Editor’s Note: Recently, there have been several public relations disasters for airlines, including flight crew members slugging customers and dragging ticketed passengers off planes to accommodate traveling flight crews. Certainly, these extreme examples are in the minority. However, the rush to maximize airline profits has created more passenger complaints than ever. Here are my thoughts on a recent flight I endured. BH, Editor
As anyone who flies these days knows, airplane travel has become more profitable for airlines and less comfortable and less friendly for passengers. Airline companies now charge for everything from checked bags to onboard food to fees for talking to one of their booking agents. In the airline companies’ zeal to increase profits, the change that’s made passengers most unhappy and most uncomfortable has been the airlines’ willingness to cram more seats onto their planes, moving seats closer and closer, cramping legroom (and making it nearly impossible for people like me to use full-sized laptops), and charging folks for a few blessed inches more space. However, in my opinion, the most egregious of these passenger-squashing, profit-enhancing moves has been the “potty seats,” those seats positioned right next to busy bathrooms in coach.
On a recent Alaska Airlines flight to New York City, my seat, 33D, was THE potty seat. On checking in, I reviewed my seat assignment and unhappily learned that it was located on the aisle next to bathroom #1. That meant throughout the flight—all six hours of it–every passenger in coach would have to come by my seat to use the restrooms. And that’s exactly what they did, sometimes in a trickle, sometimes in a flood.
As people lined up in the aisle waiting for the bathroom, most tried not to invade my space; they endeavored to minimize their footprint. But it was pretty impossible. I was really close to the bathroom door. The airplane manufacturer had designed this 737 so that row 33 was the only passenger seat row in line with the bathrooms and my seat was directly across from the door to the first of three bathrooms.
Some passengers waiting for the bathroom pretended I wasn’t there. They ignored the fact that they were just inches away, looming over me and even jostling my shoulder or sticking an elbow in my face as I tried to read my NY Times, work on my laptop, or catch a few winks. One woman actually began stretching and doing yoga asanas next to me as she waited her turn. She practically landed in my lap. It was one of the few times I yearned for a middle or window seat and would have happily switched seats with my seatmates in row 33.
A few times, the line to the bathroom actually disappeared for a blessed moment—usually right after long lines snaking down the aisle had dissipated after beverage service. Or, a couple of times, the line vanished when turbulence got especially rocky and the captain insisted people sit down.
My seat was not only right next to the bathroom, it was also within clear earshot of the flight attendants at the back of the plane. The staffers were two young, 20-something women who had met for the first time on this flight. And despite wearing foam earplugs, I was privy to every word of their nearly constant conversations. “Oh, I LOVE those shoes. Where did you get them? I bought some Mary Janes with 4-inch heels that are SO cute. I just LOVE them.” “My boyfriend says he really likes my red nail polish. Do you do your own or do you get them done?” “And then I told my girlfriend…”
As the flight wore on, my potty seat became less and less tolerable as bathroom #1 became more and more aromatic. Not only did I constantly listen to the sound of bathroom doors locking and unlocking and the whoosh of toilets flushing, each time the door opened or closed, a wave of stinky air washed over me. By the end of the flight, it was pretty disgusting.
Maybe this experience was karmic for me. I’ve flown thousands of air miles, but I’ve never had to sit in the potty seat. But I am one of those people who head to the restroom once, twice, sometimes three times or more during a long flight. I like to stay hydrated when I fly and, hey, I’ve got a teeny bladder. So I’ve been one of those people who standing in the aisle waiting my turn for the bathroom, looming over the hapless passengers unlucky enough to sit in the potty seats near the bathroom. And I never really gave those back-of-the-plane unfortunates a thought–until I was unlucky enough to draw the worst potty seat on the plane.
But, really, I don’t blame some cosmic payback or the passengers awaiting the bathroom for my miserable potty seat flight. I blame the airlines and the airplane manufacturers who would put a single row of seats right next to the bathroom. I mean, really guys, you have to maximize profits so much that you’d design planes where a passenger has to put up with being jostled for hours and then smell disgusting toilet odors?
It doesn’t have to be this way. On my return flight from NYC, I flew Delta in a B757 that had bathrooms positioned away from rows of passenger seats so that no one had to put up with lines of passengers or smell the bathroom. In fact, this plane had enough room around the bathrooms so that people could stand in that area and stretch their legs and moms and dads could let their young kids have a moment out of their seats without bothering anyone.
I suspect this smarter airplane design doesn’t limit Delta’s profits one bit. Every seat on my Delta flight was filled. However, the smarter design does wonders for passenger comfort. I suggest that other airlines take heed and consider their passengers’ needs and comforts as well as their own profits. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor