I carry (or roll, as has become the norm) my bag aboard most of the time-- all of the time if the trip is outbound international. There is a reason I have a bag that fits in the overhead, and that reason is because I need it to BE in the overhead when I land at my destination. If I arrive late at the gate and the overhead is full and I am traveling coach, I dutifully surrender my bag at the jetway door without a whimper. Those are the rules. Odds are, it will beat me to the carrousel anyway. After all, it’s reasonable to conclude that they’re not going to put it on the wrong airplane, since I have already delivered it to the right airplane, ten feet from the cargo bay door.
But if I’m flying first class, I unfailingly expect there to be overhead space to accommodate my bag. Do the math. There is sufficient bin space in the first class compartment for the number of seats, barring somebody traveling with a surf board. The problem, when it occurs, is that the cabin crew often put their roll-aboard bags in the first class overhead bins.
There have been occasions, when traveling in first class, that I have been advised that all overhead space is full and that I must surrender my bag on the jetway. Invariably, I explain that I will be able to find a spot because there is probably a crew bag occupying my space, and we’ll simply need to find alternative arrangements for it. As you might imagine, this proclamation is as well received as a fart in church. The dialogue generally flows along the lines of:
“No, I don’t want to wait for my bag at the carrousel. That’s the reason I don’t check. I travel with a carry-on so I can carry it on. I understand the problems with overhead space in coach when the flight is full, but there’s plenty of space in first.”
“I’m sorry sir, the overheads in first are full.”
“That can’t be, unless some coach passengers stowed their bags in first, or there may be crew luggage up there. Let’s check.”
Reality suddenly strikes. I am actually suggesting that a flight attendant remove her bag and “ramp check” it rather than inconvenience a first class passenger with the whole carrousel adventure. (A ramp check is what they do with child seats and strollers. They are stowed in the baggage compartment, last on, and returned to the jetway, first off, upon arrival.) In a service business, this makes eminently good sense.
We usually come to an impasse. Someone is going to be inconvenienced. Let’s see. . . who should it be? Should we inconvenience the customer (the GOOD customer….the Two Million Mile customer) who pays everybody’s salary, or should we inconvenience the hourly employee? Hmmmm. . .that’s a tough one. . . .Let’s think about this. . . .
Trying to get some prima donna flight attendant with thirty-year seniority to comprehend the rationality of my position is hopeless. If it comes down to a pissing contest, the prima donna usually wins, but I give it a good fight.
I had, on one memorable occasion, an encounter that one such prima donna won’t soon forget. I boarded late in the process, and the attendant advised that I’d have to check my carry-on bag, as all the overhead space was full. I told her that I was in first class and that we’d be able to find space. She insisted that this would be impossible. I countered that there was probably a crew bag that we could check.
She stared at me incredulously as I explained that if someone must go wait at the carrousel, it made more sense that it be an employee rather than a customer. “Or does that sound unreasonable?” I added.
Rather than answer the question and either agree with me or appear unintelligent, she countered with “Would you like to speak to the Captain,” glaring at me with eyebrows raised to her hairline.
“Sure,” I responded.
She disappeared into the cockpit, reappearing shortly with a smug “He’ll be out in a minute,” as she turned and stomped back into the galley.
Within moments, the Captain emerged from the flight deck and stepped out onto the jetway. As luck would have it, my Captain that day was a good friend and neighbor, Pete Brennan.
“What seems to be the problem, sir?” he inquired, fully in Captain character and not acknowledging that he knew me.
“I was explaining to your diva here that I’d rather not check my bag, and insofar as I’m in first class, we could probably displace a crew bag to make room for mine since I am the customer.”
"No problem, Sir," Pete replied playing it to the hilt. Let me have your bag. I'll personally give it back to you as soon as we land."
With that, in full view of my erstwhile adversary, he snatched the bag from my grip and scrambled out the jetway door and down the steps to the ramp. I smiled at the Gestapo and asked for a Heineken as I passed the galley. She was speechless.
As soon as the aircraft bobbed to a stop in Atlanta, Captain Pete was out of the cockpit and waiting for the gate attendant to position the jetway and open the door. Like a five-star bellman, he hustled down to the ramp and returned, bag in hand. By now, the flight attendant was clearly apoplectic. The fact that some jerk passenger had bested her in a pissing contest and had her Captain slinging bags like a skycap was more than she could countenance. Pete later told me that she slowly built pressure, not mentioning the incident for several more legs, then, unable to contain herself, she erupted. Something about undermining her authority, a delusional notion at best, insofar as Pete was the Captain and had absolute authority over everything and everyone on his aircraft. He explained
his accommodation on the basis of our long standing friendship, but that didn’t mitigate her volcanic fury. The woman clearly had some anger management issues, because he said she didn’t get over it for the remainder of the trip. In retrospect, I’m just thankful that she didn’t dump a hot cup of coffee in my lap.
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