CHENNAI: A few loaders at the Chennai International Airport have found an easy way to make a fast buck. They have begun pulling the heavy bags that international travellers bring off the conveyor belt, piling them on the ground, and then asking jet-lagged, elderly passengers who have just stepped off a long-haul flight to pay them ‘dollars’ to get their bags out. Most often, people end up paying, while a rare few decide to do some heavy lifting to get their bags out of the pile.
As Rajeson Prakasam found it, it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. The former head of the Shevaroys Institute of Hotel Management had just got off a flight from Zurich with his family and was dying to get home, when they found that their bags weren’t doing the rounds on the conveyor belt. “After waiting for a long time at the far end, I made my way to the place where the bags come up on to the belt. I found that two loaders had pulled all the heavy suitcases and piled them up on the ground. There were some 50-60 bags there, it was like a maze,” he recounted.
Initially ignoring the loader’s request for ‘dollars’ in exchange for assistance, he attempted to extricate their ribbon-coded bags before he gave up and accepted the man’s offer. It cost him a crisp 100 rupee note, perhaps disappointing the loader. He may have well forgotten the incident, if only the same thing hadn’t repeated itself when his sister and her family, travelling from the US, had the exact experience on Sunday morning. “Again, the request was for ‘dollars’ and I think she paid up because it was easier to get their huge suitcases than try to wade through the pile,” he said dourly.
It is emerging that they target elderly passengers who come from America or Europe and have been air-borne for long hours, as they would be far more likely to need assistance in getting their luggage. Payment would also be easier to solicit, for this ‘service’. An airport source said that the police had received reports that loaders were exchanging dollars and euros at the foreign currency exchange outside the airport, but not really followed up as the amounts were small and appeared legit.
Though a few passengers have left verbal complaints with the airport manager, airport sources said that the loaders had a ready explanation. “The baggage conveyors in the old airport are faulty, so we remove it and keep it there so that people will be benefited. It is like social service that is not even part of our job. If it gets stuck, then their things will be damaged,” said a loader on a tea break, the confidence in his voice evident.