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Queueing up - against the law?
January 7, 2004 9:13 AM   Subscribe

The United States of America bans urination. "The U.S. Transport Security Administration are now requiring that passengers on flights to the U.S. are not to congregate in groups in any areas of the aircraft, especially around the lavatories..." When did America become one big Onion article? More importantly, why does the American public let their government *do* this kind of thing? And what are you doing to make things better? You know - other than complaining about it in your weblog.
posted by kristin (47 comments total)

 
Australia
posted by andrewzipp at 9:17 AM on January 7, 2004


If queueing up is outlawed, Post Offices everywhere are going to be in big, big trouble!

Apparently, the US Transport Security Administration have never sat in coach in a plane that has sat on the tarmac in a 'holding pattern' at Logan for 5 hours, drinking bottle after bottle of Evian to cool off as the plane baked under the summer sun.

What is the alternative? Some surreal game of 'whack a mole', as passengers with weak bladders hop up and down in their seat, waiting for the opportunity to dash down the aisle as the bathroom comes available? What happens if 2 people make a run for it at the same time? Will the new Air Marshalls shoot them?
posted by kristin at 9:19 AM on January 7, 2004


Hell, I never go when there's a big line anyway... too creepy for me.
posted by BobFrapples at 9:19 AM on January 7, 2004


This is such a third- and fourth-hand story I am not sure how indignant I should feel about it. Regardless, no one is suggesting that people not go to the washroom on such flights, but that as many obstacles as possible be put in place to a possible hijacking.
posted by tranquileye at 9:22 AM on January 7, 2004


More importantly, why does the American public let their government *do* this kind of thing? And what are you doing to make things better?

Oh, behave!!
posted by archimago at 9:23 AM on January 7, 2004


bush administration = FEAR

how many american citizens died as a result of terror last year? and how many to cancer?

jeezus.
posted by specialk420 at 9:31 AM on January 7, 2004


I've been on some flights where the captain makes an announcement about congregating at the lavs during the flight. They starting doing this right after 9/11. Other times they don't bring it up. Some times they'll only mention crowds at the front lavs. People still due queue up but not more than one or two people. I do since if you don't get in line someone sitting closer will jump in their before you.

Getting up and stretching ones legs should still be OK -- or at least should be due to health concerns with sitting in those cramped seats.

Flying is so not fun anymore.
posted by birdherder at 9:37 AM on January 7, 2004


It never corssed my mind to gather in groups in any spot on a plane. If standing in like with two people ahead of me is outlawed, then so be it. But I don't think that that is what the law has in mind. If a bad person (terrorist) is inside the bathroom, what does he have that he brought through a checkpoint before boarding? It is an American's right to protest. Also his right to piss in his pants to avoid a group of guys who might want him for immoral purposes.
posted by Postroad at 9:38 AM on January 7, 2004


I've said it before and I'll say it again: completely seal-off the cockpit of all commercial airliners. That will solve all of the problems that this and sundry other idiotic security measures have been put in place to address. Think of the time, money, and possible lives that would be saved if reaching the plane controls simply was not an option, no matter how many nail files or chopsticks you had.
posted by squirrel at 9:40 AM on January 7, 2004


A brave experiment, was air travel.
posted by jon_kill at 9:43 AM on January 7, 2004


And to think we wouldn't have to worry about this if we all had those damn flying cars we were promised.
posted by keswick at 9:57 AM on January 7, 2004


I don't need flying cars. I have my PTD (Personal Teleportation Device), all for me, none for you. Nyaaah.
posted by dvdgee at 10:01 AM on January 7, 2004


"completely seal-off the cockpit of all commercial airliners." - so logical, this squirrel. I'd add - give the pilots a hidden "sleep gas" button (or tear gas, whatever). If the plane is in danger of being taken over by terrorists I'd guess that, as a last resort, the passengers would rather get gassed (to incapacitate the terrorists) rather than die in a huge fireball as the plane slams into a skyscraper.

But nobody ever listens to us. We're just rodents and fish to the man.
posted by troutfishing at 10:12 AM on January 7, 2004


how many american citizens died as a result of terror last year? and how many to cancer?

And how many of burst bladders?
posted by rushmc at 10:14 AM on January 7, 2004


I suggest mandatory sedation of all passengers for the duration of the flight. It would solve so many damn problems for everyone involved.
posted by badstone at 10:16 AM on January 7, 2004


> And what are you doing to make things better?

