Why I hate the beverage cart

Why I hate the beverage cart

Responsible for more crushed knees than MMA, it’s time to protect ourselves from the airline drinks trolley

Unless they’ve signed up for a gym membership, people don’t typically pay for experiences that come with a high probability of physical trauma.

That’s why it’s odd to me that when you book an aisle seat on an airplane, there’s no disclaimer mentioning there’s about a 30% chance that you’re going to get hit with a moving filing cabinet.

Because, basically, that’s an accurate description of an airplane’s beverage cart (galley cart, drinks trolley, mobile foot smasher, call it what you want) -- a filing cabinet filled with soda cans, wine bottles, ice, straws, napkins and whatever cost-saving sesame- or rice-based offering that an airline is currently promoting as a snack.

Oh, and it weighs about 300 pounds, it’s on wheels and it likes to hit people.

Preferably when they’re asleep.

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Last week news broke of an Australian man suing Qatar Airways, claiming that the beverage cart that he took to the knee caused physical and psychological damage. I understand his pain, and I think a lot of us do. 

The first time you’re hit by a beverage cart, you take it as a personal affront.

You’re sitting there, leafing through SkyMall, getting interested in a set of laser-guided golf clubs, when your reverie is shattered by a blow to your shoulder or knee. It feels like somebody driving down the road at 70 miles per hour leaned out their window and threw a mailbox at you.

If you’re lucky, you’ll hear a singsong voice say, “Excuse me.” 

After the first couple times I suffered through this, I thought that perhaps I’d done something to anger the flight attendants. Maybe I didn’t provide a warm enough counter-greeting when boarding the airplane. Maybe they missed me taking the safety information card out of the seat pocket in front of me and reading it, just like they’d asked.

Once you’ve been hit by many beverage carts on many airplanes, you realize that these collisions aren’t intentional.

Sure, you hear stories, such as the one from my friend who was hit by the beverage cart four times on the same trip, by a flight attendant who had, she claims, “dead eyes.”

But for the most part, I think this sort of airborne collision is just unavoidable. That’s probably why half the time you’re hit with a cart, neither you nor the flight attendant even acknowledges the impact. You both know that wheeled refrigerator had nowhere else to go.

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Elbows, knees, beware. It’s a matter of space. I’m certain that any airline worth its jet fuel will tell you that their seats are the perfect fit for the average-size passenger. However, I’m equally as certain that every time I get on a plane, I’ll end up like a slice of luncheon meat, sandwiched between other people’s arms and elbows.

It doesn’t help that I have large shoulders, just as it doesn’t help the people sitting next to me that I have large shoulders.

Consider the Boeing 737-800. A typical economy seat on a cross-country flight is 17.2 inches wide. My shoulders are 20.5 inches.

That’s 3.3 inches of extra shoulder that needs to go someplace. Every economy seat has its peculiar drawbacks. The window seat, where the airplane’s fuselage curves in, tends to cause a wide-shouldered person to adopt a 10-degree list to the side. That lean in turn tends to force an invasion of the space owned by the poor schlub in the middle seat. This accursed soul in turn gravitates toward aisle-seat airspace, causing the passenger with the 20.5 inches of shoulder to tilt a few more of those inches into the aisle.

Oh, and here comes the 12-inch-wide beverage cart that’s already threading an 18-inch-wide aisle.

All that’s left is the loud thud and a possible, “Excuse me.”

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Am I advocating the extinction of the beverage cart? No.

I quite enjoy a nice beverage and don’t expect flight attendants to make a constant shuttle run from galley to passengers, two drinks at a time.

But what about a narrower cart? Or possibly adding a plow to the front of the cart, so the inevitable blows would be of a more glancing nature? Maybe a bell to provide warning?

In a world where everything is childproofed and, more and more often, adultproofed for our collective well being, it’s bizarre that a 300-pound, sharp-edged metal box on wheels has managed to avoid official safety protocol.

Couldn’t they, at the very least, duct tape a tiny airplane pillow to this thing? Or maybe glue a pool noodle on the front? 

I don’t have any other suggestions for what to do about the ever-present menace of beverage carts, though if the airlines could simply give us bigger seats and wider aisles that would simplify everything.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dave Johnston. 

A Seattle writer and editor, Dave is most at home with rainy climates, the comfort foods of many nations, and large, black dogs.

His blog: schmeattle.blogspot.com

Read more about Dave Johnston
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