Friday, August 14, 2009

Who's In Charge Here? (Part II): Airline Says You Can't Put ANYTHING in Seatback Pockets. 'What Fresh Hell Is This?'

Here's a new one, at least to me. As we taxied before takeoff on a flight tonight from Denver to Tucson, the flight attendant announced that no personal possessions could be placed in the seat-back pocket, because of "FAA regulations."

Nothing, she said. Not a pair of eyeglasses or a newspaper or a paperback book. Only "company-printed materials" were allowed in seat-back pockets, she said, and of course I quote her precisely.

What were these strange new "FAA regulations"? My seat-mate -- a hard-core business traveler and until then a stranger to me -- and I looked at each other. Surely this could not be a new law. But before takeoff, here the flight attendant comes marching down the narrow aisle on inspection, and right away she spots the books each of us had tucked into the pockets, as we had done thousands of times before.

She was on us like a prison guard. "Gentlemen, I told you, nothing in the pockets," she said. Sheepishly, we put our books in our laps, while the "company-printed materials" (the crappy in-flight magazine, the sales catalog, the barf bag and who knows what else) rode merrily alone in the seat-back pockets.

One does not argue with a flight attendant if one wants to get where one needs to go.

What fresh hell is this? I ask, quoting the phrase Dorothy Parker was said to have used upon hearing the telephone ring.

You can't put your reading glasses in the seatback pocket? Your paper? Your ticket?

We are back to the question asked here in the pre-dawn hours of today (the time stamp on this post is set to EDT, I think, but I am on Pacific time as I write this).

Who the hell is in charge here?

Well, as I noted a long time ago today, I was off on a day-long flying adventure from deep rural Nevada to Denver, with a connection to Tucson. As predicted, the prop-plane flight from Nevada to Denver went off perfectly.

Even the connection in Denver went off pretty well. I'd booked the Denver-Tucson flights on US Airways (the ticket said, "flight operated by Mesa Airlines doing business as US Airways Express" with a return for tomorrow, and when I made the change with some difficulty early this morning, I was booked out of Denver on a United flight "operating by SkyWest Airlines doing business as United Express."

My flight from rural Nevada to Denver this morning was operated by Great Lakes Airlines (doing business, it should be noted with a big round of applause, as "Great Lakes Airlines"). Went off perfectly.

And, given a 3+ hour layover in the massive Denver airport, so did the connection, despite the earlier confusion about what my new confirmation and flight numbers were.

At the United Airlines service counter (doing business at least there as United Airlines, thank God), I easily printed out new boarding passes for the 6.58 p.m. flight to Tucson on ... um, let me see if I have this straight now, on SkyWest Airlines doing business as United Express, which in turn is flying on behalf of United Airlines, which was in turn flying on behalf US Airways, the airline on which I had purchased the ticket and thought I would be flying)

Anyway, the flight attendant's name was Judy, and she had nearly as many miles on her as I do, though she looked a lot better for it. When I boarded, with a seat assignment of 1-A (it was a single-class, cramped Canadair regional jet), I saw that a curtain had been pulled across the two seats in that row.

"My seat seems to be blocked off," I said to Judy, who ignored me till I repeated it. In her defense, Judy was involved in the amazing flight-attendant feat of getting everyone on board, but still.

"You did that!" Judy said, pulling the curtain back.

I took my seat, but still I wondered: Why would Judy think that I would deliberately block my seat with a curtain? I mean, what was the percentage in it for me? Was Judy all right?

Dunno. Judy, doing business as an employee of SkyWest, which was in turn doing business as a subcontractor to United Express, which was operating, itself, as a contractor to United Airlines -- and in my case flying me as a full-fare-paying customer of US Airways, well, Judy was proudly in charge of enforcing what Judy evidently believed -- or had been told -- was a new federal law about not putting a book or your eyeglasses in a seat back pocket.

If it weren't for the curtain stuff, I would be sliding Judy a lot more slack here. Like most business travelers, I truly appfreciate what flight attendants go through, and what they have gone through in terms of pay cuts and job security.

But really: Invoking a non-existent federal law (whether on behalf of "security" or "safety") to keep seatback pockets free for advertising crap?

I know some passengers have been out of line stuffing things into seat-back pockets that anyone can see do not beling there. But in a sensible air-travel system, flight attendants -- who are respected figures on an airplane flight -- have no problem invoking common sense.

Upon "deplaning" in Tucson, I asked Judy who had told her that there was a federal law against putting anything in a seat back pocket, including your reading glasses.

"I have a document I can show you," she said.

I was the first off the plane, still under the technical custody of Judy at the time, not at all brave enough to hold other deplaning innocents up, while I examined a document that Judy, her technical custody of me undefined in my mind, claimed that she would produce. As we all sensible people will know, there is no percentage in this.

Meanwhile, pace Judy, who I incidentally saw to be very kind and helpful to a family with little kids sitting nearby, and thus in my mind was a good person, this is why we need to keep asking:

Who the hell is in charge here?



ChefNick said...

Jesus Christ. These people will stop at absolutely nothing. This I find very, very hard to believe.

I see a future in which you will be fined for your failure to clean up your cabin area after "deplaning" . . . (what squonk made that term up?)

It's now Greyhound Air, All The Time.

Oooh la la, ah feels a rant comin' ons.

I'll spare you the expletives, Joe, but let me tell you, they're all lining up in a neat row to be let out.

Consider yourself lucky, THIS TIME.

Next time, probably around the end of the month when I have to fly to Japan, you won't be so lucky.

Keep it comin'.

Glenn Fleishman said...

The document is called "I have to clean all the seat pockets after you leave and I'm sick of it, but if I invent a policy, passengers are so cowed and confused that they will not do anything about it; also, my airline gave me a document that says I have to shave turnaround by two minutes."

Or she's got OCD.

ChefNick said...

Yep. Soon there will be a fee to have your seat space cleaned after the last guy used it.

What, you think $20 is reasonable?