Sunday, December 7, 1997
Carry-on bag the ruin
of civilization

The Cincinnati Enquirer

What is it about airplanes that turns ordinary women into satchel-toting shrews and ordinary men into arm-rest hogs? Surely these people don't act this way all the time.

Of course they don't. They are victims of carry-on luggage syndrome, a normal human reaction to being cooped up with people who believe they must keep all their worldly possessions in the overhead bin.

Take the Rev. Robert Schuller. Now, I don't know him personally, but I've seen him on TV, speaking from the Crystal Cathedral, and he does not look like the sort of person who would rough up a flight attendant. He looks like a person who would ask him politely for money.

Yet, he was accused of throwing a tantrum over where his preaching robes would be stored aboard a United Airlines flight.

On the one hand, he may have behaved like a jerk. But on the other hand, maybe he was just like the rest of us - jockeying for space in the overhead bins. After jockeying for space in the parking lot. After jockeying for space in the people-mover. After jockeying for a plastic seat in the airport. He just kept on when he got on board.

Storage was the last straw.

Oh, the humanity

But how can you explain a businessman who defecated on the in-flight drink cart? Less colorful recent news stories have featured a couple arrested after they hit their children with eating utensils during flight and a man who tried to open a door at 35,000 feet.

Travelers who are merely unhygienic or ill-mannered did not make the news. No arrests were reported of passengers who insist on playing Donkey Kong during takeoff and landing even though the flight attendant says electronic equipment might interfere with the plane's navigational devices.

It all began when they stopped enforcing the carry-on luggage rule. We used to think that if we tried to bring something on an airplane that would not go under our seat that the flight crew would take it from us and route it to a carousel in Outer Mongolia.

Now, nearly 60 percent of passengers carry suitcases, backpacks, baby seats and strollers on board, compared with 20 percent five years ago. This is not counting purses, golf bags, laptops, briefcases and diaper bags.

Federal crackdown?

A flight attendant in Cincinnati says she has seen passengers try to carry aboard fishing poles, elk antlers, moose meat and stuffed wild birds.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants and the Allied Pilots Association want the Federal Aviation Administration to crack down.

I think it would be nice if the FAA would concentrate on keeping airplanes in the air and the airlines would solve this problem themselves. They could start by enforcing their own rules. For instance, Delta Air Lines passengers are allowed two carry-ons, a maximum 24-by-16-by-10 inches.

Does that sound like the suitcase you saw being hoisted into the bin over your head the last time you flew?

Once people realized that they could just drag anything they wanted on board, it was just a short, ugly step to some businessman leaving a totally inappropriate tip on the drink cart. And, by the way, why is alcohol such a big part of air travel?

The airlines finally outlawed smoking. What if they would consider the idea that if somebody can't manage three or four hours without a cocktail then they are probably the very people who shouldn't have one at 35,000 feet?

Maybe the flight attendants wouldn't be so crabby if they didn't feel like they were servants on a flying cocktail lounge. And maybe passengers would remember their manners. Maybe. But before the airlines try to wrestle away their customers' Wild Turkey, they could practice by getting them to check their luggage.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.