THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN SPEAKING
On Common Sense Stuff
(see also, Cell Phone Etiquette)
Some things to make your flight and that of your fellow flyers more enjoyable.
This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it does cover some of the basics. As you read through the rules, you may be struck by the fact that they are all COSS. But remember, due to the effect of PLANDUM, common sense rarely shows itself around airports.
Rule 1. Sit down, shut up, and keep your feet off the furniture. (SIDSUAKYFOF)
This is what the average airline employee would like to tell you is the number one rule in flyer’s etiquette. That they won’t tell you this, has to do with the fact that they want to do a good job, and that includes making your flight enjoyable. It may also have something to do with their wanting to keep their job. That they would like to tell you this, has to do with the fact that they are in the eleventh hour of their twelve hour day and they really don’t want to hear the same old whining for the ten thousandth time. That they don’t tell you this, has to do with their understanding that you indirectly, but very legitimately, pay their paychecks. They really do appreciate your being there. They also know you very likely have an awful lot to whine about. So, you won’t hear much of SIDSUAKYFOF.
Rule 2. Just be nice to the hired help.
Even though they are not always nice to you, it’s to your advantage to be nice to them. Yes, they are paid to be nice to you, and you are not paid to be nice to them. In fact you are the one that is indirectly paying them to be nice. So, why should you have to go to all that effort to be pleasant to airline employees?
Well, here’s the deal. Gate agents, ticket agents, skycaps, flight attendants, and many others around the airline industry have the ability to make your trip (if not your life) miserable without your ever knowing they did anything at all. It’s not likely they will (they’re nice folks), but it pays to be polite just to be safe.
It should be noted that while the above mentioned folks can cause little inconveniences, like your luggage winding up in Outer Mongolia or your name being added to the list for special security attention, there is little the pilots can do to cause you trouble, little that won’t also cause them trouble. So you can be nasty to the pilots. There’s nothing they can do about it.
Rule 3. Keep an eye on your “personal belongings”.
“Would the person leaving the $3,000 computer and the $10,000 Rolex watch at security checkpoint three, please return and claim.” It’s absolutely amazing how often one hears a PA like this.
“Arriving passenger on flight 781 from Paris who left his Gucci shoes on board, please return to gate forty one.” Sure hope he changed shoes in flight and just forgot the ones he took off. Otherwise he’s really looking pretty silly strutting through the terminal in his Armani suit and bare feet.
I know PLANDUM has an incredibly tight grip, but try to press through it and hang on to your stuff. Keep it all together in one or two small bags and keep those close at hand.
Rule 4. Dress for the occasion and the weather.
The way one dresses is a direct indication of the esteem with which one holds the occasion. There was a time when folks treated flying on an airplane as a special occasion and decked themselves out in their Sunday best. Those days are certainly gone, sadly so. Many hold the taking of an airplane ride with no esteem at all and really don’t care what they look like. Flip Flops, cut-offs with a hole in the rear, and a dirty tank top is the best they can do. That is their right, I suppose, but don’t think that sort of dress affects the dresser only. There are plenty of people who still feel uncomfortable in close proximity to someone who is in imminent danger of having their private parts exposed. So, for the sake of your traveling companions, put on some clothes, even if they aren’t nice clothes.
And for your own sake, dress for the weather…on both ends of your flight. It’s an interesting phenomenon to me that folks leaving some sunny tropical climate in the dead of winter headed north feel it necessary to show off every inch of their new tan that the law will allow. This would be somewhat understandable (though not totally) if they were being met by friends or relatives and were trying to impress them, but many if not most are met by no one. They are trying to impress total strangers. Back to the top
The best example I ever saw of why this isn’t such a good idea took place when I was very new to the airlines. I was in the right seat (a first officer) of a DC-9 bound from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A film crew for a very popular TV show at the time boarded the aircraft. There was about a dozen of them, equally split between men and women. All were in their late twenties or early thirties. And all were nearly naked. Their attire was far more appropriate for the beach than for an airplane.
Upon our arrival in Milwaukee, the reported weather was pretty much what one would expect for early January, low clouds with reduced visibility and frozen precipitation on the runway. Very much the norm except for one particular point.
The report stated that the braking action (a measure of how well an aircraft can stop) for the runway was poor and for the taxiways was nil. Now the poor braking on the runway wasn’t such a big deal. It was a long runway and the wind was right on the nose at a very healthy clip. Challenging, but no big deal. That’s the sort of thing we get paid the big bucks for. The other part of the report, though, was reason for concern. Nil meant that brakes were totally ineffective. If the runway braking action had been reported nil we wouldn’t have been allowed to land at all. But this was the taxiway they were talking about. It seems that after a heavy freezing rain a little while prior, there was enough traffic that jet blast on takeoff and reverse thrust on landing had melted some of the ice on the runway—braking action poor, not nil.
But on the taxiways, which probably hadn’t been sanded or chemically treated to the degree the runway had, there was apparently no braking action at all. The captain I was flying with was an old, experienced head, so I was a little surprised when, after thinking about it for a few minutes, he announced we would give it a try in Milwaukee rather than diverting to someplace with better conditions, like Chicago. He reasoned that the reports were always pessimistic and even if the taxiway were actually nil, we could use reverse thrust to stop. We could even use differential reverse thrust to steer. This didn’t seem such a good idea to me, but I was young and inexperienced. What did I know? Back to the top
Though the runway was very slippery, the landing was uneventful. The touchdown was, in fact, very smooth. Slick runways typically make for nice landings because those mammoth wheels slide onto the pavement like a fat woman’s feet into her favorite house slippers. But when we got down to taxi speed and began to exit the runway, things got really exciting up front. The captain was right about the report being pessimistic. The braking action wasn’t really nil; that would indicate there was no friction at all. It was, however, so close to nil any actual friction between the tires and the ice would not be measurable by any device known to man. The captain really wanted to save face by taxiing to the gate, but within just a few feet of exiting the runway it became apparent the aircraft simply wasn’t controllable.
We called the company to send a tug out to tow us in. After a fifteen minute wait, the company called back to tell us the tug couldn’t make it. He had slipped off the concrete twice already and he was only a couple of hundred feet from the terminal. OK, send a bus for the people then. Same problem, the bus couldn’t make it either.
Now we had a real dilemma. We couldn’t get the people off the airplane. Or, more accurately, we could get them off (this aircraft was equipped with self-contained airstairs), but we couldn’t get them to the terminal, which was more than a mile and a half away. We couldn’t take off again. We were on the wrong end of a very slick runway with a wind howling along at significantly more than our allowable tailwind. In order to take off, we would have to taxi back to the other end. We might as well taxi to the terminal if we were going to do that. We could have taxied back down the runway except that we had already exited onto a taxiway and there was no way we could turn around on the taxiway. The next access to the runway was about halfway down. Again, if we were going that far, we might as well go to the terminal.
