There are two occasions in which you should never approach a snooker player.
The first is during a match. The second is at a baggage carousel.
The latter is almost as tense a time for the professionals as the former as they wonder to themselves whether their cue is going to make it off the plane or not.
The 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks in America prompted a widespread tightening of airline security rules. Among the items to be banned from being taken on to aircraft as hand luggage was sporting equipment, including snooker cues.
This has led to many occasions in which players have arrived in a foreign land only to find their cue has not made it with them.
At the recent Haikou World Open Ricky Walden, Andrew Higginson and Matthew Stevens were among the unlucky ones. Li Hang, coming from China to Europe, did not have his cue for the PTC Grand Finals.
But, at long last, there may be a reason for hope. In America, the Transportation Security Administration will allow cues as hand luggage on flights under their jurisdiction.
This is the first real sign of a change of policy amid the airline industry and it strengthens World Snooker’s hand when it comes to lobbying on the players’ behalf for some kind of dispensation. It is their livelihoods we are talking about after all.
On the face of it it’s hard to see what damage could be done with a snooker cue on an aeroplane. As one player said to me at Crondon Park this week, “at the moment I can’t even do any damage with it on the table.”
Stevens, of course, used three cues in Haikou – his own for his last three matches – and still reached the final but a player’s cue is almost like an extension of themselves.
In the early 1980s, Steve Davis used to sleep alongside his. In 1990, Stephen Hendry offered a five figure reward for the return of his cue after it was stolen.
Ironically, it was eventually ruined beyond repair – by baggage handlers.