What do you mean, better? I think anything that discourages people from catapulting themselves around the globe and instead encourages their being content to remain where they are makes the world a better place. Look what globetrotting did to North America! If Europeans had just stayed home in Europe like they should, you wouldn't even have a U.S. government to piss and moan about. Damn right, lock up those bathrooms. Make 'em walk out on the wing.
posted by jfuller at 10:27 AM on January 7, 2004


And what are you doing to make things better?

Look, America operates on the principals of the free market. If you don't like what the airlines' new travel restrictions, send a message by not buying airline tickets.

This is precisely the reason why I'm giving up air travel in favor of the elegance and grandeur of classic steamboating. Sure, it takes longer. But no one asks you to take of your shoes, and you don't have to give up your knitting needles.
posted by eatitlive at 10:27 AM on January 7, 2004


*off your shoes.
posted by eatitlive at 10:28 AM on January 7, 2004


>I suggest mandatory sedation of all passengers for the duration of the flight. It would solve so many damn problems for everyone involved.

Heh......anyone ever read Stephen King's short story 'The Jaunt'? That's the first thing that came to my mind after reading this suggestion.
posted by rlb141 at 10:34 AM on January 7, 2004


Maybe it's an attempt to disrupt these notorious evildoers.
posted by homunculus at 10:44 AM on January 7, 2004


The United States of America bans urination.

When are they going to do something about farting in elevators?
posted by y2karl at 10:58 AM on January 7, 2004


Moving around the aircraft, including going to the lavatory, is already banned on any flight within 30 minutes of Reagan National. Which means that for many East Coast flights, they simply tell you to stay in your seat. Too damn' bad if you need to piss.
posted by SealWyf at 11:16 AM on January 7, 2004


Since when do the American public *let* their government do anything?
posted by agregoli at 11:25 AM on January 7, 2004


And what are you doing to make things better?

Ok, has anybody set up the Cafe Press store to sell items with the slogan "I love to pee... and I vote!"?
posted by ilsa at 11:30 AM on January 7, 2004


This is a totally reasonable policy. First of all, don't mistake "queue for the bathroom" with "congregate in groups." The journalist goes right ahead and blurs the two, but there is a distinction. No one's going to tell you you can't stand and wait to pee. Though that mistaken supposition gives urgency to this otherwise petty gripe, it's phony.

Can you blame airlines if they are suspicious about 4/5 people congregating in a circle near the rear of a plane? Where else would you have room to assemble/conceal a weapon, or have a private planning huddle?

And it's just a policy, a guideline. People still do sit and gab, cocktail in hand, down by the galley/bathroom, but now flight crews will break this up if they want to.

People who sit and jabber at the rear of airplanes are uniformly garrulous and annoying, the worst kind of power-tie, happy hour salespeople you'll ever see. I think I can live the rest of my life without the ability to sit and flap my gums outside an airplane shitter.

I'm going to go complain about something more important on my weblog now.

squirrel - I'm pretty sure that cockpit doors have been reinforced and fitted with locks now.
posted by scarabic at 11:48 AM on January 7, 2004


Oh man, no one told me about that Regan National 30-minute Rule, and of course, once they told me I couldn't get up and pee last Summer when I flew out there, I immediately had to go. It was the most uncomfortable 30 minutes I've spent in a very long time...

I think maybe I need to create "I love to pee... and I vote" t-shirts. :-)
posted by greengrl at 11:55 AM on January 7, 2004


"I love to vote...and I pee" would be funnier, if not more confusing.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:15 PM on January 7, 2004


how many american citizens died as a result of terror last year? and how many to cancer?

I'll pick up those gloves: According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 500,000 Americans die of cancer each year. I'm not sure how many dozen Americans died from "Terrorism" around the world last year, but just for yucks, let's compare the 500,000 to the number of American troops in Iraq: iraqometer says 145,500. We can even add the total number of dead Iraqi troops and civilians as well as the victims of 9/11. That gives us about 167,000 people whose lives have ended or been consigned to desert fighting due to "Terror" since 9/11. Shall we say 250,000 people worldwide? That's over 2.25 years, so in the same period cancer has killed 1.1 million people--just in the US.

Of course, there's not so much the Bush administration could do to fight cancer....Except that Harvard also notes 30% of US cancer incidence is linked to tobacco use, 35% to obesity, diet, and lack of exercise, and 50% is deemed "preventable" by altering diet, exercise, alcohol, and tobacco use. Using the figures above, that means the score since 9/11 is 250,000 people worldwide to terror (conservatively counting all soldiers in Iraq as dead....) and 550,000 people to preventable cancer--just in the US.

