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Why do airlines have such stupid rules at the airport and on their airplanes?

Updated on May 5, 2011

Who am I to answer this?

I'm glad I asked... because I happen to believe that I have good authority on the subject. I worked for a large and very fast growing regional airline for quite some time... and I'm well traveled.

I started on the front line, getting yelled at for creating severe thunderstorms with hail and tornadoes that caused flight delays and cancellations. I was called bad words and even had my mother's good name insulted because I didn't give someone a wake-up call in time for them to make their flight on time. I may have been wrong, but it didn't seem fair to delay the other 49 people that had meetings and tight connections. There's a TSA regulation behind that too. but we'll talk about it later.

I actually think alot of passenger anger stems from the fact that they do not know the incantations that airline ticket agents do to summon bad weather. Check out that tornado that I conjured up once.


During a period of heavy growth, I worked in a new market logistics position; getting different cities situated for incoming service. Trust me when I tell you that there is much more to getting a plane from A to B than a pilot and punching bag. I mean ticket agent. With that job came extensive travel. So... I've been delayed, canceled, stranded, missed meetings, lost luggage and slept in airports just wanting a hot shower and a bed.

And finally, I worked in corporate training. Simply put, we taught new hires things like ~ how to deal with getting yelled at, how to avoid hitting planes on the ramp, and most importantly what government regulatory agencies say that you can and can't do. There's also the things that they dictate what airlines must do. Failure to follow their rules can result in severe fiscal sanctions against a carrier which can also result in someone losing their job or going to jail. And yes it has happened. There was also a specialised course in weather control.

What did I get out of all that?

Besides the enhanced vocabulary... I've been in airport hell, more than once, as a passenger and as an agent. I've had a lot of experience in operations in numerous airports, from big to small and I've dealt extensively the government do's and dont's. So...

On with the stupid rules!

Why is the flight attendant making me keep my window shade up?

The fast answer is because they are required to do so. But seriously, if you pay attention, you'll notice this is during taxi out, take-off, landing and taxi in which are the more critical times in a trip. History has shown, that fire is a major contributor to fatal injuries in an accident. There have been times where people survived the impact but were killed by fire. If there is an accident, every second matters and you give yourself every opportunity to escape danger when possible and with the given circumstances. If there was fire on your side of the plane, then you can identify it and try for another way out. You don't want to jump from the frying pan and into the fire.

It's amazing how many people have an attitude about it and either argue or slip it back down when the flight attendant walks away. Remember, their main priority is safety not serving snacks and looking pretty... well not always.

Why do I have to stay seated until the seat belt sign is off?

It's done to make people miserable! Actually, I would have thought this was a little more self explanatory, but my experiences have proven this wrong. Here are 2 stories and an explanation.

I flew into an airport at a sunny place once. The aircraft was a strange French turboprop called an ATR-72. This aircraft is long and tail heavy on the ground, requiring the use of a tail stand. It also boards at the rear. These planes can, and have, tilted back setting the tail on the ground. A 300 pound weight shift will do it too. This can hurt someone on the ground, especially if they are inserting the tail stand... and it can topple people and things inside of the cabin. So the way this is supposed to play out, when we are obedient children: Plane parks. The ground crew maneuvers into position with equipment, while keeping clear of the head removing spinning props. Crew member installs the tail stand and signals the Captain. The Captain the knows it's safe to exstiguish the seat belt sign and everyone can move safely.

So back to this flight, which was only about 30 minutes in duration... The plane parks. The flight attendants gave instructions to remain seated because of the tail stand requirement blah blah blah. About 5 passengers jump up before the plane stops. The flight attendants ask for them to remain seated. They were both hunnies so I would have done what they would've asked. There's this guy, with a mullet, who we will call "meathead." He was too cool to sit back down so he just stood there, smacking gum, despite the repeated requests of the hunnies, I mean flight attendants. He had on really cool blade shades, that he probably wears in Wal-Mart at night, and an 80's Hulk Hogan style tank top. He had huge muscles. I won't say what came to mind but it rhymes with steroids. Fortunately he didn't walk to the back because he was big enough to tilt the plane back. He really couldn't because a flight attendant was there trying to get him to take his seat.

He really showed everyone how cool he was though, by taking a stand against a very serious safety rule. In fact, there's something called intefering with a flight a crew, so Meathead got to talk to a couple of badges before he could get into his Hummer and leave the airport. I don't what his problem was. Maybe he has a small umm bladder, or diarreah and really had to go. A minute is a long time to wait when you've gotta go, gotta go right now.

