Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner (June)

Guest Editor Joel Chusid

Guest Editor

Human Cargo

Years ago, when I first joined the airline industry, there was a story about a woman who boarded an American Airlines flight at Kennedy Airport with a heavy garment bag.  Once on board, it was determined that the bag contained the remains of her late husband, which she was taking to Puerto Rico for burial.  Fact or fiction, it became one of those urban legends that was passed along by airline employees with story variations.  Just a couple of months ago, two women attempted to bring the remains of 91-year old Curt Willi Jarant on a flight from Liverpool to Berlin, allegedly to bury him in his native Germany. Mr. Jarant was wearing sunglasses and seated in a wheelchair. The women, who turned out to be the deceased’s wife and step-daughter, claimed the man was alive when they left for the airport.  A taxi driver who assisted in lifting the body out of the car into the wheelchair, was suspicious, and paramedics confirmed the man was indeed dead. The woman claimed they believed the man was sleeping, but pathologists later determined he had been dead for twelve hours before arriving at the airport. At least they bought him a ticket! A court date was set for June.  This brings back memories of the 1989 movie “Weekend at Bernie’s”, complete with the shades.

Comforting Words

While pretty uncommon, people who fly frequently enough are apt to experience some kind of in-flight emergency. Having logged more than 3,700 flights, it’s happened to me. I’ve had a passenger sitting next to me pass out suddenly on my shoulder, causing an immediate diversion to Phoenix, where she was removed. Then there was the more harrowing experience of losing an engine on takeoff at Dallas/Fort Worth late at night during an ice storm.  We proceeded to dump fuel and returned, landing on the frozen runway without incident. It still amazes me how smoothly that went.  Another time, landing at JFK on a KLM Boeing 747 from Amsterdam, it appeared we were clear to land on the same runway as a bright red-colored Braniff Boeing 727. There was a surge of engines as the landing was aborted and a g-around was performed. We flew up and over the New Jersey shore for 45 minutes until the plane could get back into the landing pattern. In these cases, the pilots were my heroes, and the comforting words from the cockpit over the PA system calmed everyone, as they shrugged it off as just a “minor problem”, landing without incident. To passengers flying on Iran’s Aseman Airlines aging Boeing 727-200 last fall, however, the captain’s quivering words after takeoff from Teheran were anything but comforting when he announced “The plane is facing a technical problem and has to return, so please pray.” Iranian airplanes are known to be old and not the best maintained, due to their inability to get spare parts caused by international sanctions. The plane did land safely, and maybe just a few seat covers had to be changed, but I’ve made a mental note to avoid flying on any Iranian carriers in the future.

Ladies Only

Ryanair’s pursuance of removing all but one lavatory on its planes and charging for use of that one has made headlines. Since 2006 ANA All Nippon Airlines has asked its passengers to use restroom facilities at the airport before boarding to help the environment. Now they’ve taken the step of designating one lavatory for women on its larger aircraft serving international routes. Available now on ANA’s Boeing 777s, the pink-logoed door designates the facility for the fairer sex. Exceptions are made when there are significantly more men than women on board or for other special situations. ANA has also installed “washlets”, those famous Japanese toilets equipped with a warm water spray – a far cry from the rudimentary Ryanair latrine. The ladies’ room idea is not a new one. Midway had a designated one on its airplanes, with special amenities, some years back, on its narrow bodies.

Airline 101 Logojet

With Southwest as one of the pioneers in tongue-in cheek type ads and promotions, today’s low fare carriers all try to think up something new. South Africa’s Kuhula Air recently took delivery of a lime green Boeing 737-800, and its livery reflected a real sense of humor, considering the probability that there are many Africans who have not flown in an airplane. The plane includes captions and instructions all over its exterior such as where parts of the airplane are located, but go a step further. The cockpit is labeled “the big cheese” and the lavatory “the loo – or mile-high initiation chamber”,” nose cone – radar, antenna and a really big dish inside”, “black box – which is really orange” and lots more. This one is a head-turner.

Copyright Photo: Ton Jochems. Please click on photo for full view, information and other Kulula logojets.

Too Sexy for Southwest

Speaking of humor, when Southwest Airlines began service, it was known for its flight attendants in hot pants.  Now a controversy has erupted because Southwest’s Spirit in-flight magazine has refused an ad from PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, because it felt it “wasn’t appropriate.” The ad graphic shows an X-ray of a woman wearing a bra and panties and says “Be Proud of Your Body Scan – Go Vegan”.  This brings back memories to me when, in the early years of American Eagle’s Latitudes Magazine, which I had a role in, an ad for a certain tequila had a graphic of a woman’s bare back and said “Lick, Suck, Bite” referring to the salt and lime on the glass on a margarita (in case you didn’t know). Interestingly, a similar ad using a male model had run earlier with the same caption, and no comments were received. The female version of the ad was printed, and an offended reader wrote directly to Bob Crandall, the CEO of AMR, who wasn’t amused.  After that, American Way, which didn’t produce Latitudes, had to review every ad before it was printed.

Recycling That Makes You Wonder

Airports and airlines are big into recycling these days, everything from old newspapers and drink cans, unused food, de-icing fluid and trash. A recent USA Today article did a story on this, and it was the recycling of the Delta Airlines logoed seat covers into messenger bags and laptop cases that caused a little stir on Twitter as flight attendants seemed repelled at the thought of carrying around something with a seat cover that had been sat on, spilled on and who knows what else on by tens of thousands of people….think about it.

Mishandling People

Airlines are familiar with the strict laws involving access and the accommodation of passengers who are physically challenged. Aircraft manufacturers have made changes to airplanes, and airlines have instituted training and modified procedures as a result. The laws were extended to foreign airlines, such as the one I work for, this year, and they have gone out of their way to be in compliance. But incomprehensible things still happen. United Airlines accidentally locked a sight-impaired woman on an airplane, alone, when the flight stopped in Chicago O’Hare en route from Vancouver to Jacksonville just a few weeks ago.  The crew thought all the passengers had deplaned. She heard the door close, tried unsuccessfully to open it, and wasn’t discovered until a cleaning crew finally entered and discovered her. What would have been horrible is if she had successfully opened a door that was not connected to a jetbridge! United settled the matter with a $250 voucher. A sadder experience occurred to 39-year old Welsh wheelchair athlete Richie Powell when he tried to board a non-jetbridged Eastern Airways Jetstream 41 flight at Bristol, England en route to Aberdeen, Scotland to participate in a 10K wheelchair race. Powell had flown all over the world to participate in wheelchair races since he broke his back in a motorcycle accident at age 18. He offered to pull himself up the stairs by his arms, but the airline refused to allow him to board. Luckily, a friend managed to drive him to the race.

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2 thoughts on “Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner (June)

  1. Billy

    Regarding Richie Powell unable to board a non-jet bridge Eastern Airways Jetstream 41, brings back some memories. During the late 60’s. I got the dream job of working the summers for Caribbean Atlantic Airlines, Inc ( Caribair) . No jetbridge were available at that time and passenger that required boarding assistance with wheelchairs was quite frequent. There was this narrow, aluminum chair with only one set of wheels. In order to move that chair, it needed to be tilted slight backwards. Pulling an average person of approximately 180 lbs required some muscle, especially with the narrow stair of a Convair 340/640 and would require the two people to get up the stairs and into the cabin. Since most of the customer service staff were females, guess who got the task of getting these passenger up the stairs? The part time summer job ramp agent. I never did have the opportunity to provide these services on one of Caribair’s DC3 but it must have been quite an undertaking. I guess in the long run we forget the basics of who are our customers.

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