In case you were wondering, the UN says the population of Iraq is 23 million. So, Saddam would have to have killed 1 of every 46 iraqis in a year to be as deadly a force as cancer is in the US. Or 1 of every 92 Iraqis in a year to be as deadly a force as "preventable" US cancers.
posted by shinnin at 12:21 PM on January 7, 2004


No one's going to tell you you can't stand and wait to pee. Though that mistaken supposition gives urgency to this otherwise petty gripe, it's phony.

I'm not sure about that. The warning I heard the last time I flew specifically mentioned standing and waiting to pee. Something like, "Airline policy now prohibits standing near the front of the plane. Please refrain from waiting or forming lines near the front airplane lavatories." They went on to suggest that passengers wait near the rear lavatory, instead. It wouldn't surprise me if you can still get away with it, especially if you're a little old lady or something, but they certainly do tell you that you can't stand and wait to pee.

Heh......anyone ever read Stephen King's short story 'The Jaunt'? That's the first thing that came to my mind after reading this suggestion.

I had exactly the same thought. There's no way I'd ever fly sedated, after reading that!
posted by vorfeed at 12:54 PM on January 7, 2004


I've said it before and I'll say it again: completely seal-off the cockpit of all commercial airliners. That will solve all of the problems that this and sundry other idiotic security measures have been put in place to address.

Yes, but what if the assigned commercial pilot flying the plane is the terrorist? Making the cockpit unassailable provides no recourse to passengers and crew who may otherwise elect to end things differently á la Flight 93.

The smart terrorist would use whatever overreactive behavior we display as the key to the next attack. Instead of a vague feeling of unpreparedness we would then feel completely powerless in a damned if you do, damned if you don't sort of way.

I certainly hope that posting this sort of 'advice' online does not set me up for an extended stay in coastal Cuba courtesy of Mr. Cheney.
posted by Fezboy! at 1:11 PM on January 7, 2004


People who sit and jabber at the rear of airplanes are uniformly garrulous and annoying, the worst kind of power-tie, happy hour salespeople you'll ever see. I think I can live the rest of my life without the ability to sit and flap my gums outside an airplane shitter.


scarabic, disliking the people you see doing a thing makes a poor argument against their freedom to do it. The question of freedom to loiter, whether on a suburban curb or near a cockpit door, shouldn't come down to *who* is exercising that freedom.

Also, folks waiting for the bathroom are standing, not sitting. Flapping their annoying gums or not, they're probably also stretching their legs. On long flights, I recommend it, as I think you would do. ;^)

Finally, whether or not the cockpit doors have a lock, pilots still come in and out of there. Which is why this rule is needed in the first place. If there wasn't a door to the cockpit, why not let the people roam around the plane, handing out jihad tracts and trimming their finger nails?
posted by squirrel at 2:30 PM on January 7, 2004


Ok, I'm confused. Pretty much every flight I have been on in recent memory has had a "lavatory free" light, so when the light is green you can head to the WC. Obviously if someone else is already in the aisle then you can't go. Are these info lights optional?
posted by milovoo at 2:51 PM on January 7, 2004


scarabic, disliking the people you see doing a thing makes a poor argument against their freedom to do it.

Indeed it does make a poor argument. But come now. That was just a comment tossed in after the actual argument. There is a time-honored balance between small conveniences and safety to think about here. Stretching legs does feel good during a long flight. Stand next to your seat, walk the aisles. No one has said "stay in your seat," the rule simply discourages forming clusters.

Finally, whether or not the cockpit doors have a lock, pilots still come in and out of there.

aha... all the more reason not to let people stand there, waiting for an opportunity to push their way in. Until every plane is redesigned to give the pilots their own bathroom, this seems like the only solution. The logic behind this is supported by vorfeed, who says that he was encouraged to stand in line at the rear, but not the front of the plane.

Until someone comes forward with a story of being asked to return to their seat while waiting in line, minding their own business, this is just bugaboo. If everything they say over the PA were enforced without nuance, we'd actually have to listen to that crash safety routine.
posted by scarabic at 2:57 PM on January 7, 2004


What do you mean, better? I think anything that discourages people from catapulting themselves around the globe and instead encourages their being content to remain where they are makes the world a better place.

It certainly helps keep people ignorant and uninformed about the larger world, resulting in international policies such as those currently practiced by the U.S. government and supported by many citizens. So if that's your definition of a better place, well...
posted by rushmc at 3:01 PM on January 7, 2004


The logic behind this is supported by vorfeed, who says that he was encouraged to stand in line at the rear, but not the front of the plane.

I'm a she, actually. Anyway, I get the logic behind the decision, but I still don't think it's a very good one. This isn't going to make airplanes much safer - I'd say that anyone standing over by the bathrooms long enough/often enough to purposely encounter a pilot is going to attract suspicion from the flight attendants, so you don't really need to ban the harmless form of the activity.

