And What Is the Australian Word for “Chicken?”

That was then…

Some flight attendants are crazy.  Some flight attendants who fly international are really crazy.  Some flight attendants who fly the late-night, after-all-the-supervisors-have-gone-home international departures (Sydney, Dubai, Buenos Aires) are certifiable knuckleheads.  There’s something about flying super long hauls and living permanently on the back end of the clock that encourages some people to unplug from What’s Really Going On.  I just flew a domestic segment the other day with one such flight attendant, who felt compelled to make good and sure that everyone who crossed her path knew that she only flies international.  She saw to this by starting every sentence (on a 5.5-hour flight) with that very phrase.  “I only fly international,” she would say to me.  “Where are the stir sticks?”  Or, to a passenger, “I only fly international, but I will try to hang your coat.”  As if, when flying international, the stir sticks and coat closets are so very glamorous that she has been rendered unable to recognize their domestic counterparts.  And pointing out that they are identical products in identical locations served only to egg her on.  “I only fly international,” she patiently reminded everyone within earshot, “so I wasn’t sure…”

This is a very common attitude in bases with mixed international and domestic flying, and is annoying for several reasons, not the least of which is, if you only flew international, you wouldn’t be getting up my nose today on this domestic segment, now would you?  I flew international for ten years, and the toilets may indeed be more glamorous in Japan than they are in Rochester, NY, but I know you still use them same as I do, and it doesn’t smell like fresh-baked cinnamon rolls when you flush.  In a word?  Getoveryourself.

My favorite example of this kind of grandstanding carried through to its absurd and inevitable conclusion occurred on a flight from San Francisco to Maui years ago.  We still served hot food in coach in these days, and, as the junior guy on the crew, it fell to my lot to work the right aisle with this flight attendant, let’s call her Glenda.  At the time, “Glenda” had been slinging trays in the sky for more than forty years, which, one could safely expect, might lend an air of the routine to something like a meal service.  Mind you, by this point in her career, she only flew Sydney, which she had taken great pains to make sure we all knew (and was trying to use as an excuse to get out of doing every little thing, which was how she’d become my problem), but in her day, we served hot food between Chicago and Cleveland, for Heaven’s sake — you’d think she’d know her way around a tray cart.

It is a routine professional courtesy, especially if she has been flying since your parents were in middle school, to ask your flying partner which she would prefer to hawk, the food or the drinks, and I did so.  “I don’t know,” she told me fretfully.  “I don’t know if I know how to do this service.  I only fly Sydney.”  Now, it is a different type of airplane that we fly to Sydney, if you want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but the service flow, and even the actual equipment — carts, trays, etc. — are identical.  As in, the exact same.

“Well,” I asked her, “when you fly Sydney, do you like to do the food or the drinks?”

Ignoring the main points of my question, she reiterated.  “I just don’t know what to do.  I only fly Sydney.”

“Yes, you said that.  Today, though, on the way to Maui, would you prefer to do the food, or the drinks?”

Oh, how she fretted, literally wringing her hands and muttering “Sydney” to herself like some kind of serenity mantra while the flight attendants working the other aisle rolled off to start their half of the service, eyes a-roll.  I don’t know if she had picked up this Maui trip for the fun of the layover, or for the extra pay of an easy two-day out-and-back or what, but she had chosen the trip, whatever her reason, and at least for the next hour and a half or so, I was going to need her to snap out of it and actually work it.

Personally, I prefer the beverage cart to the food, so I took control.  “Say ‘Chicken,'” I instructed her.

“Chicken,” she repeated.

“Good.  Now say ‘Beef.'”

Puzzled, she said it back.  “Beef?”

“That settles it,” I said, starting down the aisle with the beverage cart.  “You do the meals, I’ll do drinks.”

Having failed to find a way around it, she (eventually) followed me down the aisle with the meal cart and started hucking trays, awkwardly repeating “Chicken” and “Beef” like they were the words she was afraid would trip her up on her upcoming Vocabulary test.  Suddenly, after we had served four or five rows, she wheeled on me in the aisle and shouted loud enough for anyone on board to hear, “You lied to me!”

“I did?”

“You told me it was ‘chicken’ or ‘beef’!” she cried.

“Yeah.”  Technically I hadn’t “told her” that’s what we were serving — what did I know about what we were serving?  That’s what we always served.  I wanted to do drinks! — but they were the two words we had practiced.  “And…?”

Apparently she had just been distributing trays without looking at what she was serving, until a passenger complained.  “What do I do?!”  Forty years into her career, she was in a panic.  “It’s chicken or pasta!”

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4 thoughts on “And What Is the Australian Word for “Chicken?”

  1. Also loving the blog. And this post. Reflects maybe how hard it is for some to get outside of their routines. Sounds like she was having some sort of episode, like maybe her therapist had told her to try a different route as a strategy for mitigating … something … and it wasn’t working.

    Wishing you lingering close-ups of Mr. Phelps from multiple camera angles this Olympic season.

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