That is what the captain ultimately decided to do (he really didn’t have any other choice). Safety really wasn’t an issue in that the aircraft would never be going fast enough to cause any injuries or damage if it left the taxiway. But it sure would look bad on his record if he allowed his airplane to get off into the mud, and it would certainly further complicate the problem of getting the folks to the terminal.
He took several deep breaths and began to inch forward. Displaying a great deal of skill and no small amount of nerve, using reverse thrust intermittently, he guided us along what was fortunately a wide, straight taxiway. In spite of the incredibly slow speed, it was still a scary ride. We must have come within inches of going off the concrete at least a dozen times. The trip took a little over an hour. Back to the top
Once we got onto the ramp (that huge concrete expanse around the terminal building), it became apparent there was no way to get the aircraft onto the gate without tearing something up. Control of movement was a plus or minus about fifty feet. The captain very prudently stopped about two hundred feet from the building and again called for a tug to tow us in. From the cockpit windows, we watched in amazement and amusement as the tug tried to make its way to the aircraft. Even with its huge balloon-type tires, it simply couldn’t get enough traction to proceed consistently in a given direction. There was no chance it would be able to tow the aircraft.
As we sat there chuckling, ignoring for a moment the seriousness of the situation, we were astonished to see a 727 from another carrier enter the ramp via the taxiway just to our right. The fact that they had made it to the ramp wasn’t so amazing (after all their crew was probably at least half as good as we were) it was what happened next that caused our eyes to pop. The 72’, though traveling very slowly, abruptly did an obviously unintentional 360-degree spin about its axis then began to skid sideways, coming to a stop dangerously close to the terminal building.
As if we needed any more evidence to know we didn’t want to try to move any closer to the building, even before we had a chance to comment on what we had just seen, our airplane suddenly swung around about forty degrees. This was with the brakes set and the engines shut down. A gust of wind had hit the vertical stabilizer (tail) with enough force to cause the nose, which had virtually no grip on the icy surface, to pivot weathervane-like.
All hope for getting the aircraft to the gate any time soon was given up. But the people were another matter. They needed to get off soon. Much radio traffic between the cockpit and station operations ensued. A plan was devised.
Soon the station guys could be seen advancing from under the building bundled in about eighteen layers of clothing and armed with shovels and a wheelbarrow loaded with sand. At a near frantic pace, they began laying a narrow path of sand from the building to our aircraft. Their progress at first was quite good, but then as they got further out where the ice was thicker and slicker and where the howling artic wind blew a good portion of the sand away as fast as they put it down, they found themselves having difficulty with their footing. From time to time one would go down sending his shovel flying across the ramp and sometimes taking a few of his cohorts with him. Back to the top
After a while, though, they reached the front door of the airplane. The passengers were apprised of the situation, warned the short trek would be dangerous, and told to wrap up with everything they had if they chose to leave the aircraft at that time. The only option was to wait for hours (maybe days) until we could figure something else out. All chose to leave via the sand walkway.
Now, to the point of this whole story. The TV crew folks had not one extra piece of clothing of any kind with them. None of them had anything other than their nearly useless flip-flops for their feet. So, clad only in the tiny scraps of material in which they had boarded the airplane and wrapped in the ever-so-warm airline blankets, they started across the ramp. As soon as they reached the bottom of the stairs, the ever-so-warm blankets were standing out from their bodies at a ninety-degree angle in the gale force winds. Within seconds, several had lost their footing and gone down, placing bare flesh rather harshly against ice covered concrete. Every one of them, in the act of falling or in the attempt to avoid doing so, released the ever-so-warms, which the wind hurled across the ramp like a herd of stampeding buffalo.
To their credit, they quickly figured out that if they were to make any progress across the icy ramp without doing serious bodily harm, they would have to do it on all-fours, hands and feet. So, with nearly bare bottoms stuck into the frigid air, they proceeded crab-like toward the terminal, skidding precariously as they went.
I would never have believed it possible for the human epidermis to turn from a beautiful golden bronze to a rather sickly blue (almost purple) so quickly. And I had never, before that time, seen goose bumps the size of golf balls.
Now, what do you think the folks warmly ensconced in the terminal building had to say when they looked out and saw a herd of naked people crab walking across the icy ramp in almost hurricane force winds while leaving a trail of flip-flops?
Did they say, “Oh, look, Martha, there are some really intelligent individuals who have recently returned from a glorious time in a fantastically romantic setting”?
“Yes, John, they are obviously the truly beautiful people, gloriously tanned on every square inch of their extraordinarily beautiful bodies, vastly wealthy and wise way beyond their years.”
No, I don’t think so either. Back to the top
So, folks, the next time you’re returning to your home in the frozen waste lands of the north from your vacation in that fabulous, tropical paradise, think of this tale and wear some clothes.
Rule 5. Don’t come aboard the airplane sick.
There are several reasons for this rule and common sense would make us aware of every one of them. But I see the rule violated all the time, so we’ll address some of these common sense reasons.
First of all, an airplane is not a hospital. If you get seriously ill, it is not a good place to be. The flight attendants, while trained in dealing with certain health problems to a limited degree, are not doctors or nurses. And they do not have anything but a paltry amount of rudimentary medical equipment at hand.
No, an airliner is not a hospital and in spite of quite capably ripping along at 600 mph, it can’t get you to one in anything even approaching immediately, because, unlike a helicopter, it can’t land on the roof of said facility. It can take ten minutes just to get down from cruise altitude. Another ten minutes is needed to set up for and execute an approach and landing. So, assuming you are very nearly overhead a suitable airport (one with a long enough runway), which is very likely in the eastern United States, you are still twenty minutes from being on the ground if you are at cruise altitude when you decide to have your medical emergency. This, of course, doesn’t count the several minutes that will be consumed assessing the situation and determining the best course of action.
Once on the ground, as a medical emergency, you will be met by an ambulance with trained emergency medical technicians ready to whisk you to the nearest medical facility. Said whisking will likely be done through rush-hour traffic that, even with its siren wailing, the ambulance cannot leap over. So, after your twenty-minute plunge from cruise altitude and ten minutes for the EMT’s (Emergency Medical Technicians) to assess the situation and get you loaded into the ambulance, you’re looking at another thirty minutes of bumping along to traverse the last few city blocks to some Mecca of medicine about which you know absolutely nothing.
Bottom line- You’re an hour away from what you only hope is competent medical assistance if you choose to fly while ill and take a turn for the worse in the air. Back to the top
Bottom bottom line- If you do decide to fly sick and have to divert for an unscheduled landing due to your sudden and rapid decline in health, you just cost the airline (and thereby indirectly yourself and your ticket buying buddies) huge sums of money. If you factor in the monumentally important business meetings that will be missed because your traveling companions won’t make their connections, the total cost to the economy is staggering. By boarding an airplane with that known condition that causes you to pass out from time to time, you could throw the entire nation into an economic depression that might last for years.
