The Problematic Passenger

I was once on a flight somewhere near Philadelphia when one of the flight crew was performing her safety monologue. I try to listen to the safety stories on the basis that some day when I need it I will recall that one piece of critical information I need to survive. On this day I was assisted when the lady performing her soliloquy said, “there may be 50 ways to leave your lover but there is only one way to leave this aircraft – and it is through this door”. You had to be there but it was funny – she made people laugh. And it was the only time I can ever recall airline staff being at all humorous.

We had checked in our luggage and were headed for the gate lounge. Half way down one of those wide corridors was a short, stout woman sitting at a desk by herself (I would subsequently and ironically label her ‘Princess Charming’). My wife, Leanne and I approached the Princess (in truth, we didn’t actually approach her at all as there was no security barrier just a Princess on a chair in the middle of a corridor and our instinct was to walk around her). But she saw us coming and there was no crowd around, we were like deer which been separated from the herd. She pounced, “you can’t be taking all that hand luggage on the plane”. We were taken by surprise at what she had said and the menacing tone in which she said it, and I said to her, “this hasn’t been a problem previously, I don’t understand what you mean”. “I mean you can’t be taking all that hand luggage on the plane!” she said again but this time with sarcasm and in a louder voice in a deliberate attempt, I believe, to attract attention to herself. I tried again, “my wife and I have been travelling throughout America and Canada and have carried the same hand luggage onto the aircraft on each occasion – we must have had ten flights so far – I just need to understand the problem”. She responded with, “you are the problem, and I don’t care where you been or where you’re going – you won’t be taking all that hand luggage on my plane! There may be other airlines that let you do it but it’s not happening on my airline”.

I didn’t want to inflame an already emotive situation but she was simply showing off by attempting to humiliate us and I just had to say, “it is your airline we have been flying with ever since we arrived in the United States and it is your airline that hasn’t had a problem with our hand luggage until today, perhaps you might be prepared to reconsider and let us continue to our flight”. I knew that it was over by this stage but something about her and her attitude (and me and mine) just made me say it. She looked me in the eye and said, “No”. That’s all she said, simply “No”.

We made our way back to the check-in counter and checked in one small black bag and then hurried toward the gate lounge past the Princess, who I felt had a particularly smug look on her face, and onwards toward ‘Security’. With time now being of the essence, we were delighted to be informed that ‘our airline had selected us for an additional security check’ and we were directed to walk through Row ‘B’, away from where others were queued. There was no queue for Row ‘B’. I didn’t pause at that point to ponder why – but that was about to become apparent.

At the end of security Row ‘B’ stood a large man who appeared, judging by the pained expression on his face, to have had a very bad day. When I approached him, he mumbled some words to me which I was unable to discern but which seemed to be a little different to the standard security patter, and I nervously (he was a very large man) asked him to repeat what he had said and immediately wished I had not. This time he spoke clearly and distinctly
and informed me that an ‘Additional security check’ meant that I would experience a full body pat down while I witnessed my (now reduced volume of) hand luggage being torn apart in the quest for unspecified illicit substances. Those may not have been his precise words but that’s what I heard. However, he concluded by advising me in a matter of fact sort of way that “if he felt the need to touch my private areas he would use the back of his hand”. I did not find this at all reassuring and pondered what scope the words, “if he felt the need”, provided this man!

Fortunately, my new, almost very close friend, found nothing about me that caused him to feel the need to touch my private areas. I wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or slighted!

Once on board the flight it was not long before I had the pleasure of meeting some of the flight crew. It would appear that I was to have a very bad day. It so happened, due to no fault of mine, that my seat was malfunctioning. Having pressed the little silver button to ‘bring my seat into the upright position for take-off’ – which it did, I found that as soon as I put my weight on the back of the seat it gradually eased backwards into a recline position and started to fall away and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Whereas others’ seats performed their roles admirably, mine simply slipped back as soon as I sat back against it. After having noticed this malfunction I was continually pressing the circular silver button on the armrest of the seat to make my seat conform to the rules. But, of course, none of the flight attendants had been watching my efforts to conform and simply assumed that I had not bothered to follow the rules and one of them asked me, curtly, to “bring my seat into the upright position” – and so I did – again – but I also explained to her that my seat was broken. It was clear that she did not believe me and walked away, no doubt consigning me to the ‘another troublesome passenger’ category. As the flight continued and seats were allowed to be reclined, the flight staff lost interest in me and my malfunctioning seat. This changed as we came into land when a different flight attendant came to tell me to put my seat into the forward position. I repeated to him that the seat was broken and that while I could temporarily bring my seat forward it would not stay in position. I demonstrated this to him and his response was to remain silent and quickly move away from the area. I didn’t know where he was going but decided then that this was not going to end well for me. Shortly thereafter the flight attendant returned with (what turned out to be) the senior flight attendant who clearly meant business. The senior flight attendant asked me without humour to bring my seat forward, which I did. And with that he turned and walked away with a self-satisfied look on his face, having just shown the junior staff how to sort out a problem passenger. Of course, to bring one’s seat forward one must take the weight off the back of the seat – which I had done – and so simultaneous with the departure of the senior flight attendant, I leant back in the seat and the seat which surprisingly enough had not repaired itself during the flight, eased back such that it was no longer in the upright position. I am not sure whether the senior flight attendant saw this or one of his underlings reported it to him but he returned to my seat very quickly. He said, “put your seat forward” and I explained that I would do so but that it was pointless because it would immediately fall back again. “Well let’s see” says our man as without further word, he reaches across my wife in the aisle seat and then across me, to press the silver button to bring the seat forward. Of course, the seat again came forward and you could see the smug look of satisfaction on his face. I tried to explain that it wasn’t a malfunction of the silver button (which did its job quite effectively) but what happens thereafter. But again, self-satisfied, he turned and walked away.
And my seat returned to its previous habit of refusing to remain upright. Again, I was approached by the staff – a new recruit on this occasion – to talk about my ‘seat issues’. By this stage I had really had enough of the arrogance of these guys, this was no longer fun and I was set to forcefully explain my position. But she took the wind right out of my sails by asking me to move to another seat for landing. Although I would have preferred to remain seated with Leanne, this seemed like a reasonable solution and I was happy to comply – although I wondered why it was so important to have my seat in the upright position if I was now allowed to wander unsupervised around the cabin as we descended – but I decided in the interests of keeping the peace – I would keep that thought to myself and I moved, with a positive attitude, to the seat number she had allocated to me. My positivity evaporated when it became apparent that she had moved me to baby land – dozens of young crying, whingeing children who seemed to be unparented. This was my punishment for being a problem passenger. I smiled, through clenched teeth, at one of the little darlings who thought it was fun to empty the ashtray (of assorted lolly wrappers and chewing gum) all over my leg. Shortly thereafter we landed but I don’t recall any tearful farewells from flight crew at the cabin door as I disembarked the aircraft. They were, no doubt, mourning my departure privately.

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