Saturday, January 28, 2012

Opinion: Bulkhead travel on B777 (with Toddlers)

Don't you love it when people step on your toes?
Well, that's what happened to me on a recent AA flight and probably to thousands on other airlines as well.

On a recent flight from Buenos Aires to Miami, we were sitting in the bulkhead on an American Airlines B777 flight. In the economy class sections, there was no way of getting to the other aile on this flight, except for passing through the galley, or of course, one of the two bulkhead rows. Some flights have an aile in the middle in an area which is also used for the galley, but on this jet this area was used for crew sleeping quarters. As a result, many a passenger accidentally stepped on my toes (I usually take off my shoes on flights as my feet tend to swell).

The bulkhead does not allow passengers for bag space (except for in the overhead compartments) since there is only a wall ahead of us, so we had to put our toddler's toys and various bags with snacks, books, etc. on the floor. When he was sleeping on our laps (which is also an important substitute to a crying baby), it was also inconvenient if people bumped into him during their travails across the bulkhead row. So this made it extra inconvenient for people with kids, in addition to the normal annoyance of people wandering across our already limited space.

So my strategy was to block off the entire row by telling people politely, while our fellow bulkhead passengers followed through by telling people from the other direction.

As we neared our destination, a more aggressive passenger asked for me to move while I was on the floor picking up toys, as he needed to get through to the other aisle. I told him directly, that this wasn't an aisle (camino), only to be abruptly corrected by the AA flight attendant passing through who told me that he was entitled to pass through the aisle if the galley was blocked (which only is a temporary phenomenon that we all know from single aisle flights). This was not the answer I had hoped to hear, and I think this is an awful solution for an airline.

Firstly, let's analyze why most people use the bulkhead as an aisle:
1) To use the toilet on the other aisle as people often don't have the patience to wait for the single toilet in the middle section (flights without the sleeping section usually have more toilets in the middle).
2) Visiting friends or family at the other end of the cabin. A good reason, which we can all understand.
3) Kids playing. Also a good reason, since especially boys usually have ants in their pants and parents appreciate the time they can go out and burn some energy.

So what should the solution be?

In theory, the airlines should ensure there is a cross-aile connecting the two parrallel ailes in order to ensure that people can be brought together.

BUT going through the bulkhead rows is NOT the optimal solution: it only annoys passengers sitting in the bulkhead who -- as mentioned -- don't have the luxury of bag space in the seats in front of them. Furthermore, airlines like to put families with children in this row.

SO the airlines need to make space for a hallway/aisle somewhere in the middle. BUT this probably means 5-7 fewer seats on that given flight, which in turn would hurt the bottomline of already cash-strapped airlines.

In conclusion, we thus have three options:
a) Slightly higher ticket prices (as a result of removing seats)
b) Ticked-off bulkhead passengers.
c) Getting rid of the crew sleeping area

.... why do I have the feeling that option B will prevail, and I can continue whining indefinitely ????

Having unrested and edgy flight attendants is certainly to noone's benefit.

Do you have a good solution for this?