Victim of seatback police: “It felt like we had somehow landed in a World War II movie”

seatsBeware of the airline seatback cops. They recently nabbed Cheryl Smith, and they could be coming for you.

What do these airborne officers want from you? Your total obedience, and an empty seat pocket in front of you. More or less.

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Never mind that what they’re asking for makes no sense, whatsoever.

Here’s what happened to Smith:

The flight attendant made a huge deal of us not only not having anything in our laps, behind out feet, or in our hands, but also nothing in the seat back pockets.

She said that the only purpose of the seat back pockets was for the American Airlines magazine and the emergency safety card. She went up and down the aisle three times, making people take items out of the seat back pockets before giving the all-clear to take off.

One gentleman, a few seats away from me, had a water in his pocket (he did not have great English and couldn’t understand her). She finally went up to him and told him that this was “his last warning to remove the item from the seat back pocket.”

I want to know when exactly they declared that putting your water bottle, apple, book, or Sudoku game in the seat back pocket was a national security issue? Is this just another way for the airline to force us to pay for food? Have SkyMall sales slipped that far? What is going on here?

You want to know what’s happening?

Well, my colleague Charlie Leocha over at the Consumer Travel Alliance has done a little investigating, as have other bloggers. As far as we can tell, this is all our fault — and by us, I mean journalists. One of our own, on a very slow news day last summer, decided to write a story that led people to believe the seat pockets had to remain empty, and that it was a hard-and-fast government rule.

In fact, it was apparently an FAA “guidance” but not a regulation. But this gave flight attendants all of the excuse they needed to empty the seat pockets of everything but the emergency safety card and the in-flight magazine.

But let’s think about this for a minute. If I slide a MacBook Air into my seat pocket, which is smaller than the in-flight magazine, how is that going to make the flight any more dangerous?

You don’t have to be an aviation safety expert to see that the implementation of this “advisory” is something of a joke.

But to the attendant on Smith’s flight, it was no laughing matter.

“It felt like we had somehow landed in a World War II movie,” she says. “We were all, of course, afraid to challenge her because that might get us thrown off.”

I think it’s time the FAA clarifies its “advisory.”

And maybe we need a new rule for travel writers: When there’s nothing to say, don’t say anything at all.

(Photo: Johnny Vulkan/Flickr Creative Commons)

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