The more common reason for staying seated is that only the Captain knows when the plane is done moving. Passengers cannot see what they see. They may have to suddenly stop short for ground traffic, or stop and restart quickly. Either way, a person standing can get toppled or an overstuffed bad can fall on someone because a meathead has an overhead bin open. Makes sense to me...

It seems invariable that there will always be the few that have to jump up first and start opening overhead bins. It's usually the same ones that talk real loud on their cell phones so that everyone will know that they are more important than everyone else on the plane. Maybe these types can get regulation passed to where the plane just stops when they stand up so they can proceed to the boarding door and deplane.

The video shows the white elephant Airbus A-380 hitting a Comair CRJ-700. The CRJ looks tiny compared to the big bus but that's still around 60,000 pounds getting slapped around. With the position of the CRj and it's red strobes on, it was very likely the passengers would have been seated. Had people been standing and or overheads open, there would have been injuries.

Why must I turn off my portable electronic device?

Someone probably just made this rule up to prevent an important big mouth from saving the corporation they head from a complete financial meltdown. What did they do before cell phones?

Modern airliners are are pretty sophisticated. Even more sophisticated is the variety of navigation and communication equipment on a plane that is needed for it to complete a flight operation. Yes, your electronic devices have, can and will cause a problem. One such case was where 2 laptops were linked via a wireless connection. Things got interesting on the flight deck. You will find that the no electronics rule is when the flight is below 10,000 feet. That's because the flight crew is busy getting the plane out of, or into the traffic pattern. It's also when they are the busiest flying the plane and talking to Air Traffic Control. The world's busiest airspace is New York with the combined traffic of LaGuardia, JFK and Newark. Even if I were that important, I wouldn't want to even remotely risk causing a glitch while the flight crew is trying to safely navigate the plane into heavy traffic.

There's still the special few, though, that will hide their phone until the flight attendant walks by; only to resume use since they are too important for safety rules to apply to them. Then there's always a couple that make that crucial phone call only after the boarding door has been closed and the crew have requested for electronics to be turned off. I'm beginning to believe that there's a certain catastrophe that happens at someone's office every time an aircraft boarding door closes.

Why is there a cut off time for check-in?

Call me Captain Obvious... but here goes. Why should a group of passengers be delayed because I forgot to call someone to tell them what time to come to the airport.

When the TSA formed after 9/11, it changed the way that passenger and baggage screening was done. For better, and sometimes worse, they rolled out a lot of new regulations for the airlines. It seemed like something new every day... It goes without saying that it was pretty chaotic while everyone tried to get back to normal business.

A TSA policy was put into place that airlines were not to check baggage within 30 minutes of scheduled departure time. In fact, airline computer systems are programmed as to not even allow a bag tag to be printed once cut off time hits. Reason being that the TSA needs sufficient time to complete screening in time for the airline(s) to load up and depart on time.

It's not an airline rule and it's not the the agent's way of keeping someone there so they can get yelled at. Believe me, agents want you gone and on time. Yes there are ways to "override" this but it is wrong. There were initially very strong warnings not to do it and an agent was potentially risking their job by doing the favor. A problem was that small airports would do a favor which gave stragglers an assumed permission to be late at a larger airport and it wasn't gonna happen.

Another thing to consider, even on a good day it is important that a flight leaves on time, not early either. Busy hubs generally have limited gate space and slot times for gates are limited. ATL is probably the best example and even more so with the regionals, since their turns are more frequent. A plane arriving just a little early or late will often result with a plane sitting on the ramp or even a taxiway, wasting fuel, white waiting for a gate. Many times, it will cause gate changes which just makes it hard on everyone.

If being on time is unreasonable, then people should write to whomever and ask for legislation requiring all airlines to operate on the last passenger's schedule. I'm just sayin...

Why is my golf club broken?

It could be because the guys in Miami are on camera playing luggage basketball again.

In my experience, it's usually because someone decided the send their clubs in a substandard bag. In my humble opinion, valuable golf clubs shouldn't be in anything less than a hard case. Golfers value their clubs more than their spouses so why not spend a little more to take care of them... Using an open top bag with a nylon snap on cover just isn't gonna work. Club damage became so frequent in some markets, one airline required customers to purchase special boxes for clubs at $10. Not a bad price but the program didn't work out. There was a shortage of boxes and some pretty ticked passengers so it was withdrawn.



