How to react when a passenger hops on the airplane

One of the proudest moments of my life was getting to jump on the southern approach to the runway for takeoff in Los Angeles. In December 2012, we boarded Air France 447 in Lusaka,…

How to react when a passenger hops on the airplane

One of the proudest moments of my life was getting to jump on the southern approach to the runway for takeoff in Los Angeles. In December 2012, we boarded Air France 447 in Lusaka, Zambia, and we hit and then touched down hard hard on the tarmac. On reaching the landing the wheels dropped over the tarmac, smashing the wheels on two wheels. Thankfully, only a minor part of the aircraft fractured, but the turbulence had lifted it off the tarmac and positioned it on its right side in the air, preventing damage to the left-side engine. Though I have flown commercial aircraft since my teens, and had a membership in an airline frequent flier program before my first trip to Los Angeles, I’d never actually jumped on the runway.

Some people literally jump on a plane. A man who decided he wanted to reach L.A. in a hurry on a European flight to Los Angeles had decided he had to get his landing gear down as quickly as possible. The plane was surrounded by first-class, first-class cabin crew and other passengers, and the man was yelling, “I’m jumping on!” The flight was a Virgin flight and, the next morning, airport police met the plane to ensure the man was OK. After waiting until everyone else on the plane had been seated, he boarded, still wearing the clothes he had worn that night, and positioned himself on the right side of the aircraft. It takes less than a second for the landing gear to drop onto the plane, the engines to cut, and the airplane to shoot forward.

But the next time I traveled internationally with a group, we decided we’d rent a car to get to our destination, especially since the AAA mileage could be used only in rental cars and not in airline seats. That time, we flew Continental, and as we pulled out of the airport, we’d heard a few members yell, “That guy who hopped on the plane is standing there. We have to get him off.” Continental may not have been the best airline at getting people off the plane, but they are in the business of getting people on it.

But, of course, it’s not just the flying; it’s how it’s being done, the companies that want to get people on and people that want to get off. In 2009, a passenger and I decided to pay extra money and avoid airport security and other waits to take our shoes off and had them put back on. In the airport, there were specific areas where we could wait. But when we arrived at the curb to get our shoes back on, the six people with their shoes had been chosen. I decided to get ahead of the other four, and I had no shoes on, so I went down to the first set, and the guy with all the shoes on had none left. That led to a conversation I’d never had before. Had I paid extra money to skip security, I could have been waiting for an hour and a half. It was a nice, brief conversation, and a couple of years later I learned he was a colonel and he died a month later. I forgot about it until today, and it’s brought this incident to my mind. Maybe some people are too busy or too lazy to understand that a formal apology or explanation might be best to build a relationship. But it might not be worth it to pay the extra dollar for security. If I were to go to the airport to say I did it, I’d probably be turned away.

An etiquette question: Do your first class or first class business seats have different seats?

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