Summer air travelers, beware: he’s out there!

Summer air travelers, beware: he’s out there.

I mean that guy. The one who will make your travel a little less pleasant, probably unknowingly, but still.

For example, cruising at 40,000 feet northwest bound, the cabin interphone chimes. The First Officer and I exchange glances that ask hot, cold, or stupid? It’s too soon for crew meals—that’s where we’re stupid for eating them, but it’s something to do—and only minutes ago someone called to say it’s too hot in back.

Traditionally, within minutes, one of the other four Flight Attendants who don’t seem to be able to talk to each other will call and say it’s too cold.

But I answer the phone and this time, it’s stupid: “We just found a passport in seatback 30-A.” No, it’s not the flight attendant that’s stupid—it’s the passenger who on some previous flight for some odd reason decided to stash his passport in the seatback pocket.

Before our flight, the jet had come in from JFK. Maybe an international arrival, and now someone is enroute somewhere without a passport.

That’s where you come in: you’re in line at Mexican Customs in Los Cabos, and you’re sweating like a fat lady in a vinyl chair, waiting, waiting, waiting—because the guy ahead of you in line talking to the taciturn Customs agent is suddenly aware that he doesn’t have a passport. Your vacation is on hold just a little longer because like me in the super market, you got in the wrong line (“Price check on lane seven!”) while passengers to your right and left are breezing through and claiming their luggage (and maybe yours), heading for the beach.

Sure, it’s going to be worse for him—without a passport he’s not getting back into the United States without a major hassle and, you hope as payback for your delay, a strip search. But the lingering question is, why would anyone put anything of value in a seatback pocket on a plane?

But you’d be amazed at what you’d find back there after a flight. Well, what someone else would find back there: I’d sooner stick my hands into a trash can in a crack den than risk the snot rags and barf bags or kids’ diapers or half eaten ham sandwich that will be stuffed in there.


Still, people for some odd reason nonetheless sit down, empty their pockets, stash wallet, iPod, keys, camera, travel documents, passport—you name it, into the seatback pocket as if it were their glove compartment on their family car (okay, there may be a ham sandwich in mine, I admit).

Never mind the hassles going forward to recover a lost item, a headache made all the more difficult because the jet will crisscross several thousand of miles before the discovery of a missing item is made (call the lost and found in Seattle, Chicago and New York). The important thing is that the Stupid One is delaying your vacation.

And unbeknownst to you—he may already have delayed you. Remember sitting at the gate well past departure time? I can’t tell you how many times five or ten minutes from pushback to a resort destination in Mexico or the Caribbean when the agent steps into the cockpit and says “we have a problem.”

Let me guess: someone confirmed on the flight is in a bar somewhere starting on the umbrella drinks and about to miss their flight to the actual resort. Why? Because they can’t read a ticket? Don’t know their own itinerary? Can’t do the math on a time zone change? Are intellectually low functioning and were finished off by the TGI Friday’s Bloody Marys in the airport bar?

Doesn’t really matter. The point is, if they’re not on board we get to sit at the gate while the ground crew sorts through the cargo compartments crammed with the luggage of 160 passengers to pull their bags off. That takes a while. You get to wait, I get to wait, both of our days becomes a little longer.

Yes, it’s the lowest common denominator that dictates when we leave and when you arrive in paradise.

But there is justice in the situation, as I witnessed once at a departure gate as I waited for my inbound jet. Airport police officers had pulled a couple off to the side as passengers boarded a jet for Cancun.

Apparently the man and woman had been to the airport bar, and the man had clearly had a few too many. Federal law prohibits the boarding of any passenger who even appears to be intoxicated, and the airline agents had done the right thing: when in doubt, call law enforcement to sort out the situation in accordance with the law.

Sorry ma’am,” I heard an officer say as the man was being detained, “he’s going to be placed under arrest for public intoxication.”

I couldn’t hear the exact back and forth between the steamed woman and the officers, but in the end, it seemed the officers weren’t the cause of her anger: she grabbed her boarding pass, shot a pointed glance back at her handcuffed partner—then boarded the flight.

Just as well: he’d probably realize in the Customs line in Mexico that his passport was missing anyway.

11 Responses to “Summer air travelers, beware: he’s out there!”

  1. Hahaha, you really put words on my every-travel frustration! Thank you for a pleasent read!

  2. I’ll trade you your ham sandwich for the turkey/roast beef combo in my glove box. I’ll throw in an unopened Twinkie (of unknown age) to sweeten the deal.

    Good point about the seatback pockets, I never touch those things. With two kids under five I deal with enough disgusting messes, I don’t need to deal with other people’s.

    • I’ll take the sandwich plus whatever’s in the trunk. Actually, my uniform hat lives in the trunk: toss it in after a trip, put it back on when I head for the employee bus.

