7 January 2004

[US] Toilet queuing ban requires tact

A US demand for airline passengers to be banned from queuing for the toilet would need to be handled tactfully by Qantas, acting Prime Minister John Anderson said today.

Mr Anderson, who is also transport minister, said the government had no plans to similarly ban toilet crowding on incoming flights to Australia.

Qantas began informing passengers last night about the toilet queue ban but said it was too early yet to gauge customer reaction.

'The US Transport Security Administration are now requiring that passengers on flights to the US are not to congregate in groups in any areas of the aircraft, especially around the lavatories,' a Qantas spokeswoman said.

If the new counter-terrorism measure became an international industry standard, it would probably curtail airlines' plans to make bars and duty-free shops new features of in-flight service.

Mr Anderson said the directive seemed hard to handle.

'I guess what the US authorities are looking for is any kind of suspicious congregation of behaviour that might be in some way related to, you know, preparing for something nasty to launch an attack on a plane or something like that,' he said.

'This is going to require a bit of commonsense and a bit of tact.

'I wouldn't want to overreact, but I'd have to say, as the reports at the moment, I have to say do sound a little bit hard to handle.'

Qantas is advising passengers during the safety instructions and the pilot's first public address of the toilet restrictions.

God help anyone who reads an almanac to pass the time while they queue for the toilet. Stupid security measures happen for a lot of reasons. One reason is sanitary imperialism where the US starts issuing peremptory commands about how to use a toilet. If it had been handled in the usual way by government-to-government negotiations half the world might not be laughing so hard.

One hopes the next US diktat will not call for the shooting of any queuers. It's a 14 to 16 hours by air from Oz to the US west coast. A bladder can last only so long. Is jumping up and down with your legs crossed a permissible behaviour? Does the diktat tell us how many people define a queue? Is it hands up or else if you reach the toilet and discover you're not the first arrival?

Perhaps aircrew should just make frequent announcements that anyone who wants to use the toilet should raise their hand and wait for a flight attendant to give them permission.

Anderson was right that this order requires tact. He's a competent acting PM so I trust he'll use it when he discusses this idiocy with the US.

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