Now having touched on this economic issue, let’s look at it from another perspective. You decide your mild case of Bubonic Plague is not reason enough for you to miss three days in Disney World, so you stuff yourself into a pressurized metal tube along with a couple of hundred other happy folks who get to breath your germs for a few hours (see pressurization, under White Knuckle Flying). The board of directors of the Mega Bucks Company is onboard. They are on their way to a meeting where they will plan how to grossly overstate the company’s earnings, causing the value of the stock to rise dramatically. All catch your plague. They are unable to make and implement said plan. The price of the stock remains stagnant and the 401k’s of thousands of innocent people increase not a farthing, causing them to have to eat Spam in their golden years. All because you couldn’t keep your germs at home.
Rule 6. Make the most of the security situation.
No doubt about it, this particular aspect of air travel does more to make it an unpleasant experience than anything else, and it has to happen right at the beginning of your trip, setting the tone for your entire flight. But it is a necessary evil. And there is a way to beat the system. There are several things you can do to make your airport security experience less painful, but there is only one way to really beat the system.
Let’s look at some of those pain-reducing tactics first. Back to the top
Know something about security matters. Make it your business to learn a little about how it works. It’s a lot less painful to be mistreated while knowing why than to suffer the agony in ignorance. It is the intent of security personnel to keep all weapons and folks who might try to use them off the airplane. Now, you may not have any weapons and wouldn’t use them if you did, but they don’t know that, so they have to treat you like a criminal.
Some of them have to treat you like a criminal because they are subjected to a unique set of influences demanding they behave in that particular manner and no other. They are given a healthy helping of authority and they are grossly underpaid. That combination often produces that particular impertinent rudeness sometimes exhibited by some less than professional security screeners, customs agents, immigration officers, and even, on occasion, police officers. They can’t help it. They are PUCCI’s, Persons, Under-Compensated, Craving Influence.
But fear not, that aspect of the situation has recently gotten a lot better. The federal government has taken over airport security. Many of you, I’m sure, are thinking, “Yeah, right, we can expect to see things done more efficiently now in a more convivial manner, just like at the US Postal Service, the IRS, and the Social Security Administration.” But really, folks, it has gotten better. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has done a good job in a difficult situation and it improves every day.
But in the mean time, arrive at the airport knowing you will be subjected to some frustrations and humiliations.
Do what you can to avoid being singled out. It’s probably best if you leave your Nazi hat with the swastika emblazoned on the front in your bag. Your T-shirt with “Kill All Commie Pinko Rightwing/Leftwing Religious Atheists” artfully scrolled across the back might ought to be worn another day. Back to the top
Be ready to get metal-less as quickly as possible. It goes without saying that you don’t have on your person any knives, screwdrivers, scissors, or any other objects that might be used as a weapon. So, plan how to efficiently deal with those other objects that will set off the dreaded screaming metal detector. Have cell phone, sunglasses, writing pens, keys, change, etc. already together so it can all be tossed into the handy little Tupperware bucket.
At the security checkpoint (or on the airport property for that matter) don’t say anything that even vaguely sounds like words that will get you thrown up against the wall and roughly patted down. Don’t talk about having “fun” or looking to get a little “sun”. Don’t discuss the lovely “lilac” or giving a short form of hello to your friend Jack.
Think ahead. Anything that gets you singled out can cost you serious time and embarrassment. I was once standing in the cockpit door at the beginning of the boarding process when a lovely octogenarian with blue hair hobbled on board. In her one hand she balanced herself with a cane, in the other she carried a small brown carry-on.
The lead flight attendant sang out a cheery greeting to her. “Welcome aboard. How are you today?”
“Well, I guess I’m alright now that they let me go,” the feisty old girl said with a chuckle and a twinkle in her eye.
I liked her right away and felt consumed with curiosity about her story. Nonchalantly, I followed to remain in earshot as the flight attendant walked her to her seat.
“Let you go? Did someone not want you to come on this trip?” the FA asked as she took her by the elbow and guided her along.
“Guess not. They took me to jail for a while.”
“Jail!” The FA’s eyebrows shot up. The image of this sweet little old lady in the hoosegow simple would not compute. Back to the top
“I was in line there at the security check, just minding my own business, when this nice policeman with a lovely puppy dog came by. The doggy took a whiff of my bag and just went nuts. They took me down and put me in this little cell. Other nice men came and asked lots of questions. Then they let me go.”
Aha, I thought. This sweet little old lady thing is just a disguise. She was up to no good, and the bomb-sniffing canine nailed her. Only she adroitly talked her way out.
“Well, my goodness, what’s in the bag?” queried the FA.
“I’ve been to visit my son. He gives it to me. He gets it free. His company makes it.”
“Well, what is it?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t say, did I? It’s for my puppy at home. My son’s company makes dog food.”
So plan ahead. Be aware of how your carry-on might affect the security system.
These are some things that might make the whole ordeal a little less frustrating, but how do you beat the system all together? It’s a mind game. No matter how rude and disrespectful the PUCCI is to you, don’t let it get to you. Even while you are standing there naked with your arms spread out with one PUCCI waving an electronic bat over your goose pimpled flesh while another tears your carry-on bag into little strips of confetti, force yourself to keep a good mental attitude. Sing, whistle, smile. But don’t over do it; that will single you out.
Come away from the security checkpoint feeling good and you have won the game, beat the system.
Rule 7. Don’t try to impress the pilots with your knowledge of aviation.
This is for your sake, not the pilot’s. They don’t mind answering questions and carrying on a conversation, but when you begin telling them about how you have your private pilot license and fly a Cessna 172, they get a little embarrassed…for you. It’s sort of like your telling a heart surgeon that you once took a first aid course in an attempt to impress him with your medical expertise.
I know, I know. It’s not really fair. The professional pilot-types know everything there is to know about everything, and they expect you to be wowed when they display their astounding understanding of all information pertaining to your particular field, but then they show you no respect when you attempt to show your puny smattering of knowledge of aviation. Well, live with it. That’s just the way it is. Not everyone can be an airline pilot.
Rule 8. Listen to the announcements.
“Would the owner of the green Cadillac with pink polka dots parked on the upper level sidewalk please return to your vehicle. It is subject to being towed.”
“This is a gate change and a gate change announcement only. Fearless Airlines flight 13 scheduled to depart from gate 2 will now depart from gate 487.”