Relatively silly measures like this (and the whole nail file/knitting needles/small pocketknife ban) make me feel less safe, not more. For every dollar it takes to develop ideas like these, there's one less dollar being spent on more serious security measures.
posted by vorfeed at 3:52 PM on January 7, 2004


obviously, special interests have influenced the TSA.
posted by elwoodwiles at 4:04 PM on January 7, 2004


Sorry about the gender thing.

I think we're on the same page, but on opposite sides of the spine. Establishing a "ban" on something doesn't mean it will always be enforced unilaterally. Setting a policy like this simply backs up the flight crew in the event that they need to ask someone to sit down. You don't leave them hanging in a policy vacuum and expect them to work out every individual case on their own. You set a standard, and if they choose to let it slide, it's their enforcement prerogative. It may invite inconsistency in enforcement, but in the area of airline safety, that's a small price to pay.

Speaking of price, what precious security dollars is this costing anyone? And these important yet unfunded initiatives are...?
posted by scarabic at 4:09 PM on January 7, 2004


Personal issue: after what he did, National Airport will never be "Reagan" National.
posted by swerve at 4:25 PM on January 7, 2004


The question of freedom to loiter, whether on a suburban curb or near a cockpit door, shouldn't come down to *who* is exercising that freedom.

No - and usually (as is the case here) it isn't a matter of who, but rather of where. There are already all manner of laws and regulations governing "loitering" in different public places (a group of noisy salesman - or anyone else - can loiter on suburban curbs ... but most assuredly cannot do so in front of a jury in a courtroom, or in the middle of a public school classroom ... etc., etc., etc.).

Behavior on planes is quite regulated (and already was before 9/11) because an airline cabin is understood to be quite a specialized, somewhat unique environment. This hardly seems like some profound limiting of constitutional rights - in fact, to the vast majority of frequent flyers it is more like simple common sense. You are perfectly free to get drunk and hoot and scream the words to your favorite song in a bar, but you sure as hell will have that "freedom" limited on a plane (much to the relief of every other passenger aboard).

In fact this regulation makes a good deal of sense (if it even exists ... the article itself gives no information at all about what the US TSA has requested or required). The little information that is there seems to come in a quote from Qantas, that says, specifically:

The U.S. Transport Security Administration are now requiring that passengers on flights to the U.S. are not to congregate in groups in any areas of the aircraft, especially around the lavatories ...

What is initially interesting is that this information - when it got translated into The Guardian's own unique worldview - turned into the headline "Australia's Qantas May Ban Bathroom Lines" - which is quite a bit different - and then got further translated into MeFi's own unique worldview as "The United States of America bans urination."

The regulation itself, however, make a good deal of sense (in fact, probably the only reason it is an issue is because pretty much anything the US government does at this point that involves security regulations will be criticized and mocked.

Even prior to 9/11, groups of people standing around anywhere on a plane was almost always a bad idea - for reasons ranging from common courtesy to safety ... planes do experience turbulence - I have seen people standing up suddenly seated on someone else's lap, seen drinks spilled on other passengers, and even a couple of minor injuries. There's a reason why airlines have long tried to limit the time anyone spends standing - and in fact even when seated, ask them to keep seat belts fastened. Planes are thin tubes of metal that fly several hundred miles an hour, 4 or 5 miles above the earth, through highly unpredictable air ... they aren't freaking cocktail lounges.

The rule would have made sense prior to 9/11 - but after 9/11, the security aspect makes it even more practical. Why are lavatories a concern? Because the details of security work entail envisioning scenarios (and putting regulations in place to make it much more difficult for hijackers to execute them) - and a high number of hijacking scenarios involve the lavatories ... because it is the only place on an airline where a person can do things privately (like assemble something). Furthermore, in a good number of airlines, at least one of the lavatories is close to (if not right next to) the cockpit. If you are responsible for securing airlines (and not just writing about security in your weblog), it would seem like preventing a group of people from congregating anywhere - and especially around a lavatory door - is pretty much Security 101.

With any proposed regulation (and especially airline regulations), there's always a trade-off between the collective gains from the regulation and the limitation of individual freedom ... but in this case, I mean really ... how many people will feel their freedom "limited" because they have to stop standing around in a group on an airline? (I fly pretty much weekly and can't remember ever having done so - it just is not something that is common behavior on an airplane in the first place ... and the few times I've seen others doing it, they have always seemed to piss other passengers off, create safety issues ... aside from the issue of security threats).

