Travelers Tangle Over Baggage Placement

July 4, 2017

in Luggage Stories

This probably wasn’t a flight from Hell, but it was at least from Heck, or maybe Purgatory.

One year, when my wife and I were still being held captive in Connecticut, we were able to make our arrangements in September to fly back to Georgia for Christmas. We chose to fly Independence Air with a connection through Dulles. Purchasing the tickets so far in advance not only got us a pretty decent price, but also gave us an almost empty plane from which to choose our seats. Since I’m 6’4″, I chose to sit in the exit row for both legs of the flight (a habit I picked up from the rest of my family who unironically call me “Shorty”). Since they flew primarily CRJs, the seating was 2-2.

The hellish (heckish) part of the flight began about a month before we left. I received an e-mail stating that my flight arrangements had been changed. I logged in and looked. The leg from IAD to ATL was now leaving at a different time and we were no longer sitting in the exit row, but one row back. The only thing I could figure was that because of lack of demand, Independence had reduced the number of flights and started combining them.

On the day we actually flew, our first leg was uneventful. We then boarded our connecting flight (a little late because of normal holiday madness around the airport) and took our seats. I had checked my bag and placed my small carry-on (just a change of clothes and some reading material) in the overhead bin so I could actually use what legroom was available instead of having to use the space under the seat in front of me.

A few minutes later, the people who took our exit row seats came down the aisle, an older couple (older than me anyways; probably early sixties) with their adult daughter and 10 year old grandson. The older gentleman was seated in front of me. He proceeded to try to stuff his fairly large roll-aboard bag underneath his seat where my size 14’s were. After a couple of minutes of him trying to fit the bag over the bar which is supposed to prevent my bag from hitting his feet, I decided to intervene. I politely informed him that if he wasn’t placing his bag in the overhead, it should go underneath the seat in front of him. He told me I was wrong, that his feet would go underneath that seat and his bag would go under his own seat. After a few more minutes of discussion, I told him he had three choices. One, he could trust that I, a fairly frequent flier and former airline employee, was correct and put his bag where it belonged, two, he could call the flight attendant (there is only one on the smaller CRJs) and he could tell him where to put the bag, or three, he could keep trying to shove the bag where my feet were, but if he succeeded, I would promptly remove the bag, place it in the aisle, and deny any knowledge of its origins. He chose option two.

When the flight attendant arrived, he confirmed what I had said, much to this man’s chagrin. He then asked how old the grandson was. When the answer of 10 was given, he replied that occupants of exit rows must be at least 15 years old. The gentleman answered back that they couldn’t separate the family, and since it was Christmas time, there weren’t four empty seats available. At that point, I volunteered that my wife and I would be happy to trade seats so that they could remain together. This made the flight attendant happy, made me happy, but royally ticked off the older gentleman (his wife, daughter, and grandson had been silent throughout this entire ordeal). He was grumbling about it at least until the engines started and kept shooting me dirty looks, which I ignored.

About half-way to ATL, the captain came over the loudspeaker and said that we had a mechanical problem and had to return to IAD. Of course none of us were happy about that, but what can you do? We landed, deplaned, and wandered through six or eight gate changes before we finally were boarded onto a new airplane (cockpit crew and flight attendant were wandering with us in the airport just as lost).

It was like the movie Groundhog Day. We took our assigned seats (though in hindsight, we probably should have sat down in the exit row). The family that had been in front of us came down and we had the same disagreement about where his bag should go. Then the flight attendant came down and told the man where to put his bag (though I think at this point, he might have had some better suggestions where he could shove his bag). Once again, there was an argument about the 10 year old, but this time, before I could volunteer to switch seats, he took the child to the back of the airplane where there was one last empty seat on the flight. I wasn’t about to try to sit next to his mother after all that happened, so I sat next to my wife and risked the damage to my legs and knees dealing with the seatback leaned back into me rather than risk escalating an already hostile situation.

When we finally got to ATL, we got off the plane as quickly as we could while the family in front were still waiting for the child to make his way up to them from the back of the plane. We don’t know (and don’t want to know) what happened after the flight; all we knew was that we didn’t want to be around if there was any more trouble.

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