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Originally published Monday, April 13, 2009 at 11:44 AM

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Restroom rules can leave airline passengers seething or worse

Delta Air Lines passenger Joao Correa spent two nights in jail and faces federal charges because he had a bathroom emergency onboard a Delta...

McClatchy-Tribune News Service


Delta Air Lines passenger Joao Correa spent two nights in jail and faces federal charges because he had a bathroom emergency onboard a Delta flight from Honduras to Atlanta. As you may have heard, Correa, a passenger in economy class, had an arm-twisting altercation recently with a flight attendant when she wouldn't let him use the restroom in business class when the aisle in coach was blocked by a beverage cart.

On international flights, it's the rule that, for security purposes, you must use the lavatory in the cabin in which you're seated. For trying to upgrade to the business class potty, Correa is now in a heap of trouble.

Without question, I respect flight attendants, as they are the ones who are trained to save our lives in a non-bathroom emergency. Most of them are nice and will go the extra mile for you, but sometimes, as with the case of Correa, the lack of compassion is simply astounding.

A couple of years ago, a situation arose on an Air France flight that now bears repeating and over which I still occasionally seethe. On the outbound flight from Atlanta to Paris, I had been fortunate enough to be upgraded to business class, which is always nice when it happens, but on the return from Paris to Atlanta via Chicago I was in "last class," as I've come to call it, but I had a bulkhead aisle, so it wasn't so bad. (I thought.)

As luck would have it on that particular flight, every single restroom in economy was out of order except for one. That meant one lavatory for more than 200 passengers on an eight-hour flight, ooh-la-la. My seat was located right behind the working lavatory, which was in the middle of the aircraft, and for the entire eight-hour flight, the line for that single restroom was backed up all the way to the rear of the plane. For all those long, excruciating hours, I had fannies (nicest word I can think of) in my face, and every time the plane hit any turbulence I was jostled and shoved until I wanted to scream Don't even ask how many times my toes were stepped on, as I lost count after the first couple of dozen.

I couldn't move to another seat, as the flight was jammed-packed and no seats were left open. When I asked the flight attendants to please, please, please open the restrooms in business class to economy class, this is what I was told — and verbatim, I might add: "No, we can't do that. It would upset the business class passengers."

Upset the business class passengers! Well, dang! Let's sure as heck not do that! For gosh sakes, how could anyone is business possibly be "upset" over such an extraordinary occurrence as all of the bathrooms breaking down at once?

I was absolutely stunned by the utter conceit and lack of common sense of the Air France flight attendants. I've flown hundreds and hundreds of times, both in business and economy, and I have horror stories that could fill volumes. To be fair, there have been tremendously wonderful experiences, too — some on Delta, but the truth be told most of them were on flagship carriers of other countries like South Africa and Singapore. Looking back, I count my Air France experience among the worst ever of the time I've spent in the air, and even now I shudder at the smell emanating from that bathroom.

While rules are rules, sometimes flight attendants just don't get it. Passengers are humans, not mere numbers. Both Delta and Air France should be ashamed of themselves for allowing embarrassing and unfortunate incidents like these to destroy what is left of their reputations. There was time when customer care and good judgment prevailed, but I think those days are long gone, especially after 9-11. And now, because of a lack of good judgment, federal prosecutors are going to have their hands full dealing with an asinine case that should never have been brought to fruition in the first place.

Even with a few missteps, I remain loyal to Delta and even to its code share partner Air France. All we passengers ask for is a little kindness and understanding, and we'll help keep their planes in the sky.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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