We have all heard the flight attendant tell us whenever our flight is ready to take off:
"We remind you that this is a non-smoking flight. Tampering with, disabling, or destroying the smoke detectors located in the lavatories is prohibited by law."
And it has been the law for some time. Starting with the ban on cigars and pipes in 1979 up to the complete ban in 2000 when the "no smoking" lamp was permanently lit on flights.
No more cigarettes served with your meal. No smoking/no smoking sections. And out went those quaint little ashtrays in the arm of your seat.
At least, I thought that was true. Until I sauntered up to the toilet on my last flight.
When I sat down, this was staring me in the face. A forbidden ashtray. In the very room where tampering with the smoke detector is prohibited by law.
Because I love wading through the ripples of unintended irony, I came out of the bathroom laughing, Of course, the flight attendant turned around to see who could possibly be happy while experiencing a modern flight.
I pointed to the door and asked: "Isn't that a bit odd? It is illegal to smoke on a plane [please note, I slipped into the passive voice of regulatory bureaucracy to emphasize my point], but there is an ash tray? In the bathroom?"
Completely nonplussed, she responded as if the question came right of the flight attendant manual: "We need a place to put a cigarette if someone lights up."
She seemed to be rather proud of herself. And was not very pleased when I responded: "Really? That doesn't make any sense. You are going to put a smoking cigarette into the smallest room in the aircraft? The only room with a smoke detector?"
But I have been getting similar answers from airline employees recently. On my flight back to Mexico following my Phoenix visit, the Los Angeles desk clerks had created a swirling mass of chaos during the boarding process.
The first call was almost 15 minutes late. When the passengers in my cabin were called to board, we were all refused boarding because our passports had not been validated. That was a new process to all of us. Usually, passports are checked along with boarding passes.
So, we all went to the back of another long line. When I got to the front of the line, I asked why the new procedure had been implemented. "Because too many passengers had lost their passports in transit."
When I suggested that did not make much sense since Alaska always checked passports before boarding international flights, she fell back on: "Because we are requiring it."
After having our passports "validated," we got back in line. The clerk at the front of the line told all of us: "If you have not had your baggage tagged, you must leave this line and go to that line." The passport validation line.
That is when the patience meter tilted for three of the passengers, who rightly asked: "Why didn't someone tell us that when we were over in that line?" Actually, there were some additional adjectives I have omitted.
They went to the line and were then told if they only had carry-on, no tagging was required.
The rest of the tale is not very pretty. But you get the drift.
Frankly, I was surprised that any of us were allowed on the airplane in our various moods. My seat mate told the flight attendant when she served the meal: "Please take the knife away. I am not certain what I might do with it."
Interestingly, I discovered some of the same mood when I visited my former employer's 100th anniversary celebration on Tuesday. I am a bit reluctant to write about my observations.
We shall see tomorrow.