Ruminations from the Ramp
Creatures I Have Met
By Tony Vasko
My children are in their thirties, and they cannot remember the days when you bought a ticket, showed up at the airport, and just boarded the airplane. I mean just got on the aircraft. No sniffers, x-rays, magnometers, body searches, people taking profiles, armed guards, warnings over the PA about not accepting anything from a stranger and questions about "Who packed your bags?"
It seems incredible to them that we did that kind of thing, that we were so trusting. People carried what they could on board. Now admittedly, they could not carry on board as much as they do now for there were only the hat racks overhead. They were small, not very deep or high and were burdened on the DC-4 with electric fans. There was no room for the steamer trunks, duffle bags, wheelbarrows and the like we see as "carry-on" baggage today.
Certain markets see more regular baggage and "carry-on" than others. If you doubt me, go to Miami Terminal and watch what people are carrying to the islands and south of the border. At times, airlines have hired "baggage aircraft" to follow the regular passenger flights. It is not all one way either. Immigrants up north here long for the taste of familiar food and often visitors or the person returning from a visit bring with them some of the tasties they remember from their youth. Much of it ends in the hands of the Agriculture Department who have a duty to intercept the flying and crawlie things that ride with the food.
Trans Caribbean Airlines flew a single route from Puerto Rico’s San Juan Airport to New York’s Idlewild Airport. Competition was stiff as both Eastern and Pan American served the same run too. Trans Carib, however, had low fares and was operating two leased DC-6B aircraft fitted with the maximum number of seats allowed. Their food service was sparse being a sandwich, apple or banana, cookie and container of milk in a cake box complete with string tied around it. The apples were better than bananas as the yellow fruit had a pungent smell in a hot cabin.
We had an urgent message from the aircraft when it came in range to meet it. It didn’t sound like the usual maintenance problems so Ed G and I met it wondering what was going on. The aircraft blocked in, the engines stopped, up went the push set of steps, and the passengers seemed to burst out of the airplane looking over their shoulders as they did so. Not a good sign at all. I have seen airplanes infested with roaches (a mix of little bitty ones and big flying tropical types), mice, rats, and even monkeys. The monkeys, however, were on a cargo flight so I didn’t think that was the case here.
In the best tradition of the sea and air the crew were the last off and they told us to "Find those damn crabs and get rid of them."
Crabs? Did they mean little bitty ones also called lice? No they meant big armored specials, khaki colored and mean. Apparently one of the passengers was bringing a shopping bag load of land crabs up for a family feast in New York. He had placed the shopping bag in the hat rack. Times being what they were, no one had questioned him about what was in the bag. The crabs must have stayed quiescent for a period but then decided they wanted out of the bag. They broke out into the hat rack. The cabin was quiet for this was a night flight and fortunately not heavily loaded. They must have spread out a bit before they started spilling down on the somnolent passengers.
Land crabs are big; they have great claws and a serious attitude problem. They scuttle sideways with upraised claws, they move fast and they can climb. They also exude foam. I often wondered what would have happened if the aircraft had been chock full and the crabs started spilling out up front and everyone ran to the rear.
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