Last night, I flew home from Chicago. As the plane taxied the runway, the guy next to me turned on his iPad. By the time we reached LaGuardia, cops were waiting to arrest him. He's now on the no-fly list.
So what happened between Chicago and New York? Well, friends, welcome to the story of the most interesting flight I've ever been on.
From the outset, there was nothing that really marked my fellow passenger (who I'll be calling Mr. No-Fly) as a potential criminal. To the contrary: when he first boarded the plane, I actually liked him. We commiserated about our fellow flyers inability to board the plane in a quick, efficient manner. We talked about the sights of Chicago. Heck, we even discussed our mutual love of dinosaurs!
But as the plane started moving, and he pulled out his iPad, I started to get a bad feeling about things. At first I gave him the benefit of the doubt: who among us hasn't wanted to flout the electronics rule? Who among us really thinks that that one iPad is going to send the plane crashing to its doom? I figured he was just trying get one over on the flight crew, and that, when they inevitably asked him to turn the iPad off, he'd politely honor their request and that would be that.
Boy, was I wrong.
As I'd predicted, one of the flight attendants did come over and ask Mr. No-Fly to turn off his iPad. But instead of simply apologizing and turning off his iPad, my neighbor responded with, "Wait, so you mean that if my iPad is on, the entire plane can't take off? I had no idea I had so much power!"
The flight attendant—who's doubtless dealt with these situations before—was not in the mood to argue. Rather than banter back and forth, he simply repeated his request, reminding Mr. No-Fly that this was an FAA regulation and federal law, not something the airplanes forced on passengers just for kicks. Seemingly seeing the logic in this, Mr. No-Fly shut off his iPad. And then immediately turned it back on the second the flight attendant's back was turned.
The second time the flight attendant asked Mr. No-Fly to turn off his iPad, he was less forgiving. This time, there were threats involved: if the iPad wasn't turned off, the plane would go back to the gate, and police could explain FAA regulations to the offending passenger in person. Shortly after this second warning, the plane's captain came on the intercom to remind passengers that, yes, the electronics rule was an FAA regulation and serious business, and something that needed to be followed. That seemed to do the trick: Mr. No-Fly finally stowed his iPad, and it seemed, at last, that we could all put this whole nasty business behind us.
And we might have, had there not been one little kink in the evening: instead of taking off at 8:30pm, as planned, our plane ended up stuck on the runway for an hour and a half, grounded by weather conditions over Lake Michigan. That ninety minute delay was just enough to tip the scale from bad to worse.
When it became apparent that we weren't going anywhere anytime soon, Mr. No-Fly announced that he was going to ask the flight attendants for alcohol. It seemed a reasonable request to me: with the combination of our delay and LaGuardia's midnight curfew, it was wholly plausible that we might not get home that night—and, well, being a little drunk would go a long way towards helping me deal with that situation.
The flight attendant—a different one this time—didn't quite see things that way. She told Mr. No-Fly that, though she would be happy to bring us water, there was no alcohol service while we were grounded. Thankfully, he didn't argue this point, and the flight attendant went to get us some waters. While she was in the back of the plane, Mr. No-Fly's girlfriend—seated a few rows behind us—came up to talk to him. But with her standing in the aisle, there wasn't a clear path for the flight attendant, and she ended up spilling some of the water onto Mr. No-Fly.
This set him off again. I didn't quite catch his side of the argument, but the flight attendant—who'd clearly been warned about him by her coworker—announced that she wasn't a waitress, but a safety professional, and that dealing with his petty concerns was not her priority. In fact, she was ready to throw him off the plane right then and there.
And she might have, were it not for those 180 other passengers desperate to get home. Though we were seated all the way at the back, in row 30, the captain actually left the cockpit and came all the back to talk to Mr. No-Fly. He was being rude, he was being disrespectful, and the crew had every right to kick him off the plane, the captain explained, but if he did that, the entire flight would have to be cancelled, and everyone would be stuck in Chicago.
Finally, Mr. No-Fly swallowed his pride, or whatever it was that was causing him to fight, and agreed to behave. He laid back in his seat and closed his eyes, and when the plane finally took off, I had hopes that we might end on a high note, with a relatively smooth trip home to LaGuardia (who, by the way, kindly extended their curfew to 1am).
But, an hour or so later, as the beverage cart rolled to our aisle, Mr. No-Fly's bad behavior returned. Despite his earlier exchange with the female flight attendant—who'd made it pretty clear she had no desire to serve him alcohol at any point on this flight—he seemed to feel perfectly justified in requesting alcohol. The flight attendant handling our requests—the same one who'd told him to turn off his iPad—didn't see things the same way. Because of the iPad, because of his bad behavior, because, frankly, of common sense, the crew had decided not to sell him alcoholic beverages. And this prompted yet another fight.
And not just a fight: a fight that involved Mr. No-Fly getting out of his seat and following the beverage cart as it made its way to the very back of the plane. I'm not sure why he thought this was a good idea, I'm not sure how he thought it was going to get him alcohol: I suppose he just assumed that since he hadn't gotten into any real trouble yet, this would be just another infraction that he could talk his way out of.
It wasn't. When we finally landed at LaGuardia, and passengers were allowed to deplane, I noticed two new arrivals standing up by the flight attendants. Police officers had been called, and were waiting for No Fly right then. Back in the terminal, I saw Mr. No-Fly and his girlfriend sitting by the gate, glumly listening to a lecture from the police.
I thought they might have let him off easy, that he might have just gotten some sort of ticket and been allowed to go on his way. But in the cab line outside LaGuardia, one of the flight attendants told me that, not only was he arrested, he'd also be added to the no-fly list for a pretty long time.
The moral of the story? Until airlines change their rules, turn off your electronic devices during take off. Most importantly, be nice to flight attendants: if you make their lives hell, they'll make sure you stay grounded for a long, long time.