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Huh?? FAA rule bans storing anything in seatback pockets


A couple weeks ago, Joe Sharkey posted a tale on his blog of a flight attendant requiring passengers to keep their personal belongings out of the seatback pockets. He thought it was an overzealous airline employee. He was wrong.

The original story (that prompted him to do further digging) has strangely disappeared from his BoardingArea blog, but still appears on a (legacy?) blogspot site:

Here’s a new one, at least to me. As we taxied before takeoff on a flight tonight from Denver to Tucson, the flight attendant announced that no personal possessions could be placed in the seat-back pocket, because of “FAA regulations.”

Nothing, she said. Not a pair of eyeglasses or a newspaper or a paperback book. Only “company-printed materials” were allowed in seat-back pockets, she said, and of course I quote her precisely.

What were these strange new “FAA regulations”? My seat-mate — a hard-core business traveler and until then a stranger to me — and I looked at each other. Surely this could not be a new law. But before takeoff, here the flight attendant comes marching down the narrow aisle on inspection, and right away she spots the books each of us had tucked into the pockets, as we had done thousands of times before.

She was on us like a prison guard. “Gentlemen, I told you, nothing in the pockets,” she said. Sheepishly, we put our books in our laps, while the “company-printed materials” (the crappy in-flight magazine, the sales catalog, the barf bag and who knows what else) rode merrily alone in the seat-back pockets.

One does not argue with a flight attendant if one wants to get where one needs to go.

Like Joe, I would have assumed that the flight attendant who was telling passengers that use of the seatback pockets was prohibited was on a power trip. I would have thought the same. Apparently, I would have been wrong, as Joe wrote in yesterday’s NYT column.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that airlines whose flight attendants had been telling passengers that no personal items of any kind could be placed in seatback pockets were “following our guidance, if they are enforcing this with travelers.”

The agency’s response came after numerous inquiries following a flight I made from Denver to Tucson operated by SkyWest Airlines, on which the flight attendant announced before takeoff that, as a safety measure, nothing could be placed in seatback storage pockets — no eyeglasses, no ticket stubs, no iPods or bottles of water or magazines.

What. The. Hell.

I understand the ban on sticking your laptop computer into the seatback pocket. That’s a big item that peeks out of the pocket and can hurt someone if it flies out.

But a book? A sheet of paper? A ticket stub? Have we lost all sense of logic?

If the contents of the pocket are truly dangerous then ban everything. Ban SkyMall catalogs. Ban the safety cards. Ban barf bags (with ads, or with art, or anything on them.) Ban “American Way,” “Hemispheres,” and the (oh-so-creatively titled) “US Airways Magazine.” They’re a threat to your safety! Hide the kids!

For the time being, it doesn’t appear that airlines are actively enforcing this. Most appeared to be unaware of the rule — which originated in a 2007 cabin safety directive put out by the FAA — so for now, it’s still going to be the exception, not the rule, to hear this rule announced. But once is too much. This is just plain stupid.

I’m reminded of Ryanair. The much-maligned Euro-WalMart of the skies, has never had seatback pockets, as a way to save money on cleaning expenses (and restocking those magazines).

Apparently, we are all Ryanair passengers now.

(Thanks to reader Nicole Rowan for drawing the column to my attention!)


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