I'm not completely defending the FAA, TSA or the airlines as I certainly have my gripes with each. There's certainly room for improvemt. I'm just giving facts. The safety rules are justified so they really don't bother me. Rude and obnoxious people do though. Treating an agent or flight crew member bad will not get your way or undo any other type of irregular operation. Pushing it too far may get you arrested.

It takes a widespread network of people and closely coordinated events for a single flight to operate. There's hundreds of flights from some hub airports. Looking at the big picture, it's a miracle things go as well as they do. There's very heavy regulation in the industry, most of it for the good and safety of the industry. Pushing the government for further regulation would cause just as many problems as solutions, but that's another converstation.

Just a tip... It's always good to check with your airline to find out what their check-in requirements are as well as the TSA. Policies do change from time to time so it's best to be prepared ahead of time.


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    • Anita Hasch profile image

      Anita Hasch 16 months ago from Port Elizabeth

      Thanks for a interesting and informative hub. Good to receive some insider knowledge.

    • profile image

      mikeydcarroll67 2 years ago

      Pretty interesting insights into what happens behind the scenes. It's always good to know stuff like this!

    • JPac1 profile image

      James Packard 3 years ago from Columbia, Missouri

      Thanks for adding some perspective to an often misunderstood industry. It's frustrating to see people get so worked up about something they don't have the full story on... kind of human nature I suppose. Great hub!

    • freecampingaussie profile image

      freecampingaussie 4 years ago from Southern Spain

      Where has common sense gone ? It should be obvious that these things are said for a good reason and your safety. The crew has enough work to do without putting up with annoying passengers. Some people just shouldn't travel on public transport !

    • Wr1t3r profile image

      Melanie Mason 4 years ago from Oregon

      Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!! As a flight attendant it is nice to see someone lay it out so matter-of-factly. Some day I will have a t-shirt made for any off duty flight attendant or gate agent that says, "I think it's cute you think I can control the weather." I'm guessing it will be a big hit.

    • JPac1 profile image

      James Packard 4 years ago from Columbia, Missouri

      This is a very informative way of answering some of those questions- there's always more to the story than meets the eye. While not an airline employee, I am also well traveled and am very interested in the airline industry. I'd be interested to get your perspective on a hub I wrote on this subject.

    • profile image

      Dan 5 years ago

      As a fellow airline employee I can honestly say this is one of the best articles I have ever read! I always wished I could get this info out to the public!

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 6 years ago from Albany, GA

      Thank You

    • hummingbird211 profile image

      hummingbird211 6 years ago from Delhi,India

      I so agree with everything your article says.Great work !!

    • Ramona M profile image

      Ramona M 7 years ago from California

      I don't like to fly any more, either...

      But I love your article. It's very informative and was fun to read.

    • freecampingaussie profile image

      freecampingaussie 7 years ago from Southern Spain

      loved your hub ! I like to have the blinds open when flying & always keep my phone etc off when flying & never miss a flight as are always early - flown a lot internationally & domestic !

    • GoingOnline profile image

      GoingOnline 7 years ago

      You forgot to mention why my lipstick is a serious security threat and the water bottle I bought on the shop at the airport another.

      But I understand, better safe than sorry :)

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 7 years ago from Albany, GA

      Thanks Trekka!

      Thanks DzyMsLizzy! I must admit I would've like to take care of a couple folks myself but it would've been job, jail and revoke flight privelages.

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 7 years ago from Albany, GA

      Andrew: I added 2 links- 1 from the FAA and a NY times article. I may consider doing some type of article about inteference...

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 7 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Great explanations! Good job! My father was an instrument mechanic for a major airline, so he earned discount flights, and as a result, I got to visit my New England relatives several times in my growing-up years.

      I used to love flying, and we always used the experienced-traveler practice of loosening lap belts, but not removing them during the entire flight (except for a lav visit). You never know when you are going to hit some "rough air" that can bounce you out of your seat!

      As far as planes sitting on the ground waiting on the taxiway, my dad took flying lessons in his bachelor days (in small planes, but the rules were the same), and if I recall correctly, planes coming in for a landing have the right-of-way over flights about to take off. If an incoming flight is slightly delayed, or had to do a go-around, then, yes, you are going to wait your turn out on the tarmac. NBD! You may not see said incoming flight, but at the speed planes fly, it will be there very soon, and in any case IS visible to the radar in the tower. Chill, already! (Although, I will agree that the recently publicized 4-hour 'sit & wait' was over the top...)

