Airlines have numerous rules which are there to ensure safety. This is well and good, but when the rules are applied without thought, they can work against their intended purpose. Northwest Airlines today gave me a perfect demonstration of this.
Rule: For takeoff and landing, all items must be stowed either in the overhead lockers or under the seat in front of you.
Rationale: Loose items might fly around (if not during a normal takeoff, then in an abnormal one), which would be dangerous.
Specific instance: Traal, my laptop computer. (Regular readers of my blog will understand that I refer to my laptop as "he", and with a name.)
Traal and I have flown together a number of times; I believe this is the fifteenth takeoff and landing we've made. The very first time he flew, the seat beside me was free, and he sat there with his own seatbelt. Every time since, he has ridden the takeoff on my lap, held as securely by my hands as any infant in his mother's arms. Every time, that is, until now. A flight attendant insisted that everything go under the seat; I responded by placing Traal between my feet, anchored, in such a way that he would definitely not fly around, but I wasn't too happy about his own comfort. But that wasn't good enough. He had to be flat on the floor! This is absolutely insane, because Traal is low enough (lid closed of course) to fit underneath the structure of the seat, and thus fly around the cabin, should anything untoward happen. Pointing this out was to no avail; the rule had to be followed, that was that. As a slight sop to safety, I placed my foot next to Traal, anchoring him against the seat foot (that is, my foot was between Traal and the aisle), but there wasn't much I could do to stop him shooting forward if we'd had a sudden deceleration.
As this was a direct instruction from a flight attendant, I complied, but felt I was compromising safety in doing so. The same flight attendant (Brenda Kaczanowski) insisted on my putting him under my feet for landing, so this time, as a sharp deceleration is normal, I placed one foot in front of the laptop and one foot behind - awkward but somewhat effective. It was still significantly less effective than a good pair of hands; that under-seat area is simply not designed to house an object 25mm tall (that's about an inch tall, if you speak feet and inches), but a person's lap is.
Since this time, I have been asked by two other FAs on two other flights to again place Traal under the seat. Neither time, however, was the command given as discourteously as it was the first time. Perhaps if the first request had been more polite, I would not have been so irked by it, but the fact still remains that it is safer for all concerned to keep a laptop securely in its owner's hands.
If it is Northwest Airlines' policy that rules are more important than safety, then I have nothing further to say; clearly everything is functioning as designed. However, if this is not the case, I invite Northwest to post an official statement, using the blog comment feature. (Anyone else is of course equally welcome to post their views, as is always the case on this blog.) I'd love to hear from you!