This whole thing would be a non-issue if the good 'ol Guardian hadn't put that ridiculous (and untrue) headline on the article. The regulation doesn't forbid lines to the restrooms (there's a difference between a line of people waiting for the restroom, and a group that has congregated in front of it). It doesn't forbid people from stretching their legs on long flights. It does nothing but limit a behavior that very few people ever do anyway, and has several pretty damn solid reasons for doing it.

Yet we told this makes America into a giant Onion article, and asked why "the American public lets their government *do* this kind of thing". Ok, here's several reasons:

1. Because most Americans don't read the Guardian.
2. Because a number of them that do read it now and then are aware that the Guardian's headlines often have no factual relationship to the actual content (which is often picked up from wire services, but is not as provocative without the misleading headlines).
3. Because when a regulation aimed at a particular group (like airline passengers) actually makes sense to - and is even liked by - the large majority of that group, Americans consider that an expression - not a limitation - of "Democracy".

Most airlines travelers agree that the collective cabin environment, for instance, is greatly improved by the complete ban on smoking (even a lot of smokers don't mind it). And I'd be willing to bet that not only have very few ever particularly wanted to mill around in groups, but will probably see the limitation on those few who do to be quite an improvement.
posted by MidasMulligan at 4:49 PM on January 7, 2004


I think we're on the same page, but on opposite sides of the spine.

Yeah, we are. It annoys me that anyone would bother making a rule about bathroom lines at the front of the plane, but it's well within the rights of the airlines to do it, and for the most part it won't cause much trouble.

Speaking of price, what precious security dollars is this costing anyone? And these important yet unfunded initiatives are...?

The cost is however much it took to pay someone to come up with the idea and then disseminate it to the airlines, and then for the airlines to pay someone to spend time on it, themselves. Granted, it's not much, but the cost is there. Also, there's a non-currency cost of time and effort that could be better spent elsewhere, here. There's a lot of time being spent on enforcing the list of not-very-dangerous banned items, for example. Every time they have to confiscate some guy's set of nail clippers or pocketknife keychain, that's another two or three minutes blown.

As for unfunded initiatives, guards on airplanes would be number-one on my list. I know it's not a new idea, but why not put a big guy with [a nightstick | some pepper spray | a gun | whatever] in front of the flight compartment door? I mean, if banks have guards, why not planes? [ /derail ]
posted by vorfeed at 6:32 PM on January 7, 2004


Question: in the domestic American airline market, how many deaths due to terrorism were there in the thirty-odd years before 9/11?

Answer: NONE.

What is it you-all are protecting yourself from again?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:13 PM on January 7, 2004


Answer: Er, I think we're trying to protect ourselves from people that want to hijack planes, and either blow them up, or crash them into things.

Oddly, a fairly considerable number of Americans seem to think organizations that have already executed more than one attack in the the US, and numerous attacks overseas, and are publically threatening future ones ... may actually constitute a threat. But I guess we-all are just being silly.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:57 PM on January 7, 2004


I'd add - give the pilots a hidden "sleep gas" button

They should do this on every flight. No more bitching about food, no crying babies, no weird people trying to start conversations. And of course no hijackings.
posted by PrinceValium at 8:11 PM on January 7, 2004


Welcome back, Midas. Or at least, long time no read.

The key word in your response is trying. That's a far different thing than succeeding.

For instance, one might try to protect himself from being eaten by a brontosaurus. I don't think it is entirely honest to then claim that one has succeeded when, indeed, no brontosaurii eat you.

There is no possibility of successfully hijacking an airplane any more. Passengers are quiet clear on the need to attack hijackers. The military is prepared to drop a hijacked commercial airliner from the sky. The plane is no longer a viable weapon of targetted destruction.

So there's no point in protecting against the danger of a gang of would-be hijackers clustering outside the airplane toilet: they're a figment of an overactive imagination.

It's tinfoil lunacy.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:25 PM on January 7, 2004


If only they really would ban urination, especially thread urination. Anyway I say let them ban it-- I personally hate to hae someone's ass in my face when I'm sitting near one of the lavratories. Let them wait their turn like civilized human beings.
posted by chaz at 11:33 PM on January 7, 2004


All this air travel security is getting out of hand. If I was directing Al-Quaeda, I'd keep making discreet leaks about an impending attack on a plane, then target something far less difficult, like a packed commuter train.
posted by salmacis at 6:30 AM on January 8, 2004


The only time I have ever seen someone hanging out by the lav was when they were drunk and hitting on a stewardess (so, twice). If it prevents that sort of thing, I'm all for it, and perhaps it means that the steward / stewardess lobby is stronger than we know.
posted by milovoo at 9:46 AM on January 8, 2004


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