The catastrophic combination of escalators and luggage

There are two things that I get rather nervous around, on quite a rational basis:
Escalators and trolley cases.

The first is entirely my mother’s fault (my sister and I are agreed on this). We both vividly recall an expedition on the underground when we were children where a woman in front of us dropped her travelcard as we approached the top of the escalator. She bent down to try and pick it up, desperately trying to catch the flimsy piece of card before the end of the escalator sucked it away. My mother, no doubt terrified that this woman would block our exit from the escalator and cause a human pile up, yelled at her to give up and get out of our way – which I suspect she did.

I’ve chronicled my fear of escalators before, but it is particularly acute when getting off upwards ones – the fear that if your exit is blocked you will fall back down the steps, causing injury to yourself and others. Plus, I’ve seen it happen, terrifyingly, on down escalators where someone has fallen at the bottom and people couldn’t get past and in the time it took for someone to press the emergency button 15 people were piled on top of each other. Arghhhhh!

Trolley cases are similarly awful – but I’m fairly sure I have no one to blame for the fear than myself. I strongly dislike those short ones business people tote, because you can’t see them until it’s almost too late and you fall over them. In fact, my mum was recently on a course with someone who, that morning, had come a cropper thanks to one of them. He ran to jump on a tube that was already on the platform and didn’t see the short trolley case someone in front of him was pulling along. He tripped over it, landing with his head just inside the tube doors, just as they closed – on his head. Fortunately that was the worst of it (it could have been much worse) and he lived to tell the tale.

When you combine escalators and trolley cases, things get even worse. One Christmas, en route back to the shire, someone in front of me on the escalator at Paddington overbalanced owing to the weight of the two cases she had with her. Were it not for the pre-Christmas crush of passengers, she would have fallen down a very steep escalator. As it was, I was able to hold her up and someone caught one of the cases she had lost hold of – but it was utterly terrifying.

As a rule, I’m generally very cautious when travelling with my case [yes, I may hate them, but I do have to own one – they are of course one of the easiest ways in which to carry luggage]. I have a particular routine when using escalators. The case handle moves from my right to my left hand, so that I’m able to hold on to the rail with my right, ensuring my stability and safety. Usually this is fine – unless I’m distracted…

The other week, C and I returned to London after a frenetic week working in Southport, arriving at Euston in the middle of rush hour. We chatted away as we approached the escalator down to the tube, which, combined with the crowd of commuters, distracted me from getting things into the right hands. I stepped on to the escalator, reached for the rail and lost grip of my case – I turned round to see it standing firm at the top, while I was carried away from it.¬†Embarrassment, clumsiness and apologies followed. I tried to walk back up to claim it, but wasn’t quick enough. Luckily a Knight in Shining Armour (ok, male commuter in their early 30s) grabbed hold of it and carried it down the escalator to where I was sheepishly waiting. C had gone on ahead, clearly determined to distance himself from this utter idiot.

Do you know what the topic of conversation was that so distracted me from my luggage carrying duties? A sign, just by the tube entrance, informing passengers that 17 people had been injured owing to alcohol on the escalators and 37 had been injured because of luggage. The irony.

It wasn’t this sign, but something similar – this is Baker Street’s version.

I think I was making the point to C that surely this was a stat to be proud of? Isn’t it better that alcohol related injuries are down? Needless to say, one should be very wary of both escalators and luggage (and alcohol, but I bet you knew that one already).


  1. I too have a fear of escalators…I’m okay if I don’t imagine falling down them. On bad days this phobia transfers itself to steps of any kind – not very helpful!

  2. Chrissy says:

    I hadn’t any fears of escalators, especially combined with luggage until a few weeks ago when I grabbed my case and stepped onto a fast steep upwards escalator recently. I reached to grab the hand rail to pull myself comfortably on only to have my hand slide off nearly making me overbalance into the crowd of people who had joined beneath me. I hadn’t realised the splint on my right hand would prevent me from holding onto the hand rail, I had no way of holding onto that plus my luggage, it was all quite terrifying. How do people with no right hand cope with escalators? Huge respect to everyone with a disability who has to tackle escalators!

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