“Federal Aviation Regulations require that all carry-on luggage be kept super-glued to your right hand at all times.” Back to the top
“Local ordinance 221478876.458B prohibits smoking anywhere within the same hemisphere as this airport terminal building. Violators will be hanged by the neck until dead and their bodies hickory smoked.”
They are incessant, never ending. They are vocalized by persons having voices that resemble that nerve-rending sound your computer makes when the modem is connecting to a phone line. Most of them have little or nothing to do with you. They are easy to ignore. But a few of those ubiquitous PA’s are important. You need to listen.
I was standing in the gate area once hoping to get on a ridiculously oversold flight. As a pass rider, the chances of my getting a seat were virtually nil, but it was the last flight that would get me home that night; so I had to try.
As the boarding process started, the gate agent picked up the PA microphone and announced, “May I have your attention, please. For all those passengers standing by for first class up-grades, the first class section has checked in full. Please board with your originally assigned coach boarding pass.”
A few minutes later, she made the same announcement again. A few minutes after that, she called, “Mr. Doofus, Mr. John Doofus, please see me at the podium.” This too was repeated several times. A little later, I saw her pick up the telephone hand set and speak a few words. Seconds later her recorded voice came over the terminal-wide PA system, “Mr. Doofus, Mr. John Doofus, please report to your departure gate.” This too was repeated several times.
The last of the passengers filed down the jetway. One gate agent was assembling the close-out paperwork to take down to the flight crew while the other stood at the boarding door podium, when Mr. John D. sauntered up, threw his boarding pass on the podium and announced, “I need to trade this for a first class seat.”
The gate agent was a little startled at first but then collected herself and stated, “I’m sorry, sir, the first class section is full. Not only that, sir, but it is now departure time, and we’ve given your seat to another standby passenger.” Back to the top
John D. went ballistic. Much ranting and raving ensued. The gate agent, as a true professional, kept her cool explaining all about the PA’s, the need to get everyone possible onboard, and the need to leave on time. None of this made much of an impression on ol’ John.
As the other agent began closing the door to the jetway, he bellowed, “You will not close that door until I’m on that airplane.” Kabang. The door closed.
In a voice of even higher pitch and volume, John screamed, “You will not pull that jetway until I’m onboard.” Whirrr, bump, bump. The jetway slid away from the airplane.
“You absolutely will not move that airplane until I have a seat, “ John sputtered and spat at about 100 decibels. Diesel smoke belched from the pushback tug. The airplane began its awkward backward waddle out onto the ramp.
John’s shoulders slumped. “Where were you, sir?” the agent asked.
“Over there.” He nodded toward the little bar just across the concourse from the gate. His demeanor made it apparent that he had finally accepted the hand that fate had dealt him (or more accurately, that he dealt himself), another night in Detroit City.
You need to hear those PA’s that are pertinent to you.
So, how do you do that? You’ve got to train your ear to pick up on key words and phrases while filtering out the rest. Pilots do this all the time (we’re just so good at just about everything it makes you want to throw up). In the cockpit the radio is emitting a constant stream of chatter from air traffic control. Only a small percentage of it is directed to your aircraft. It’s a giant party line with all kinds of non-related conversations going on in the background while we dutifully go about our business, running checklists, briefing approaches, discussing operations, and, yes, while in cruise, just chewing the fat with one another. So, how do we hear that call that is directed to us? All that chatter becomes background noise until the controller attaches our call sign to it. Then all else instantly ceases, and we listen to what’s directed to us only. The call sign is our key word. Back to the top
While you are lounging around the airport terminal, your key words are your flight number and your name. You need to be able to hear those above all the other superfluous blather.
Rule 9. Keep your alcohol intake to a minimum.
We all know that alcohol increases our mental capabilities making us able to pontificate on any given subject in such a manner as to greatly impress all those within earshot—in our own minds, that is. In truth, imbibing enough alcohol will make us babble to the degree we make no more sense than the average two year old.
The rate and degree to which alcohol negatively affects us is compounded several times over by a decrease in the oxygen levels in our blood. Modern passenger aircraft in cruise keep a cabin pressure equal to an elevation of about eight thousand feet. Unless you live up in the mountains out west somewhere, this is significantly higher than most of us are used to. It’s plenty enough for comfort except perhaps if you decide to do some heavy exercise (not likely in an airplane), so we don’t notice the effects of a lower than normal oxygen saturation level. It can become all too apparent, though, if we decide to drink excessively at altitude. Mr. Macho, who can hold his liquor with the best of them on the ground, becomes a raving lunatic after his third martini at thirty-five thousand feet.
I’ve seen more than one instance where an otherwise rational individual became a real idiot onboard the aircraft, because they drank too much before and during the flight. Oftentimes these are people of significant responsibility: vice-presidents of companies, doctors, lawyers. And sometimes, if it gets ugly enough, it requires a diversion (airplane lands where it was not intended to land) to get the drunk off and out of the way. That means said drunk has interfered with the duties of the flight crew. That is serious joo-joo. The local constable meets the airplane and takes the perpetrator away in handcuffs. Back to the top
Just because the liquor in first class is free doesn’t mean the entire stock has to be consumed before touchdown. Watch what you drink while flying.
Rule 10. Don’t ever kid the pilots about drinking.
Airline pilots don’t fly drunk. Yes, there have been a few isolated incidences where some nitwit, who should never have been an airline pilot in the first place, pushed the limit close enough that his blood alcohol level was such that he exceeded the legal limit. But almost exclusively, pilots know they have the best job in the world, and they are not going to do anything that might jeopardize it.
So, just don’t make any inane jokes about drinking or drugs to the pilots. They don’t think it’s funny, and they may just insist on taking a drug/alcohol test right on the spot, which is not good if you expect your flight (the one your now peeved pilot was going to fly) to leave within the next three hours.
Rule 11. Know what departure time means.
I don’t mean just know what time your flight departs. Most folks seem to have a handle on that. But there are a few who don’t seem to understand what that “scheduled departure” time means.
If your flight is scheduled to depart a 9:00am, does that mean that’s the time at which you should show up at the gate? No, if you do, you’ll get to see the gate agent packing up his/her material in preparation to move to another gate to work another flight while your airplane is being pushed back onto the ramp. Back to the top
Does it mean the time at which the door to the jetway is closed? No, that occurs several minutes prior to departure time. It doesn’t even mean the time at which the aircraft door is closed. Departure time means the time at which the aircraft brakes are released in order for the airplane to be pushed back. The releasing of the brakes automatically sends an electronic signal announcing the actual departure time. All this other stuff has to happen prior to “departure” time in order to get an on-time departure.
If you show up at the gate three minutes prior to the scheduled departure time, don’t expect to leisurely stroll onboard and take your seat. The door has already been closed and it’s not likely to be reopened for you.