      I really don’t understand why people put their valuables in the seatback, but the cabin cleaners find iPods, phones, iPads, wallets, passports, cash–you name it. Ugh.

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

      • Oh Chris! You’ve got me going now.
        Just think of all those Z class brains that are contributing to the gene pool even as we speak. What hope is there for mankind?
        They’ll soon outnumber the rest of us!
        The word “euthanasia” comes to mind.

      • Agreed. On my Facebook page (Miss Giulia can vouch for this) I have a photo album entitled “We Are Doomed As A Civilization” filled with visual depictions of similarly depressing examples of bad behavior in the species.

         Chris

        Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  3. …and it is a sad state of affairs, really…

    Some of those photos you put up are so unreal! I kinda wish you staged them…

  4. This may be a stupid question by someone who gets annoyed on every trip to America by the obsessive screening while still in Europe, but don’t you guys check passports upon boarding international flights? Rumour has it, you’ll have to fly that bloke back and get a fine, too. Or is Mexico different?

    Also, I admit it: I have lost my iPod and a book on a plane once; not sure if it was a seat pocket or not. It was already at the destination’s lost and found when I called and they kindly shipped it back.

    But in any case, I learned from the experience. iPod and book go on my lap during landing. The lap. Not the seat pocket. Not the seat next to me. Not the Can You Hold This For A Sec’. The lap. If you’re scatterbrained, you need precautions.

    • I don’t know about your first question–I don’t have any involvement in the passenger documents or screening.

      Losing stuff on board? Don’t feel bad–I find charts, checklists, pens, sunglasses, headsets, you name it, in the cockpit from pilots who strew their junk all over the place but forget to collect it all after the flight.

      On either side of the cockpit door, it’s pretty simple: don’t spread your stuff out on an airplane. Chances are good that when you eventually realize something got left behind, it’s flying away at 500 mph.

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  5. blackwatertown Says:

    I can understand people storing stuff in the seat pocket – the alternative on long haul flights is continual hopping up and down to the overhead locker – thereby annnoying your fellow passengers who have to get up each time. And often you are barred from having a bag at one’s feet. I’ve lost a couple of books myself – left behind in seat pockets. But iPods, phones and most of the stuff you mention? You’re right. That’s crazy.

    I might exempt parents from acting with consistent sense, because children can drive you to distraction – especially if you’re feeling the glares from the people around you.

    I wonder should I make a confession – a pretty daming one?
    OK – I’m donning my hard hat. Here it comes…

    On a long haul flight, perhaps to South Africa, we got on the plane early with our small child, so as not to hold anyone else up. Fine.

    We were the only ones on board for a while, and took the opportunity to quickly and neatly change the little one’s nappy. The toilets were not open yet, so I did where I was sitting. I was a dab hand at it. So no mess. No one would ever have guessed. Job done. Problem solved. Nappy (diaper) wrapped up.

    However, I had to wait to properly dispose of it. So guess where it went (well wrapped) temporarily? Yup.

    Other passengers filed on, sat down. Then suddenly the cabin crew told us they wanted to change our seats – despite our boarding passes specifying that we were in the correct place. I think they decided they wanted the couple with a child banished to the back. (Some children become upset flying – ours never have done.)

    So we had to rush to gather up our stuff, which of course we had partially unpacked to settle in, and move to the rear of the cabin. In the confusion and haste, guess what we forgot to take with us?
    It was only after we were accelerating along the runway that I remembered. Too late and too far away from our original seats to do anything about it.

    I suspect whoever discovered it thought it had been missed by the cleaners after the previous flight.

    • Now THAT’S funny! Having traveled with little ones, I understand how that kind of thing could happen.

      As far as not being able to have something on the floor, of course you can have something under the seat in front of you. When I know I have to deadhead (and I hate deadheading–I’m the world’s worst passenger: they announce a five minute delay, and I’m like, “Whaaaaaat? *%##@!!!!!!!”), I bring a smaller bag for essentials–bottled water, food stuff, hand sanitizer, NYT Sunday crossword, ear plugs (too noisy in back, plus I don’t want to hear about someone’s last disaster in flight or explain what “runs” I’m doing; at least 2 articles required for my dissertation critical theory and Pre-Raphaelite William Michael Rossetti–getting closer), plus my schedule. iPhone is always in my pocket with a few episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.

      Nothing goes in the seatback, my hand carried luggage never needs to be taken out of the crammed overhead bins.

      But again, traveling with little ones is a whole different deal–Darling Bride and I feel more like roadies, schlepping the tons of equipment for our little rock star. Let me add, too, a hint: get a cover for the car seat or any other child-related item that’s being checked–the cargo hold is not clean.

      Now our rock star is 11; she’s able to fly simply and easily (she has her iPhone and episodes of “iCarly” to let her be anti-social too) so hang in there!

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