Window seats for the proud, the brave, the slender


THE AIRLINES are sure getting bossy. They are dictating to infrequent fliers as if they don't like us anymore, which I've suspected for years anyway.

Now they have these new rules:

* "The blind, the deaf, the obese, children, the frail elderly, the pregnant and the 'immobilized'" passengers are among those who will be barred from sitting next to airplane exits under the new safety rules.

* Only English speaking passengers willing and able to open emergency exits -- primarily over the wing -- who can help evacuate an airplane will be seated in exit rows.

* Exit passengers must look through the window to be sure it's safe to proceed. They must locate and operate the latches and must move heavy doors in window exits.

These new boot-camp rules don't give me the extra psychological push I need when enplaning. I just don't trust airlines like I used to.

Well, let me take it back, I like the way they fly. I like the pilots and the planes. But I hate the way the airlines lie to us, the way they treat us and our luggage on the ground.

How many times have I heard this while waiting two hours in the airport between flights: "Attention all passengers for Flight 1070 for Cleveland. . . . The flight is canceled due to mechanical difficulties"? Now what that means to me is that there was a bunch of salesmen who were "no-shows" and they didn't call to cancel so the airline decided that it is not worth the money to take the plane up with so few passengers.

And another trick they seem to revel in is: "Sorry, Sunday is 'blacked-out' for your return." Now blacked-out means that their advertised super-duper saver weekend rate is only good if you come home on Monday not Sunday when you want to, which of course makes you miss a day of work or an important meeting. But that way they make more money selling you their overpriced regular fare and they get to load those planes with an equal distribution of human bodies.

The good news about the new rules is that United and USAir plan to give exit-row passengers written information about their duties when seats are assigned. Hey, I can hardly wait.

Well, I can go along with the "immobilized" part of the new safety rules, but does all this mean airlines think planes are going to be crashing more often? And does this mean we all have to check the man or women who has been assigned the exit-door seat to see if they are too fat, too young, too feeble, or worse, that they are drinking too much?

I can tell you, lots of fat people are very strong. These rules reek of discrimination against fat people.

All I can say is that right now I am six pounds overweight, and I do not know anything about emergency-door operations. I also don't know how to get that flotation seat out that flight attendants always talk about when they give in-flight briefings. I have tugged at the seat when we were over water but it hasn't budged, perhaps because I was sitting on it.

I wonder whether the airlines will give 10 percent discounts to the "Door Rambos" who will be assigned the exit-row seats?

And now about that phrase "mechanical difficulties" . . .

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