Corporate Overrules Pilot in Class War Pillow Fight

If you lose a pillow fight on Sun Country Airlines, do not ask the pilot to help. The pilot is responsible for life-or-death decisions in the cockpit, but only the flight attendants have power over pillows.

This urgent dispatch comes from Reid and Cindy Johnson of Elko. Cindy, 49, has suffered from excruciating back pain for years, despite three surgeries, therapy and more. Desperate, last week the Johnsons visited a New York clinic that promises help. Cindy underwent painful treatments involving large needles before she and Reid headed home on Sun Country. Feathers started flying immediately upon boarding.

As the Johnsons made their way to their seats in Coach, Cindy grabbed a pillow from an open overhead compartment. It wasn't much of a pillow - one of those magazine-sized things that have no heft - but Cindy hoped to stuff it behind her on the three-hour flight home.

Not so fast.

A flight attendant with a smile on her face grabbed the pillow from Cindy and put it back in the overhead compartment. Pillows, she said, were for First Class Passengers.

Cindy explained about her back, but Smiley Face was unmoved. "Rules are rules," she said. Cindy repeated her plea. Smiley Face nodded toward the open cockpit, where the pilots were making preflight checks, and said Cindy could take her pillow case to the pilots, if she wanted to.

Sun Country claims that the Johnsons barged in on the pilots. The Johnsons are adamant that they were instructed to ask the pilot for a pillow, and say the whole experience was an exercise in the absurd - so absurd that an incident report filed by the crew alleges that Cindy didn't have a limp until after she was refused a pillow.

"Pillows are for the First Class people," said Bud Fisher, a Sun Country spokesman. "Only First Class passengers get pillows because of the expense that would result from offering pillows to all passengers."

"We have one of the best in-flight crews of any airline," he added. "They are known for being as hospitable as possible."

True, I hope.

But I have known the Johnsons for 20-some years, going back to my days as TV critic at this newspaper, when Reid was the WCCO-TV news director. We didn't agree on everything, but I know him to be a devout Lutheran, and I believe that the Johnsons do not lie or limp on command. I have never heard Reid cuss, but I heard him splutter when I told him how the airline responded to the pillow story.

"I was with Cindy the whole time. She did not open the overhead. She grabbed one pillow, not more. She was instructed to talk to the pilot. There was no shouting. If anyone said we were causing a delay and to sit down, we would have. I cannot believe they are taking this tack. Sun Country? This is Dark Side of the Moon Country. I can't think of a word for this that is printable. All we wanted was a pillow."

This shouldn't have become an example of loutish customer service. This one might have come out right.

When the Johnsons talked to the pilot, he took pity on Cindy and said sure, she could have a pillow.

That's when Smiley Face, the flight attendant, reasserted her authority.

The captain was wearing the wings, but Smiley Face was wearing the pants.

Smiley Face had jurisdiction over pillows, but the pilot said he would call someone in management to see if a pillow could be procured.

"I didn't know there were corporate pillow people," says Reid. There are, and when they weighed in, the Pillow Protocols stayed firm.

Reid was in an aisle seat and could see up front, into First Class.

Smiley Face was handing out pillows to First Class people. One didn't want a pillow. So Smiley Face gave two to another First Class Person.

In conclusion, I offer a travel tip to help us out in perilous times: If you are not seated in First Class, go suck an egg.

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