I didn’t do it.
I like comics and written cartoons. I like funny papers and serials and editorial cartoons. A lot of what I like are multi-panel strips, some with long-running stories. But I also like one-panel stand-alone cartoons. One of my all time favorites was published right after a city in New York state received meters of snow, not just centimeters or inches or even feet, but metres of snow. The panel was completely blank, as white as newspaper, except for a tiny little airplane drawn near the top. And the caption read, “Somewhere in upstate New York, the search for Buffalo continues.”.
Some of the comics I like are older than I am, or at least have been around since I was old enough to read. One, called Family Circus, had an occasional character, always drawn as a ghost, named “Not Me”. Not Me usually appeared when children in the Family Circus had gotten into some mischief or accident and the parents asked who had done it. All the children would simultaneously respond with “Not Me”, and sure enough, near the edge of the drawing would often appear the ghost outline of Not Me. Not Me wasn’t always the only ghost figure in Family Circus. Sometimes “Nobody” and “Ida Know” joined in. Regardless of which one it was, uttering one of their names was an act of denying responsibility.
There are plenty of problems with passengers on airplanes and how we inform them about the Dangerous Goods they take with them. One of the biggest problems has been how we don’t inform them. We don’t make it prominent, hiding signs on the sides of ticket counters, perpendicular to passengers’ line of sight. Or we bury notices in the small print of legal disclaimers when tickets are purchased on-line. Other problems include the way we sometimes ask passengers to click a choice, the only choice that seems to allow them onto a plane, a choice that says they are taking no Dangerous Goods (HazMat) with them, when very clearly many of their toilet articles, electronic appliances, and smoking paraphernalia are HazMat. It bugs me that on the rare occasions I can find an exhibit or advertisement about what’s hazardous on an airplane, they continually give household strength bleach as an example, despite test data proving otherwise. And of course, security screeners pay more attention to tubes of toothpaste and tubs of hummus than to flammable aerosols and cigarette lighters, despite the latter pair of products being capable of creating a blow torch onboard.
I believe that educating the flying public about what is and what isn’t HazMat is crucial. Many of these people are decision makers off the airplanes about what will be shipped in compliance with DG regulations, and what will be shipped as undeclared. Not that they intentionally choose to ship undeclared, but when they ‘just know’ that batteries and aerosols can’t be HazMat, they don’t approve the mailroom training that would catch toiletries sent overnight, and they don’t program for battery-powered electronic appliances to receive DG review before being systematically approved for corporate shipment. Not knowing what’s DG means they often don’t provide training or SOP’s for materials that are ‘unexpectedly’ DG. And I think that appropriate reminders and education during air travel would go a long way toward overcoming the ignorance of shippers of undeclared HazMat.
But things are getting better. I had to fly recently, and there were two steps that had been taken toward making this situation better. And we all know that a journey of a thousand steps begins with the first two! While checking in, the disclaimer about DG in luggage did have a little verbiage about personal items being allowed, with a choice to answer that I was taking advantage of the allowance. And, when ‘gate-checking’ baggage (items intended for carry-on that had to be in the belly of the plane because of lack of space in the passenger compartment), passengers were told to remove spare lithium batteries from the gate-checked luggage and to carry them on the plane, even if the gate agents didn’t say it was because those batteries are Dangerous Goods. Improvement! Yea!
I didn’t do it. I didn’t make those improvements to how we as a Dangerous Goods community inform passengers about what’s DG and what’s not. It must have been Not Me. Probably, Nobody and Ida Know are also responsible. Whomever they are, or you are, if you’re one of them and reading this, whether a regulator, in enforcement, doing outreach, or working for an airline, I’m raising my glass to you. Thank you. You’re doing it.
Written 2/1/2015 for HCB Magazine