The battle between the airlines and passengers regarding the amount of “stuff” (that’s a technical term) that passengers can bring with them is seemingly never-ending.

Checked baggage fees keep going up and up, and carry-on limits are more carefully enforced. The combination means passengers have a greater incentive to bring as much as they can on board, but to consolidate it upon boarding.

So, instead of bringing books and papers separately, many travelers will pack them in a carry-on, but then put the bag overhead, and the reading material in the seatback pocket in front of them. Others do the same with toiletries, craft materials, and other things they want to use in flight.

In some cases, passengers simply remove items from their larger carry-on, because it won’t fit overhead without that. Still others use the seatback for meals and water bottles.

The only real no-no has been laptop computers. Though it hasn’t stopped people from trying. I have been on several flights where flight attendants have asked passengers to remove their computers from the seat pocket.

Now this practice may be about to change. Apparently an FAA directive put out in 2007 says “NOTHING can be stowed in the seat pockets except magazines and passenger information cards.”

And the FAA has now reminded airlines of this rule. Apparently flight attendants in some cases have been telling passengers in some cases to take everything out of the pockets, including small items like eyeglasses.

A recent story notes that the FAA says if flight attendants make passengers remove all personal items from seatback pockets, they are “following our guidance, if they are enforcing this with travelers.”

It makes sense that seatback pockets not be overloaded, and I can certainly see how a laptop could become a projectile during bad weather or upon a hard landing. (Not to mention, do you really want to put an expensive machine in a lightweight pocket that may have all kinds of crud left there by other passengers?)

As a reader, however, who considers planes one of the last places left where I can enjoy a novel without feeling guilty, I have a hard time imagining why my paperback and some newspapers could be more dangerous than the airline magazines and SkyMall catalogs.

If it’s a question of books or other objects flying around the plane in case of turbulence, then it’s hard to imagine how the same objects in a passenger’s lap would be any safer.

At this point the directive seems to be enforced sporadically, and perhaps, if the rule doesn’t fade away, it will be modified to a more common sense rule limiting weight or number of things that can be placed in the seatback. On the other hand, when we think of airline rules, common sense isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

photo by dyobmit/flickr/creative commons