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Peter Mandel

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Five Fine Whines About Air Travel: I Want My Bottle Now!

Posted: 11/01/11 10:15 AM ET

You've been bad, very bad, so there won't be supper. No blanket, either. Want your bottle? Sorry. No free pours on tap for this teetotaling flight.

Airline passengers live the life of a toddler in the process of being punished. And, thing is, we're never sure exactly what we've done. We can whine and shake our rattles all we want. It doesn't matter. Mommy and daddy -- disguised as airline management and in-flight staff -- say NO. Just remain in your seat.

In truth, with daily spankings from every aspect of travel, we passengers have grown passive. We're spooked, in fact. Frightened that, if we squeak about conditions, a pair of handcuffs will come jingling down the aisle. Enough, I say. Time for us to stretch our legs and say our piece. Even if the seat-belt light says SIT.

Here's my personal list of whiny, flying-baby complaints. I'm sure you've thought of better. Make Mommy (sorry, I mean the airlines) pay attention. Tell us your own pet peeves by adding a comment to this column. And if you work for an airline or airplane manufacturer, I urge you to jump in and tell me why my whines are way off base.

Mandel's Top Five Whines About Flying:

Please stop pretending about tilted seat backs.

In an economy cabin, on a normal day, maybe a third of passengers slam their seats back as far as they feel like and kneecap the guy behind. I know the airlines say it's allowed. I know the seat-tippers say it's their "right." But let's face the painful facts. There simply isn't room. Right at this moment, the guy in front of me has jolted his seat back while I'm trying to eat dinner. It's tipped over my beer and is pressing against my knees, pressing hard. I am only 5' 9". Time for airlines -- yes, you know who you are -- to restrict the tilt angle. And do it now.

Move that seat pocket -- yes, you can do it -- so it's out of the way.

While we're on the subject of leg room (and I use the term loosely), who was the genius who positioned airline seat pockets at precisely knee level? I want to meet him when he graduates from grade school. Pockets are, of course, jam-packed with bloated catalogs and folded barf bags and safety cards and magazines. Their fabric rips and drapes. They suck up precious centimeters of space! Time to follow the lead of short haul flights in Europe where seat pockets have been moved to the top of the seatback. It works just fine up there. And it isn't anywhere near your knees.

Bring back the overhead duct that lets us little baby passengers blow some air.

Maybe you thought we wouldn't notice if you took it away. You know what I'm talking about: that adjustable circular duct near the reading lights (that, by the way, are almost always broken). I'm not naming names or numbers about particular airliners -- okay, I will name one, the aging, ultra-uncomfortable 747 -- but gradually, sneakily, these ducts are going the way of the logo airline bag. Did you really think that computerized master control of cabin temperatures would work? It doesn't. Like a busy box for babies, that miniscule plastic ring was one of the few things we economy passengers could control. Each of us, even in a humble middle seat, had one that we could call our own. You took it away. So give it back.

Make seat designations or letters reflect where the seat is.

Okay, so this sounds pretty trivial. That's me. I'm petty. We cattle-like passengers have always wondered why we have to look at some silly seating chart to see where seat 33K is on a particular plane. Don't mess with us here. We need to know a simple thing: Is 33K a window, an aisle or a middle seat? That's all. Add some computerized code or symbol to make this clear, in no matter what context, so when we look at our booking we'll know if we need to try and change it.

Take away that strip of supermarket-bright fluorescent lighting that turns window seats into a noontime hell.

Maybe, like me, you go for a window seat when you can. When I was a kid, I always loved the relatively calm, dim space here with only a glow from the sky and clouds outside. Someone, somewhere, decided that it was a brilliant idea to light us window-seaters up from above as if we were carrots or melons in the produce aisle of an A&P. (There he goes, again, that aircraft genius.) Let me be blunt. Turn the Klieg lights off. White, fluorescent beams equal stress, and we've got enough of that already.

Stress, I said. Not sure what that means? Please see above for whines one through four. And do it nowwwwwww!

Peter Mandel is a travel journalist and the author of ten books for kids including his newest about a guy who runs a jackhammer and uses his belly on the job: Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook).