Travel notes

I fly to the United States fairly frequently, for both work and personal reasons, and have obviously observed the tightening of security measures over the past eight years, both on flights and at airports.
Yet, I was taken by surprise yesterday when, on my flight from Munich to Chicago, an announcement was made, shortly after taking off, to the effect that passengers would only be allowed to use the lavatory situated in the compartment of the aircraft where their seat happen to be — i.e., we would not be allowed to use lavatories located elsewhere in the aircraft.
This is something recent, as the flight attendant who made the announcement stated quite clearly that this is in accord with new federal regulations.


I spent some time thinking of a terrorist ploy that would hinge on the use of a lavatory in a different compartment of the aircraft, but I could not think of any, nor could the gentleman sitting next to me (a military man returning from Irak, no less). I am sure that there are reasons for this policy too… What is fairly obvious is that it can cause problems, especially on a long flight like a transatlantic one and with a full airplane, as on occasion all lavatories located in the same area of the plane will be occupied. In normal times, one would assume that, especially with small children needing “to go”, walking to some other compartment and using one of the free lavatories there would not pose a threat, but it apparently does, at this time, and is forbidden on an international flight to the United States (no such announcement was made on my subsequent flight, from Chicago to Salt Lake City).

The use of cell phones is also not allowed, on arrival, before going through passport control and customs. In this case too, this is recent, as I remember having done it in the past, in order to let people know that I was being delayed because my luggage was not showing up. I guess what I am wondering is why these measures are being introduced now… I mean, I understand the terrorist threat is always there, but if these precautions are so important, why were they not put in place a few years ago, at times of “orange alerts”, and “clear and imminent threats” ?

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15 Responses to “Travel notes”

  1. Propter Doc Says:

    There was a similar announcement when I flew UK – Philadelphia in January, but it was mainly to stake out certain lavatories for first class and fancy pants customers only. I’m used to the ‘do not gather around the lavatory by the cockpit door’ announcements on internal US flights.

    The phone one is new on me though – used to be you could switch your phone on when the plane doors were unlocked.

    • Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

      No, actually now you have to keep the cell phone off even at the terminal, while waiting to go through immiration and customs. Me, personally, I am unaffected because I do not have a cell phone anyway… the only cell phone I would ever even consider getting is… ah, let’s not go there today.

      As for the lavatories, it is the first time ever that I hear an announcement having to do with lavatories, that mentions anything other than where they are and that it is a federal offense to tamper with smoke detectors

  2. ruchi aka arduous Says:

    That’s weird. I don’t remember any weird such announcement when I last flew to the States, but that was in December.

    On the other hand, when I flew into London from Copenhagen a few weeks ago, the immigrations official asked a LOT of questions about what I was studying, and what it entailed to make sure, I guess, that I wasn’t getting a fake degree.

  3. Cherish Says:

    I’ve heard announcements like this on cross-country flights, but I had heard them before 9-11 and was under the impression it was just because they didn’t want all us poor heathens walking through first class to use the lavatory up there.

    I also think some of the flight attendants get irritated when people are trying to get past their little carts to use the bathroom or get back to their seat.

    Either way, I seriously doubt this is a “new” federal regulation…just more of a case of the flight attendants being more ornery than the norm.

    • Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

      Cherish, that is what I would have thought too, had it not been because of her explicit mention of “new federal regulation”. I remember it because the person sitting next to me and I both thought that it was strange. So, she definitely tried to sell it as such…

  4. Professor in Training Says:

    Wow – interesting new developments. I haven’t been home since April last year so this is the first I’ve heard of either of those regulations. That’s going to be interesting to see what happens on the 747-400 planes with >300 economy passengers on board all trying to figure out which of the 10 bathrooms are within their seating section. And I’m not entirely surprised at the No Cell Phone rule as I’ve been waiting for a No International Visitors rule to be implemented too.

  5. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    I’ve been waiting for a No International Visitors rule to be implemented too.

    PiT, I have to tell you, you’ve got some great material. I think you are breaking new ground, you are inventing stand-up blog comedy 🙂

  6. Professor in Training Says:

    Ha – thanks. I just call it like I see it. Being surrounded by stupidity on so many different levels sometimes leaves me shaking my head in amazement and frustration … you either have to see the ridiculousness in it all or spontaneously combust.

  7. Schlupp Says:

    I’d assume the flight attendant simply lied about the federal regulations in order to keep people from complaining. Or maybe there is “new federal regulation” permitting airlines to enforce such rules or some details of regulation about such rules were changed or whatever. As to why cell phones are much more forbiddener than they use to be: I’d guess it’s the cameras that scare them and they were not as widespread a few years ago.

  8. Dr J Says:

    Why do they have to ruin flying so? I just love flying, it should be great in the US but they make it more difficult than it really need be…and it is not just the government, nearly all airlines are charging for all hold baggage now – that is great given how many things cannot be carried on.

    As a bacteriologist, I wonder whether maybe one day they will read something about just how many bacteria people, including potential pathogens are carrying in the gut and insist on a full colon cleanse before any one can enter.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

      Which might prevent anyone from needing the loo AT ALL for the duration of the flight.

      Maybe it’s just to prevent too much movement, so genuine threats stand out more? i.e. if someone comes into the wrong section, they can IMMEDIATELY tackle them, sedate them and tie them up, rather than first checking to see if they’re going to the loo.

      The cell phone thing is just cruel. I remember a few years ago, the first thing many people did after getting off a plane was to light up a cigarette. Now they turn on their cell phones instead. If they’re going to ban cell phones within terminals, they need to start providing cell phones again so if, like you said, the luggage is delayed, you can let your friends know.

      Mind you, without my cell phone on, I think there are maybe 5 numbers I could remember off the top of my head.

  9. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

    Gaah I mean providing PAY phones again, not cell phones. A rare sight these days.

  10. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

    Schlupp — it’s possibly about those cameras, you are right, as they actually did talk about cameras as well.

    DrJ — I have been advocating for a while that passengers should be required to fly naked. Think about it — no more nonsense with taking off shoes, belts, jacket and what have you. Just take all your clothes off and board that plane…

    Cath — the disappearance of pay phones is another one of those instances of private interest winning over public good

  11. Devin Says:

    Like most other airport security measures, this was implemented to provide people with the illusion that the government is doing something, without actually doing anything (productive). It’s just a form of security-theatre (though this one has the added benefit that “second-class” passengers don’t bother the first-class ones).

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