If you fly at all, even infrequently, you’ve heard it: “Flight attendants are on board primarily for your safety.” To most airplane passengers (and even to many of my friends, fifteen years into my career), this announcement translates roughly into, “Yeah, right.” Without dwelling on the time I saved a guy having a heart attack with a defibrillator or the way some of my friends have pulled people from burning airplanes (or how hot the guys are on the Air New Zealand safety videos), I shall get right to my point: if they could, airlines would LOVE to outfit airplanes with little more than a bathroom and a couple of vending machines and then pack passengers into every remaining inch of space with shoehorns and launch them into space and let Social Darwinism at Forty Thousand Feet take its course. The main reason we are still on airplanes today is because the FAA requires a certain number of professionals trained in the Art of Airplane Evacuation to be available should those skills be required. (Although one friend suggests they will continue to staff flights with one flight attendant even in the vending machine future days — to make change.)
On all but the longest routes on the poshest airlines, inflight “service” has been reduced to a vague memory. The geniuses behind Disney’s Phineas and Ferb sum it up in an episode where a stand-up comedian makes a joke about airline food, and one of the teenagers in the audience (my favorite supporting character, the Disco Miniature Golfing Queen Stacy) asks, “What’s airline food?” When I started flying, which was not all that long ago, we were still carving roasts in the aisle, still serving champagne and caviar in first class on international flights, and still hucking hot breakfast at passengers on hour-long East Coast puddle jumps; nowadays, a full third of the cabin answers the question “Would you like something to drink?” with “How much does it cost?” Airlines have conditioned passengers to expect nothing, and often manage to deliver even less, for which they then usually charge a fee.
The time-sensitive nature of airplane service, especially on short flights, led to many of the more hilarious moments of my early career, and the process of preparing food, especially in out-of-sight, below-deck galleys, offered many flight attendants many unique, if not wholly family-friendly, opportunities. Now, unless they are consumed by a passion for Sudoku or come across a People magazine, flight attendants have very little to do on airplanes that are not on fire, and standing around looking at each other provides few (not none, but precious few) opportunities for hilarity. Which, I suppose, is why I am strolling down memory lane with this little project as forty draws nigh; I’m still glad for the job, and especially for the flexibility it gives me to tend to the things that really matter in my life, but these days, dang, it gives us nothing to talk about!
So cue up your favorite version of “Memories” and please enjoy the latest installment of Forty Things I (probably) Never Would Have Gotten to Do If It Wasn’t For My Airline Job:
20. Discover a deep and abiding love for spaetzle (especially the cheesy kind) in a dingy Frankfurt bar
19. Sample Indian food in like seventeen countries, none of them India
18. Entertain a crowd of spectators just by trying on a shirt in a Chinese market (They gathered ’round, XXL my ass)
17. Weep over the most refreshing piece of watermelon ever hucked off the back of a wagon on the hottest day Seoul has ever seen
16. Poison an airplane full of people by convincing them to change their meal order from chicken to Hawaiian meatloaf (of which I ate two, so I know exactly how sick it made people)
15. Explain to a mother how her infant seat was in fact a piece of luggage, and could indeed be stowed in the overhead compartment, but only if she removed the baby from it first
14. Stand underneath (although, alas, never on) a British Airways Concorde
13. Visit New Zealand, while we’re on the subject — a Spa-tacular voyage on which I learned more about cricket than an American has a right to know, and not nearly enough about a gorgeous Maori guy I met in Rotorua (also one of the countries mentioned in Item 19 above)
12. Sling beverages (and we were slingin’ ‘em) from a tray on seventeen flight segments in three days
11. Espy a dude joining the Mile High club under a blanket. All by himself