It is amazing, the grace we give people who need to use the bathroom. In the movies, the kidnappers always acquiesce to the victim who has to use the potty. The most determined father on the longest road trip in the world will still stop every 30 minutes to let his daughter pee. Today, in the face of legitimate terrorist threats, we scour planes and airports for any behavior that is even slightly paranoid and even though we have federal laws to keep people in their seats while the plane is on an active taxi-way, we still defer to people who “really have to go” and we sit idly by, assuming that everything is ok, and allowing pretty much anyone to answer nature’s call.
Here’s the thing, that whole situation is 100% preventable if you know the procedures. A few weeks ago, my plane pulled away from the gate about 20 minutes late, due to some problems with the baggage conveyor. Then, we waited another ? hour for an open station in the de-icing platform. It took 15 minutes to de-ice the plane and then finally, we headed for our spot in line to take off. 65 minutes isn’t really a long time in the bigger picture of it all, but I suppose it was an eternity for the 17 year old kid who chose that moment to leave his seat and head to the lavatory. Despite two separate announcement for him to return to his seat, he locked the door to the bathroom and stayed in there for 11 minutes (yes, I timed him).
The plane came to an immediate halt and everyone sat, stone still, for the entire 11 minute period that he was in there. Maybe I was the only one on the plane who didn’t feel for him. I mean really, if you know that there is a very real possibility that you will be bound to a seat for an hour or more, do you still pour three or four cokes down your gullet? Do you keep on drinking beer, coffee, etc, prior to boarding? It seems to me that there is a fine line between really having to go, and stopping a plane load of people for 10 minutes without appearing suspicious. Fortunately for this kid, he looked way to “dopey” to be involved with terrorism or any other nefarious activity.
So, when is it appropriate for a passenger to ring their call button in order to express concern to the flight crew about a suspicious person in the bathroom? Recently, a passenger who spent over 45 minutes in a bathroom on a plane from Amsterdam to Detroit was arrested on such suspicion of terrorist activity. The poor man was found to have a legitimate case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and it was unfortunate (and embarrassing) that he was arrested, but at least he was cleared and the threat was averted. If the same situation arises, I would ring my call button all over again, such is the world we fly in today.
Even though a flight crew member is aware that someone broke the law to use the bathroom, they do NOT know just how uncomfortable and nervous it might be making the rest of the passengers. If you feel that it’s been “long enough under the given circumstances,” then ring your bell and politely tell them, “I’m not comfortable being stopped like this on an active taxi-way for so long, would you please ask the man in the bathroom to return to his seat?” There’s not a thing in the world wrong with that.
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