The reasons it will not likely be reopened, taking a delay of only a few minutes, are several. Airlines compete bitterly for those on-time performance statistics. They are very reluctant to give up an out-on-time. More importantly, that “few minutes delay” is cumulative. Airplanes are extremely expensive pieces of equipment. In order for them to be making money, they need to be in the air. Therefore, they are scheduled very tightly. A few minutes delay at one point translates into an hour delay further down the line. A few minutes delay inconveniences no one; an hour inconveniences hundreds.
Rule 12. Get on the airplane and sit down (see SIDSUAKYFOF).
When your seat row is finally called to board and it is your turn to march down that oven-like (or refrigerator-like, depending upon the time of year) tube called a jetway, do so expeditiously, go right to your seat (the number of which you have memorized), toss your stuff in the overhead and underneath the seat in front of you, and sit down out of the way. Now is not the time to rearrange your portage, taking family photos from one bag to another so that they will be conveniently available to show to your seatmates. It is not a good time to have an intimate conversation with your fellow astrogators while standing in the aisle. It’s not even a good time for a last minute potty break. Back to the top
The reasons for this rule should be obvious but, because of the devastating effects of PLANDUM, are not. Therefore, a little explanation is in order.
It has to do with the laws of physics: inertia, mass, momentum, that sort of stuff. The engineering types might enjoy a detailed discussion here, but the mere mortal would not. So, rather than getting into why it happens we’ll just talk about examples.
You know how when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere in your car and you stop behind traffic at a light that’s about a half mile away? You sit there drumming your fingers on the wheel, the light changes, the folks at the front of the line move, but you’re still sitting there drumming until finally, about two eternities later, the car in front of you moves. Accordion-like the whole mass inches forward with you stuck squarely in the middle. You get to see said light change from green to red two more times. In theory, if the entire mass moved all at once at the same rate, they would all get through without any fender bending.
Conversely, you are ripping down the interstate (Freeway for you westerners and ignorant Yankee folk) and someone up front decides to slow to more adequately view some point of interest (dead possum, mangled vehicles in the other lane, petunia blossoms, leaves, trees, dirt…). The first few cars behind said viewer slow pretty much apace with him. But then the accordion effect begins. Cars a little further back have to slow more and for longer. Soon thousands of cars for hundreds of miles back are creeping along at a lethargic snail’s pace between lengthy full stops all because Grandma wanted a better look at those pretty little purple flowers on the side of the road. In theory, everyone could have slowed at the same rate and sped back up at the same rate with no bumper to bumper stopping in between. Back to the top
So now, let’s board this airplane. It only takes about thirty seconds to walk down the jetway and plop down in your comfy little seat. Everybody is all lined up and ready. The jetway door opens and in lockstep a couple of hundred folks move in mass. Thirty seconds later, every one of them is in his seat, the aircraft door closes, and bam…we’re outta’ there—in theory.
Doesn’t happen that way, of course. You’ve got folks who have to stop to see little purple flowers along the way. Others have to dig in their bag for those cheese crackers or pass books and magazines back and forth to their buddies, all while plugging up the aisle for the thundering hordes behind them.
I’ve seen a full airplane load of ATNI’s leave the gate more than a half hour late solely because this rule was violated in excess. This in spite of the fact that the FA’s were plaintively begging for everyone to take their seats and fasten their seatbelts. Due to PLANDUM the ATNI’s are not aware that while the half hour may not make any difference to them, it means missing a connection (and ruining a day) for many of those onboard.
Rule 13. Know your seat assignment and sit in it.
The reasons for assigning seats are several and most of them good. I know, some low rent airlines don’t even bother to assign seats. They just herd the folks on board like cattle and let them filter into whatever slot appears to be available. But that’s one of the problems of operating without assigned seats: there may not really be an available slot. Knowing you have a seat with a name (number) is rather comforting. It gives you the opportunity to decide where you would like to sit prior to boarding.
So, if you’re flying a civilized airline that assigns seats, take a moment to look at your boarding pass so that you’ll know where that seat is before you get on the airplane. Know too that all it takes to completely blow the entire seat assignment system and thereby the boarding process is for one yahoo ATNI early in the game to decide to sit somewhere other than his assigned seat. If that happens, don’t expect an on time departure. It takes a while to sort it all out.
Of course, there are times when it’s appropriate to switch seats. That occurs after everyone is on board. Your signal for that is when the boarding door/doors are closed. You then have about thirty seconds to move to an open seat if you so desire before you, as the person standing up moving around, become the reason the aircraft is not moving. Strict regulations prohibit the airplane from being set in motion either by its own power or by a tug if “EVERYONE” is not seated with seatbelts fastened.
Why might you wish to change seats once on the airplane? The reasons are several. The computer that assigns seats normally puts persons traveling alone in a middle seat between two fat ladies both of whom are holding screaming infants. This is done because it is recognized that you grow stronger and expand your horizons by testing. Being squashed amid masses of fleshy biceps while bombarded by piercing wails for hours at a time is certainly testing. The airlines care for you and do this for your best interest. But if you feel you’ve grown enough for the day and your horizons have been pushed just about to the limit, you may want to move to one of those completely empty rows of seats just behind you. Back to the top
When this happens, rather than risk offending my corpulent seatmates, I take an exaggerated look at my boarding pass, announce loudly, “Oh, I’m in the wrong seat”, and while offering apologies move to more comfortable surroundings.
Sometimes switching seats is a matter of getting a family or group of friends together. It’s not always possible to do this in initial assignments. A considerate flyer will be sensitive to this issue and accommodate others if able.
When my daughter was about three, we were on our way to Colorado to spend some time playing in the snow. As the last to get seat assignments on a full flight, we were not seated together. My daughter was in a middle seat three rows ahead of me. My wife and son were scattered elsewhere in the airplane. Even at this young age, my daughter was a seasoned traveler and not at all bothered by the arrangement, but while getting settled, I told the man sitting next to her on the aisle that if he were uncomfortable sitting next to one so young, I would be happy to swap my seat, also an aisle seat only three rows back, for his. My offer, of course, while fashioned as an offer to do something for him, was also a strong suggestion that he might want to do something for me, like let me sit with my daughter. He rather gruffly declined my offer/suggestion.
Politely and quietly I took my seat and spent the entire flight craning my neck in order to keep a constant watch on my daughter. I got a crick and didn’t enjoy the flight at all, but in the end it was almost worth it, for sweet revenge presented itself, totally unbidden.
As we neared the Denver area, the ride got really rough. My daughter got sick. She threw up in the man’s lap.
Rule 14. Spend some time thinking about your carry-ons. Back to the top
I know this is a rather vague rule, but there are a number of issues needing attention with regard to carry-on baggage. And how you deal with this issue will identify you as the savvy experienced traveler (EKA), the country bumpkin who should have taken the bus (or a mule), or something in between.
