist change on the most monumental scale imaginable.

The Hill I Will Die On: People Really Need To Step Back From The Baggage Carousel

But the people in the world — after 105 years of commercial air travel — haven’t figured out (or just don’t care) that everyone’s lives would be 5000x easier if we all took one step back when collecting bags after a flight. We’re fucked.

You know what I’m talking about. Chances are you’re guilty of doing it.

The second the wheels touch down, these people prepare to power-walk into the baggage hall, rushing to jam their shins against a stationary mechanical belt. Never mind the fact their bags are at least 10 minutes away. Never mind the dozens of people behind them who can no longer access or even see their belongings.

These people have places to be!

They are simply more important than the single mother who just tried and failed to squeeze past and lug her 21kg suitcase away, while wrangling three small children after a 15-hour flight!! Yes they could move 30cm back and see just as well, but at what cost!!!!!!

Herd Phenomenon

The Hill I Will Die On: People Really Need To Step Back From The Baggage Carousel
Imagery Credit: MikeDotta /

The worst thing about this behaviour is that it spreads.

Once a few people slot in around the carousel, others have to lean around them to see — the circle gets tighter and tighter. It’s been described as a form of selfish “herding”: a phenomenon observed in animals, as individuals group together to let those on the outskirts get picked off by predators (soz to that single mum).

Today, in humans, that same social psychology sees us flock to weird fashion trends, bad stocks, and riots. Our urge to not be left out is often stronger and more immediate than our common sense or principles of right and wrong.

So, is there a way out of this?

Ideally, we’d all just stop doing it. Maybe it could get taught in schools. Some other lessons: there is literally no reason to line up for your flight 15 minutes before boarding, or to stand in the aisle as soon as the plane lands.

But, even with this kind of prep, travel does wild and terrible things to people (scientifically speaking, our brains get too squooshy from the air pressure and microwaved chicken casserole). Even at their usual capacity, people struggle to master the art of getting on to an elevator or train carriage after letting people out.

So I don’t have much hope.

Create The Baggage Carousel Change You Want To See In The World

There are ways to create this kind of change without screaming at people though.

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A precious few airports around the world have painted a line around the perimeter of the carousel; some explicitly ask people to stand back. These directives often get ignored, but do have a cumulative effect: they can eventually nudge people into doing the right thing, into checking in on themselves the moment before they follow the herd.

“Nudge theory” is a very real thing — a Nobel Prize-winning concept of behavioural science, beloved by governments (including ours) who want to influence citizens’ behaviour.

No, I don’t really want to be a cop about this and I don’t love being associated with something that’s been criticised as “soft paternalism” and “a bit 1984”… but come on, I just want to get my bag without peeking through some douchebag’s knees.

Just be a decent person!

On a scale of ‘saving the world from imminent destruction’ to ‘taking literally one extra step to get your suitcase’ — I don’t think I’m asking for much.

This article was originally published as part of Junkee’s regular series, The Hill I Will Die On on January 8th, 2020.

Meg Watson is a Melbourne-based writer, and a former editor of Junkee. She tweets at @msmegwatson.

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