Aircraft Accidents and Taking Vacation

Last month I flew with my wife on vacation; I coughed up the money for First-Class. Unfortunately, First-Class is not even a whisper of what it used to be, but that was not the most interesting part of my First-Class vantage point, which was the front-most seats on the right side of the plane – not a regional airliner but a narrow body – right where the passengers first enter the cabin.

The first incident involved a passenger who stowed an electric wheelchair in the closet across from the First-Class lavatory. Not a problem, happens all the time. The flight attendant (FA), who was the only one in this event who displayed any sense of professionalism and safety-mindedness, confronted a woman, the daughter of the wheelchair’s owner, an elderly woman sitting with said daughter twenty rows back. The FA requested that the daughter separate the battery from the wheelchair and keep it with her; the wheelchair battery was a small unit that stowed easily in the overhead compartment, under the seat or in a purse.

The middle-aged daughter began arguing with the FA, firmly stating, over and over, that she had never been asked by the airlines to do this before, that she leaves the battery attached “all the time”. The FA did not back down and even relented to ask the Captain out to the discussion … you know, to support her.

And this is where it got silly. The Captain, who had every reason to support the FA, to tell the daughter if she did not like the conditions she could disembark, instead called his operations department people to see if the woman could leave the battery attached. My wife kept half an eye on me to see what I would say or do. My safety spidey-sense was tingling but I sat quietly and watched the drama from the aisle seat.

Before anyone insult the FA, understand that there have been documented cases I have read where wheelchair lithium batteries have overheated and burst into flames because the controls were crushed up against a wall, a coat or a box. I have seen wheelchair battery fires that had been filmed where the chair’s controls were locked into the ON position, before causing an unquenchable fire in the belly compartment of the aircraft, fortunately while still on the ground. Even with all available extinguishing agents brought to bear, they could not extinguish the blaze until the wheelchair was completely consumed, almost taking the loading equipment with it.

I understand that this Captain did not represent the thousands of captains who take charge of their flights. In fact, the gate agent should have stopped this incident before the wheelchair was even loaded on board. However, no measure of pressure from a passenger should ever make the crew accountable to anything other than the safety of the plane and those onboard. And before I come under attack, I have been working with the airlines for thirty-seven years. I, as a mechanic, had many dealings with airline captains of either gender who demonstrated absolute control of any situation on their airplane. Are airlines so cowed; are they now folding to the pressure produced by entitled passengers who don’t get what they want? I hope not; there were plenty of young children on that flight whose safety was paramount.

Then there was the return flight.

On the flight back, my wife and I sat in the same seats on the same model aircraft. Before boarding, we were waiting by the gate area. An elderly woman in an airport wheelchair was waiting to board. In the cushion-filled baby stroller she pushed in front of her – that’s an elderly woman … in a wheelchair … pushing a baby stroller – was a Shih Tzu dog. She was apparently not wanting to draw ire from anyone so the Shih Tzu had a leash – a pink leash – with the words ‘Service Animal’ emblazoned in gold letters.

Its name was Bitsy-boo.

But wait, there’s more.

When the woman boarded, she took the aisle seat across from my wife and I … of course. The dog took its place at her feet – she originally had the dog sitting in the window seat until the gentleman who bought the seat showed up. The dog remained loose at the woman’s feet the entire flight, sleeping on the airline supplied pillow and blanket … you know, the one you probably used on your flight, the one you put up against your child’s face. I never use those pillows or blankets because I never see the planes swap them out at the gates. Chalk that up to airline travel experience.

This Shih Tzu rolled its whole fur-covered body all around on that blanket/pillow combo; its … whole … body. The blanket/pillow combo was rubbing up against that nice clean floor. Then the woman took the dog into the lavatory and when she returned to her seat, the dog put its lavatory exposed paws all over the blanket/pillow combo … that other people, some who have dog allergies, will place up against their faces.

According to an August 8, 2019, article in airlines.org: http://airlines.org/news/airlines-for-america-applauds-department-of-transportations-guidance-on-emotional-support-animals/ titled: Airlines for America Applauds Department of Transportation’s Guidance on Emotional Support Animals, Airlines for America (A4A) the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines stated, “Airlines for America applauds the Department of Transportation’s enforcement guidance on emotional support animals (ESAs). The availability of fraudulent ESA credentials online has enabled people who are not truly in need of animal assistance to abuse the rules and evade airline policies regarding animals in the cabin. With over a million passengers bringing ESAs on flights last year, airlines and airports saw a sharp increase in incidents such as biting and mauling by untrained animals.”

The flood of ridiculous ESA approvals have made modern politics look sane by comparison. ESAs, e.g. peacocks, full grown sows, cats, exotic birds, snakes, turkeys and even miniature horses – I kid you not, look it up – have represented a selfish corruption of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s intent, to allow passage for trained service animals to accompany their owners, e.g. a blind person’s seeing eye dog or a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. These are people with a true need and their animals are specially trained for dealing with emergency situations. Why is this important?

I took part in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cabin fire simulation. The FAA demonstrated the reality of an onboard fire and evacuation; it was quite illuminating. The simulation could not reproduce all the effects of a real onboard fire, e.g. noxious smoke, debilitating heat, screaming, disorientation, injuries, shock and the constant shoving, but what it could duplicate was real enough.

I could barely see the hand in front of my face. The floor lights were hardly visible and were distorted in the smoke. The direction of voices became confused. People stepped in front of me, knocking me aside or others pushed me from behind. It was nearly impossible to determine where the exit was. Most evident was the subliminal instinct for survival, not just mine but everyone’s survival.

Now imagine a real onboard fire with all the effects the FAA could not duplicate. Then add in a Shih Tzu named Bitsy-boo, scared senseless, dragging a pink ‘Service Animal’ leash, tripping children separated from their parents, biting whoever is in its way, causing other passengers to pile up on the floor like cordwood. The body count adds up; the count is not limited to the old and feeble but includes the young and helpless.

Common sense does not always prevail; in some cases, common sense takes years to be brought forward; look at Congress. Meanwhile the innocent suffer for the selfishness of the entitled. There are no ‘constitutional rights’ when it comes to aviation; no one owes anyone, anything, whether it’s a soft drink, a full-length movie or a place for your pet to sleep. What is required, however, is that everyone who flies must be offered the chance to do so in the safest manner possible. That is what you pay for each time you purchase a ticket. As a travelling public, is that what we are getting?

4 thoughts on “Aircraft Accidents and Taking Vacation”

  1. This will all be revisited I’m sure when something happens; It always does. I can’t wait for all the hypocrites to come out of the woodwork.

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