First of all, do you need a carry-on bag? In a word, yes. But it needs to be small and easy to handle.
You need the carry-on bag mainly for two reasons. First, there is a nefarious character who has sneaked over from some other airline (we don’t have any of these guys at our airline) for the express purpose of ripping the tag off your checked bag and replacing it with one sending it to Katmandu, Nepal. You will need a few (very few) things while you’re waiting for your bag to make its way back over the Himalayas. The odds of this happening are extremely slim (the airline losing your bag, not their getting it back to you). In all my years of traveling, I have had only one instance when my checked bag didn’t make it to my destination with me (actually it did, but it kept going to the next station). It was returned to me within a few hours. Most experienced flyers know this, so they don’t hesitate to check a bag if they can’t get everything they need into a small, light carry-on.
The second reason to take a bag on board with you is that there will be things you want to have with you on the airplane. Certainly things to provide for your amusement come to mind: books, CD player, video game, laptop computer. Not every flight shows a movie. And there are things you need to have with you for the sake of security. If you’re traveling with a hundred thousand dollars worth of jewelry, don’t put it in your checked bag. That same nefarious character from that other airline will smell diamonds in your suitcase and, in order to make it lighter for you, remove them therefrom.
The EKA, then, will be seen comfortably strolling down the concourse with one small carry-on bag either in his hand or towed behind on wheels. The ATNI, on the other hand, can be identified as the one looking like a porter for the Lewis and Clark expedition. He has a large bag in each hand and a backpack the size of a bus on his back. Interestingly, he is somehow totally oblivious of any of his portage for each time he turns, he swings these mammoth bags in such a manner that each of them knocks a little old granny lady to the floor. Inasmuch as the ATNI tends to do a lot of turning in his stupefied state of wandering about, there are a lot of unconscious grannies strewn behind wherever he goes. Back to the top
Hence, the reason for the next rule.
Rule 15. Know that the backpack on your back swings a larger arc than your behind.
It and the bags in your hands can decapitate your fellow travelers if not controlled properly. If you turn fast enough, and swing hard enough, centrifugal/inertial force will set in, and you will screw yourself into the floor.
Rule16. Don’t ask the Flight Attendants to put your carry-on bag in the overhead for you unless you are truly physically incapacitated and can’t do it yourself.
Think about the numbers involved here and you’ll see the reason for this rule. If the airplane is full, each flight attendant will be responsible for around fifty people. It is his or her fifth leg for the day. So, if every passenger asks to have a bag lifted, that’s two hundred fifty bags. While this is great exercise, and will within a few weeks produce a flight attendant built like Arnold Schwarzenegger (looks great on the guys, not so good on the girls), this amount of physical exertion will eventually render the FA unable to make the 387 trips up and down the aisle of the aircraft delivering that scrumptious food and drink.
I’ve seen guys the size of an NFL offensive tackle demand that a ninety-five pound FA hoist his carry-on into the overhead. And it’s usually the guy who used a hydraulic cotton-baling machine to compress his three weeks worth of clothing (along with his golf clubs) into a so-called folding hang up bag, such that it has the density of gold and weighs far more than the person being asked to lift it over her head.
Don’t do that, guys. Back to the top
Rule 17. Check a bag (or bags) if you need to.
How do you know if you need to? If it won’t go into that small, relatively light, carry-on bag described above and you need it on the trip, put it in a bigger bag and check it.
What are the disadvantages of checking baggage? Well, we’ve already discussed the disappearing bag thing, so if you still want to worry about that, go ahead, but you probably ought to worry more about being struck by meteorites, snake bites in downtown San Francisco, earthquakes in Florida, and such.
A more realistic problem is that the bag smashing machines used by other airlines (we don’t have them at our airline) don’t always work properly. The machines designed to rip the little locks and tags off your bags generally work very well, but the ones for tearing the handles off are not always reliable. So, you can be assured the little locks and tags will get torn off. The handle may survive. The big zipper popping machine very seldom works right, so unless you cram your bag so full it looks like a pregnant hippopotamus and vibrates like a tuning fork when you touch it, the chances are it will arrive with zippers still intact.
If the bag smashing machines are really efficient, and your bag arrives a mangled mess, the airline may do two things. One, they may reimburse you for actual damage or losses of the contents, up to a limit that changes from time to time. That limit is more than enough to cover the holey underwear and faded sweatshirts you had in the bag. Two, (this one is not well known) if you squawk loud enough about the superior job the bag smashing machine did on your luggage, the airline may offer to replace your bag with a brand new one, right on the spot. Now, don’t expect to have your grandfather’s old carpetbag replaced with a shiny new job from Armani. And don’t abuse the system by crowing for a new bag every time you fly (they’ll put your name on a list and suggest you use some other airline). But if you legitimately have your luggage shredded into shop rags and feel you are entitled, hit them up for a new bag. Back to the top
Oh, by the way, the reason we don’t have any bag smashing machines at our airline is because we do it by hand. We like the personal touch, and it makes for a far more thorough job.
Rule 18. Don’t attempt to enter the flight deck (cockpit) unless invited to do so.
There are several reasons for this rule. First of all, there is common courtesy. That tiny little room at the pointy end of the airplane is my office. I am sometimes very busy up there. How would you like it if folks just barged into your office unannounced any time they liked? A quick word to the flight attendant while boarding or deplaning will likely get you an invite if you’d like to step up and say a word. And sure, if the pilots are just sitting there staring back into the cabin obviously not busy, a word from the door will likely result in an invitation to come on in.
There will never be an invitation to come into the cockpit while that nearly impregnable fortress door is closed. So just don’t ask. If you do, it will make some folks who can make your life miserable, very suspicious of you. And, by all means, do not jokingly or inadvertently even appear to try to open that fortress door. An even slightly aggressive effort of that nature might result in your getting your head blown off. Very serious stuff.
Rule 19. Don’t complain about the food to the flight attendant. Back to the top
It seems odd to me that I should feel the need to discuss this issue, but the reason is simple. Whenever I’m first introduced to someone and it becomes known that I am an airline pilot, the subject immediately turns to bad (or these days nonexistent) airline food. This should not be the case. Airlines are not in the food business.
So, don’t complain about the food to the flight attendant. It will do no good whatsoever. He/she didn’t cook the food. What’s more, the person sitting next to you didn’t cook it and can’t do anything about the menu; don’t complain to them either. So who can do something about it? Nobody! That’s right, nobody. By the time you’re served that delectable gourmet delight, you are in a metal tube hurtling through the sky at six hundred miles per hour, thirty-nine thousand feet above the ground. Said metal tube is not a restaurant. One should not be surprised that the food is not particularly tasty. It was prepared hours ago at a location miles from where you boarded the aircraft, dragged across the airport in a drafty truck, thrown aboard the aircraft by a guy who has thirty minutes to load four hundred seventy-eight other meals, and heated (if it’s heated at all) in a tiny oven about the size of a briefcase. So, don’t be surprised that the food is not so good on airplanes. Be surprised that there is food at all and even more surprised if it is halfway eatable.
They try; they really do. The best chefs are hired. The finest, freshest ingredients are used. But it’s not a restaurant. The best you can do, if you’re not happy with the chow, is write a letter to the president of the company and try another airline next time (their food isn’t any good either, though).
Rule 20. Don’t try to engage the flight attendants in lengthy conversation while they are serving.
The FAA requires one flight attendant onboard the aircraft for every fifty seats. Guess how many extra flight attendants the ever-cost-conscious airlines put on the airplane. That’s right! So, know that if the airplane is full, each FA is trying to meet the needs of fifty people in what might be a very short period of time. If it’s a lightly loaded aircraft or a long flight, they may well enjoy jawing with you for a while. But otherwise know they are stroking it as hard as they can to get what they need to do done before the next landing.
Rule 21. Don’t ask the flight attendant what there is to drink.
The reasons for not asking this question are two. First, there is that situation described in the previous rule. The flight attendants are busy. If they have to recite a long list of available beverages to everyone on board, they won’t have time to complete their service, unless, of course, you are on a trip from New York to Hong Kong (or one of equal length) in which case they may want to recite the list just to have something to do. There is usually a list of available drinks in the back of the magazine in the seat pocket in front of you. Or, if you’re not willing to look at the list, just ask for something. Chances are they will have it, and if they don’t, you’ll get a quick “Pepsi, no Coke” type answer. That’s more efficient than their reciting the whole list.
The second reason is that by asking this question, you identify yourself as an air traveling neophyte ignoramus (ATNI). Nobody wants to do that.
Rule 22. Assume your seatmate has been traveling forever.
You make this assumption because he probably has. While you, fresh as a daisy, had a good night’s sleep, spent the day in a very productive meeting where you landed a really big deal, and had a couple of cocktails before departure, your seatmate came from Singapore by way of Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. You are in the mood to talk. He is not. You want to tell him about your really big deal, your grand kids, and your hernia operation. He wants to commit suicide by holding his breath.
There are methods used by EKA’s to let other EKA’s know that their incessant blathering might just push them over the edge to the point where they will need to stand in their seat, scream at the top of their lungs, and throw peanuts at everybody. Those methods are COSS, really. If, after a simple cordial “hello” as you settle into your seat, your seatmate breaks out a book or a magazine, you should know that no further chitchat is necessary or desired. If you are not sure of the meaning of this first gesture and continue to thrill your semi-captive audience with a wonderfully detailed description of your daughter’s freckled nose, you should expect that he will shortly produce some sort of electronic device (that can be used only above a certain altitude) with a headset (CD player, game boy, etc). It may be that, even with earphones firmly clamped over his cranium and his nose only inches from his book, your fellow astrogator has still not fully demonstrated his desire to submerge himself into his own little world, in which case you continue to regale him with riveting stories of your Aunt Hilda’s gladiola garden. He will likely then lean his seat back the full two degrees, wedge a pillow behind his neck, place the open book/magazine over his face, and feign sleep. Your further attempts at genuinely stunning him with your worldly knowledge and erudition will result in his slapping his hands over his ears and sticking his head between his knees. Be careful here, you’re only one step away from the standing in the seat, throwing peanuts phase.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some wonderful and sometimes lengthy conversations with the perfect strangers I find myself jammed in next to while hurtling through space. But we need to be alert for those little signs that say, “Leave me alone. I’m on the verge of a mental collapse and wish to experience it in solitude.”
Rule 23. Don’t shout your conversations.
Yes, even the quietest of jet engines produce a bit of a hum in the cabin, and there is some wind noise. But the net effect of these, plus the little whinings of pumps and motors that you don’t even notice, is not enough noise to necessitate shouting in the cabin.
Sometimes the folks who are guilty of this are seated some distance apart, so there is at least some apparent reason for their screaming at one another. But more often than not, the perpetrators are sitting right next to each other and could, with no effort at all, lean a little closer and make themselves heard perfectly well with just a whisper. They just, for some unknown reason (probably PLANDUM), choose to exert excess energy by bellowing at one another.
This is not a good thing for several reasons, the most obvious of which is that it annoys your fellow astrogators. Some want to sleep, think, read, study, or write. But that’s not the most important reason.
Have you ever noticed just how dumb other people’s conversations sound? I mean if Albert Einstein were having a chat with King Solomon, it would come across as really stupid to those just listening to it. You’d be sitting there saying to yourself, “Yeah, right, Al,” and “Sure thing, Sol. Get a life.”
So no matter how erudite you may think you are, just know that when you are shouting those pearls of wisdom back and forth with your buddy in seat 16E, there are a hundred plus folks snickering at your every phrase and thinking “what an idiot”.
Rule 24. Be careful how you get into and out of your seat.
When you do decide to get up and roam about the cabin as necessary (usually in defiance of the lighted seatbelt sign), it will be necessary to unwedge yourself from the comfortable confines of your seat. This ordinarily will require some leverage. The most readily available device for assisting in this effort is the seat in front of you. If that seat (or row, as it’s all bolted together) is not occupied, then hoist yourself upright in any manner you desire. If, on the other hand, there are fellow astrogators in that row, be careful how you jerk on the back of the seat.
I’ve seen some ugly situations come about because this rule was not heeded: eyes gouged out while attempting to put in contact lenses, hot coffee worn instead of drunk, false teeth spurted to “underneath the seat in front of you”.
Rule 25. Don’t kick, tap, or bang the seat in front of you.
Like the rule above, this only applies if the row is occupied. If it isn’t, you can kick, tap, and bang all you want. You should know that it also applies to your tray table, for it is attached to said seat in front of you. It also applies to underage children traveling with you.
It is a very practical rule in that after about three hours of constant kicking, the two hundred forty pound dude sitting in the kicked seat will reach over the back and pluck your head from your shoulders.
Rule 26. Don’t call the flight attendants “stewardesses”.
The terms stewardess and steward are now politically incorrect. If you use them, you immediately identify yourself as an ATNI.
But that begs the question—what do you call them when you need their attention? “Oh miss” will get you almost as much derision as “stewardess”. “Hey you” doesn’t work so well either. It’s a bit cumbersome to sing out, “Excuse me, Mr. flight attendant person.”
So, just what is that socially acceptable, politically perfect term to use when you need one of those aviation safety experts? I don’t know. Let me know if you figure it out.
Rule 27. You don’t own the whole airplane.