      However, ever since 9/11, I've not wanted to set foot on a plane. TSA notwithstanding, I feel that newly-created agency in large part, window-dressing, as witnessed by a few incidents recently where the "bad guys" have managed to sneak explosives on board. Luckily, it was discovered in time, but ... who knows what day it may not be. It sickens and angers me, as I so used to love flying.

      And no, being rude and acting like a privileged jerk is never acceptable. If the traveling public were not so fearful of 'getting involved,' any number of other passengers could easily "take care of" the gum-chewing-early-standing jerkazoid with tactics that might cost the flight attendant his or her job, but with which a member of the public could get away easily. Just sayin' ... ;-)

    • profile image

      Paula Garrett 7 years ago

      Thanks for taking the time to explain. It's great to see an insider's view for a change and know that there are 'real' reasons for these rules.

    • Andrew Gubb profile image

      Andrew Gubb 7 years ago from Barcelona, Spain

      Thanks Sean, I'd be interested in those links. Send a comment when you add it, okay? :) Thanks!

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 7 years ago from Albany, GA

      Thanks John! Somedays I feel like rye and other days I feel like whole wheat.

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 7 years ago from Albany, GA

      Andrew: I agree and it doesn't help public perception when airline staff and crew members give dismissive explanations. Cars do not have near the equipment that airliners have. Even a different wavelength could cause inteference. It doesn't mean it will always happen, but it can and has. I will add some links regarding this. Thanks for your comment!

    • profile image

      John MacNab 7 years ago

      Thank you BigSeanR. You have a rye sense of humour. I love it.

    • Andrew Gubb profile image

      Andrew Gubb 7 years ago from Barcelona, Spain

      I think the main problem people have with the rules is that no one likes to be told what to do when they don't know the reason for it. It's only normal to assume the worst if people don't explain and think they're doing it to be assh*les.

      The whole thing about the cellphones has always confused me a little. Cellphones don't interfere with cars, why would they interfere with planes? Shouldn't a plane be receiving signals on a different wavelength to a cellphone? I've never known an instance of a cellphone interfering with any equipment I had, actually.

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 7 years ago from Albany, GA

      I agree that people should be respectful from both sides of the ticket counters and security checkpoints, however the specific situations discussed here are about safety and trying to maintain a schedule. I don't see why someone would feel their rights are violated in these instances.

      No one is going to arbitrarily leave a plane sitting on the tarmac to waste fuel and jack a network of schedules. Both are costly. There's a lot of coordination going on between different people to get planes where they need to be. This is usually more complicated on the ground at a busy airport than in the air cruising. Many times the airlines are at the mercy of ATC. It is very safety related because a plane cannot move until all issues are resolved within the scope of the above said coordination.

      Many times planes are held because of issues at the downline city... or on an inbound, ground and gate congestion. Sometimes it's plain incompetence in this chain of communication. Agents and crew members often do not take the time to explain what's happening in a specifc situation and at times will give a mindless excuse to keep moving or avoid confrontation with an angry mob. It's a pet peeve of mine. Safety is sometimes a hollow explanation but it doesn't make it a lie or a conspiracy.

      I am not dismissing the bigger controversial policies and procedures here in terms of the TSA and passenger screening etc. but that was not the topic of this article. Getting strip searched has nothing to do keeping your seat belts fastened.

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 7 years ago from New York

      I'm tossing in my 2 cents worth. Good hub but I must say people do get testy when they feel their rights are infringed upon I flew in 1998 and was Told we sit on the tarmac for 'safety precautions' which at 9/11 we all discovered That was a bogus reason. I don't fly anymore because the TSA has no excuse for rudeness either anymore then passengers may have. Except the passengers are the ones singled out for 'random' checks even if those passengers just happen to look Middle Eastern.

    • serendipitypalace profile image

      serendipitypalace 7 years ago

      Great pictures, interesting articles. Keep up the good work!

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 7 years ago from Albany, GA

      Thank you so much.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Oooooooh! So THAT'S why they ask us to keep the shades open! Duh! I hadn't thought about fire as being something people would need to worry about OUTSIDE the plane.

      I really appreciate the insider explanation here! Excellent, wonderfully done Hub.

    • BigSeanR profile image

      Sean Reddish 7 years ago from Albany, GA

      Thanks! I may do something on the ATR-72. The small pic is and ATR.

    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 7 years ago from Virginia this is a hub filled with information that I did not know....I loved your personal stories you sounds like the ATR-72 is a very unusual plane...and would be interesting to see....great hub...voted up and useful and funny


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