You don’t know you did it because you were in a rush to get to your connection at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. This was not a delay caused by the airline or by the weather, it was caused by the inconsideration of a fellow passenger. Let me explain.
On 22 December 2016, I hopped on an American Airlines flight (AA 4054) from Norfolk, Virginia (ORF) to Washington D.C.(DCA). There I was to pick up a connecting AA flight (AA 4142) to Savannah, Georgia (SAV) to be a +1 at an event on the 23rd. We had a short ground delay in Norfolk, but we were wheels up pretty quickly for the 40 minute flight north.
The flight to D.C. was uneventful. That is until we aborted the landing because, as the pilot said in his announcement, he was uncomfortable with the separation between landing aircraft. We bolted out to the west and rejoined the pattern to the south of the airport for a second approach. This time there was no issue and we were on the ground heading to the apron area where the Canadair CL-65 aircraft were serviced at a common gate. There was a younger woman a few rows ahead of me who was agitated about the “go around”, concerned it would cause her to miss her connection. Even with the short ground delay and the second approach to Reagan National, we landed close to our published arrival time. The passenger a few rows up was working herself into a lather.
If you have been in the AA terminal at Reagan National where the regional jets are managed, you will know that you do not arrive at a gate. You arrive at an aircraft parking area where passengers are unloaded onto buses that take you to the nearby terminal building at Gate 35 X. Your departure from the aircraft is really dependent on either the slowest baggage handler or slowest passenger deplaning the aircraft. With the opening of the cabin door and the placement of the ramp off the jet, we began gathering our stuff from overhead bins and headed out. My young friend about two rows up had really spun herself up and, in her haste to deplane, caught the strap of her bag on the armrest of one of the seats in row 8. Instead of reaching down to release it, she gave a violent jerk and pulled her bag away from the obstruction. In doing so she ripped off a large plastic piece of the armrest and scurried off the plane (to wait in the bus). An older woman immediately ahead of me from row 9 stopped to move the broken piece of armrest out of the aisle. The rest of the passengers exited the plane, collected their red tag bags from the baggage cart beside the plane and boarded the bus for the terminal. Once there I saw our young, agitated traveler hop off the bus at a run and disappear into the terminal.
My flight to Savannah was scheduled to board very soon after I entered the terminal. I had enough time to use the rest room before hopping back on a bus that would bring me to my next regional jet. Once I was aboard the bus with my fellow passengers we went out to the aircraft. I was amused to note that we pulled up in front of the very aircraft I had just arrived on from Norfolk. We waited on the bus for 45 minutes for a “maintenance issue”.
While people were generally in a good mood because of the holidays, it was a little confining to be packed into a bus, standing, on the tarmac waiting to board a plane. Patience was beginning to wear thin as we cooled our heels.
We finally did make it on to the aircraft. I said “hi” to the flight attendant who recognized me from the first leg of the trip. She asked me where I was sitting on the first flight and then asked me if I had seen someone damage the seat in row 8. I told her the story and she just shook her head. We were going to be an hour or so late into Savannah because American Airlines maintenance had to effect a temporary repair to the armrest. Once the jagged plastic remaining on the armrest was taped up, no longer posing a threat to crew or passenger safety, we were off to Savannah.
My point here is that the young, impatient traveler on my first flight, who was so annoyed at the potential of being delayed or missing her next flight, did not take the time to calmly free her baggage strap from the armrest and leave the aircraft. As a result, she damaged the armrest, created a minor safety issue for the airline, delayed 50 people from leaving on time to their destination (although I doubt anyone was connecting to a flight out of Savannah) and put that aircraft behind on the rest of the schedule for the day. That may have had consequences on crew availability. All this during the busiest travel period of the year. While being in such a rush, her lack of courtesy probably inconvenienced hundreds of people during the rest of the day. I wonder how many people missed connections on the other legs flown on that aircraft because of the hour delay she unnecessarily and unwittingly created.
There are unintended consequences from our actions. I think that if were all a little more mindful of our behavior and treated our fellow travelers with a little respect, those consequences may be more positive. We really do impact the lives of other people with our actions, even those with whom we share a fleeting moment in an airport or an hour in an aircraft.