Based on the price of your ticket you may feel as though the entire air machine is yours to do with as you please, however, there are a whole bunch of other folks who feel the same way.
Be considerate of other’s space. The person next to you owns half of that super cushy, comfortable armrest. A fully spread newspaper, even the trashy little tabloids, will encroach upon your seatmate’s personal space. The overhead bin over your seat is not yours and yours alone; put your bag wherever there is a space. That place called “underneath the seat in front of you” is yours. Stick whatever you like there, your feet or a bag (as long as it goes fully underneath). The space underneath your own seat, however, is not yours; it belongs to the person behind you.
Rule 28. Don’t argue with the FA about putting your seatback upright, tray table up and latched, or carry-on items underneath the seat in front of you for takeoffs and landings.
The FA isn’t picking on you. These are things the FAA absolutely insists upon. If the “fuzz” is onboard and the FA doesn’t see that they are done, he/she will be in big trouble, fined or maybe fired.
So, why are the tables, seats, and floor items such a big deal?
In order for a particular type of airplane to be certified to carry passengers, it must be proven that the entire load of passengers can be disgorged through the emergency exits within a certain, preset amount of time. Tests are conducted to establish whether or not the airplane’s people-regurgitating ability is up to snuff. These tests are conducted with tray tables stowed, seat backs up, and the floor clear. The aircraft, therefore, must be operated the same way.
It only makes sense. The chances of needing to get out of the airplane in a hurry are slim, but it’s worth the effort to operate as though it might happen at any minute.
Rule 29. Stay in your seat while the airplane is taxiing (moving on the ground).
This rule applies both while taxiing out for takeoff and while taxiing in to the gate, but it is most often violated while taxiing in, just as the airplane approaches the gate. You old EKA’s have seen it many times over. Just as the airplane slows coming into the parking spot, a bunch of ATNI’s jump up and start dragging out luggage. The FA calls the captain. The captain stops the airplane. The FA invites everybody to sit back down again. Once everybody is again seated with luggage stowed, the aircraft taxis the last few feet onto the gate.
So what is the big deal? It’s only a few feet and the airplane is barely moving.
It’s a big deal because the FAA (the fuzz) says it’s a big deal. And if the crew ignores the ATNI’s milling about the airplane while it is moving, said crew is liable to get some unwanted vacation (time off without pay).
Rule 30. Deplane (get off the airplane) in an orderly fashion.
Just like getting on the airplane, it only makes sense to get off in a certain manner. Invariably, when that seat belt sign goes off as the aircraft comes to a stop at the gate, a herd of ATNI’s from the very rear of the aircraft charge toward the door, banging folks in the head with their carry-on’s as they go. At the door (which won’t be opened for a little while yet as the jetway is put into position) they jam in so tightly that everyone will now move at about one third the rate they would if given room to maneuver.
This is not the way people should operate. You see animals do it all the time. Open that gate for a herd of cows and every one of them will try to go through at once—to the point where they are literally walking on each other. People shouldn’t act like animals.
I think these ATNI’s who charge the door as soon as the aircraft stops must be the same people who charge into the elevator or subway car as soon as the door opens, before those wishing to get out even have a chance. Besides being rude, this style of doing business sure slows things down. It works much better to let the people in the front of the airplane get off first with each successive row toward the back taking its turn.
There is an exception to this. If the flight is running late and there are those onboard who have tight connections to make, it’s only considerate of those without connections to remain seated to let the close connections off first. The FA will make it known when this is the case.
There will, of course, be a jerk or two who will pretend to have a close connection just in order to get off the airplane a few seconds quicker. If you want to do this, go ahead; nobody will ever know. Unless they see you hanging around in the baggage claim area.
Rule 31. Leave the wheelchairs for those who need them.
I read an article once, in that newspaper filled with color and fluff, about the horrors of air travel. A few of the points made in the article were valid. Most were not.
One of the examples it used had to do with a particular ATNI not being allowed to use a wheelchair. It seems the ATNI had a connecting flight and, in keeping with Rule 32, the departure gate was at the most distant point in the terminal building. The subject ATNI upon deplaning snagged a wheelchair, threw his steamer trunk carry-on in it, and charged off for the connecting gate. The ever-observant gate agent stopped said ATNI, informing him that in order to be allowed use of the wheelchair, someone had to be sitting in it. The ATNI got his buddy to sit in the chair, piled the steamer trunk in his lap, and shoved off again, while muttering about silly rules.
Now, I may have gotten some of the facts of this case wrong (in fact, I know some are wrong), and the gate agent may have been rude (don’t know, I wasn’t there); but it’s for just about absolute certain that shortly after the ATNI left the gate pushing the wheelchair with human occupant and massive load, an elderly person hobbled off the airplane and, unable to walk any distance at all, needed a wheelchair. There were none available as they were being used to haul luggage. The elderly person missed their connecting flight.
Wheelchairs are for folks who need them because they can’t walk. Bags should be transported on “wimp-wheels”.
Rule 32. If there is a gate change, your new gate is at the other end of the terminal.
This isn’t a rule for you to comply with, but to understand. By knowing the reason for it you’ll be able to deal with it a little better, whine about it a little less.
It has to do with crew physical fitness. The airline has a lot of money tied up in the training of flight crews, so it is very important to keep them healthy and productive. It is so important, in fact, that there is a vice-president in charge of crew physical fitness—a senior vice-president. With the help of two super-computers and a staff of several hundred, this extremely talented individual sees to it that whenever there is an aircraft change (even if it was scheduled as a direct flight), the new departure gate is not right next door to the one the crew just brought the airplane into. Nor is it at the next gate down, or the next, or the next…It is at the gate the location of which is that point the maximum steps possible from your present location.
There are only fifteen minutes available to get there and get the flight out on time.
You can see, of course, the tremendous aerobic benefit of grabbing one’s overnight bag, flight kit, etc. and sprinting to the new gate several times a day for days on end. Makes for some really fit crews. You, the traveling public, are simply the beneficiaries of this ingenious system as a byproduct.
Actually, this whole business of switching airplanes and gates is a very complicated mess, particularly if it has to be done at the last minute. The movement of airplanes filled with people around a huge system is a finely tuned, highly orchestrated phenomenon that just amazes me it works at all. But it does work…as long as nothing goes wrong. When things do go wrong—weather, mechanical problems, crew illness—even though they are planned for, it upsets the balance of things and your “through flight” becomes an “aircraft change”, your forty-five- minute layover becomes two hours, or your connecting gate just across the concourse moves to the other end of the terminal.
These are thirty-two of the 3,748 rules of flying etiquette. The entire batch has never been put to writing. This is a task you old road warriors, long-time EKA’s, out there could help with. Feel free to send me your favorites at: UrCaptainSpekin@cs.com
Dedicated to preserving the fine art of spinning a good yarn.