Here in the friendly world of the comics, I have often been unfriendly to the airline industry and government security apparatus that oversees it, especially since Sept. 11, 2001.
Yes, we needed stouter security in light of that day's disasters. But did we also need stupidity?
What else to call a system where inspectors ordered 2-year-olds to remove their shoes?
What else to call a system where 80-year-old women were searched simply because their brassieres had built-in wire supports?
Stupidity is what I called (and still call) the notorious "30-minute rule." It locks you into your seat for the first or last half-hour of any flight into or out of National Airport, despite any message your bladder might be sending.
And stupidity is what I call the experience of George Jones of Fairfax.
A few months ago, Brother Jones boarded an American Airlines flight in Miami that was bound for National. As he clomped through the first-class cabin, en route to the regular folks' seats, "I was pleasantly surprised to run into a friend of 20 years' standing whom I had not seen in a couple of years," George writes.
Rather than block the aisle, George told his pal that he'd be back to chat as soon as the fasten-seat belt sign had been turned off. But when George tried to pay a first-class cabin visit about a half-hour later, a flight attendant stopped him.
She said George could not set foot in first class.
George was disappointed, but he didn't argue. He started to return to steerage. As he did, the flight attendant said:
"It's a federal regulation."
It's a federal regulation to keep the common folks away from the fat cats?
Last time I checked, Marie Antoinette was not running the United States government. Gosh, those first-class passengers might choke on their brie if they had to suffer a hearty hello from a lowlife who belonged back in coach.
Could the flight attendant's pronouncement possibly be true? And "if so, for what possible reason?" George asks.
"The next thing you know, we'll find out the federal government mandates the lousy airline food," he comments.
George must be among the .000001 percent of the flying public who actually gets a meal in coach. Whenever I fly in the cheap seats (which is 99.9999999999 percent of the time), the only food I receive is a bag of moldy peanuts and a tired-out Diet Coke. Even the snooty Ms. Antoinette proposed cake.
Anyway, George and all readers may now breathe a sigh of relief. The flight attendant was not enforcing some Machiavellian federal policy to keep the rich away from the unwashed. There is no such policy. Still, the official explanation from American Airlines is a little odd.
Todd Burke, a spokesman for American, said the company does not bar coach passengers from chatting with first-class passengers in flight. However, it's a violation of federal law for any passenger to disobey any flight attendant, Todd said. So if George had gone into first class, he would have been out of line.
Please don't think that flight attendants order passengers around for random reasons. Usually, Todd said, special security-related policy will have been ordered by the captain before takeoff.
There's heightened security awareness aboard every flight going into and out of Washington, Todd said. "Under the security umbrella, I can't share too much with you," he said. But to prevent two pals from asking about each other's wives and kids? That has zero to do with security.
I'd put this tale right up there (down there?) with inspecting the shoes of 2-year-olds and the bras of great-grandmothers. Not for the first time, the airlines and the government are painting with too broad a brush.
When it comes to diplomats, I've seen both kinds. Some follow local laws to the letter. Some arch their noses into the air and act as if no local law applies to them.
Roberta Colton of Northwest Washington has a story about a diplomat who hits both categories.
Roberta lives across the street from the Dutch Embassy. Her house has a driveway. So does the house next door. There's about six feet of curb space between the two driveways.
That's not enough for any car longer than a shoe box, and it's way less than D.C. law requires parkers to have. According to the local code, no vehicle can park within five feet of a driveway on either side. So whenever a vehicle parks in the Colton Space, it's violating the law twice -- once with each bumper.
Because the Dutch Embassy lacks sufficient parking on its grounds, embassy employees park in the Colton Space all the time. The other day, Roberta decided to strike back.
She left a note under the windshield wiper of a parked car with DPL tags. The note was very polite ("Did you know that D.C. law provides . . . "). By that evening, Roberta had almost forgotten having written it.
About 7:30 p.m., the doorbell rang. A woman asked if Roberta had written a note she had found on her windshield. When Roberta said she had, the woman apologized profusely, said she was unaware of the D.C. law and promised never to do it again.
Nice outcome! Of course, there'd be more of same if the State Department would be more serious about educating diplomats when they first get here. All new arrivals are given a quickie guide to local rules and customs. But parking is a hot-button subject in Washington, D.C. Arriving diplomats ought to be told so.