Monday, June 23, 2008

Airplane Lavatory: More Complicated Than It May Seem

On a flight from Miami to Quito, I discovered a few things about the airline industry that I found, well, newsworthy.

First things first- lightening. Miami International Airport (MIA) along with its compatriots LAX, JFK, DFW, etc… have managed to deliver wireless internet to all of its terminals. It appears they have the capabilities to land about one airplane every 1-2 minutes. And they’ve also managed to manipulate customers into thinking that $9 for a personal pizza from Pizza Hut really isn’t a bad deal. Throw in a $3 bottle of soda and you really got yourself a deal! And yet, when lightening strikes, they are helpless in the face of it. How do I know? Because I sat on an airplane for a little over three hours, parked a mere 100 feet from the gate that was empty and awaiting my plane. Lightening was in the area and apparently the entire airport, I swear to you, just shuts down. It seems to happen quick and without warning. And as I sat there, watching the rain helplessly fall, I was able to infiltrate this mysterious price raising industry known as aviation and learn a thing or two.

Flight Attendants. It’s a job that’s got its challenges so my intent isn’t to take anything away from these wonderful men and women who have, as far as I am concerned, been offering the entire can of soda instead of just the plastic cup a lot more as of late. But did you know it takes OVER 5 WEEKS of in class training to be a flight attendant. They cover the gambit, everything from how to properly wake a passenger up for his or her meal to simulated water landings that are practiced in, from what my inside sources tell me, a swimming pool. But over 5 weeks- really?

Third and most startling- the on board bathroom. Do you have any idea just how many American adults are helpless in operating the on board lavatory of your typical airplane? And no, I’m not talking etiquette rules like no peeing on the seat or no leaving paper towels all over the floor so I don’t walk out with something stuck to my shoe. I am talking the basics here people.

I had a seat near the lavatory and noticed the frequent and disturbing number of passengers who entered the bathroom after dinner was served who would enter, look around lost, and then press the help button to ask the flight attendant how to turn the light on. I once thought the bathroom was as standard an operation as the seat belt. For anyone who hasn’t been in a plane since 1963, you enter, you close the door. You lock the door, and just like that, a light is triggered to automatically switch on.

As I sat observing, I decided in honor of my Political Science degree to do a little statistical research. This may have been because due to the delay on the tarmac my IPOD was out of juice and sadly, the in air entertainment console in my seat was broken meaning I could only watch 27 Dresses with no sound. I did for a little bit, and I do believe I got as much out of it as the woman who watched it with sound next to me. It didn’t strike me as a complicated plot. As I grew tired of the muted movie, I did the only thing that seemed natural: I could count the number of people that went to the bathroom and the people who were able to successfully operate the bathroom light challenge in under one minute. Why one minute? Don’t ask too many questions.

The results: 17 out of 20 were unable to do so. I wish I was lying; it shames me to say this is true. And in case you are wondering about the three that succeeded: all three were, in my modest estimate, under the age of 15.

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