It’s a cliché among flight attendants, but the first time I heard it, it still cracked me up: stepping into the back of a 767, I came upon a flight attendant on her hands and knees on the sticky, knobby galley floor, up to her shoulders in a cart of dirty meal trays. By way of an offer to help her, I asked, “What are you looking for?” She backed out of the cart long enough to look up at me, regulation up-do askew, and crack, “The Glamour.” She did eventually find the pen or the reading glasses or whatever it was that a passenger had left on his meal tray, but these days you can ransack an airplane with glamour-sniffing dogs and still turn up empty. Continue reading
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
Stick with me for a second, here:
This summer — in just a few weeks, actually, on Midsummer’s Night — I turn forty. I am inspired to do a “Forty Things” blog post to commemorate this occasion, and I have decided to do it in four parts, so that I might create something like a Mister Stewardess Feature (and to buy time to think of forty listworthy things). Because I strive to make this blog more than a clearing house for Things Flight Attendants Complain About (at which I am a skilled practitioner, and of which there are way more than forty), and because I do myself, from time to time, lose sight of precisely why I stick around this gig, I am going to take this opportunity to celebrate some of the wild and wacky highlights from my flying career.
Airlines in general (I do not work for Southwest) are blood-sucking executive-bonus-factories that care little for their employees and even less for their passengers. But this is a job that I wanted, that I worked hard to get, and one that has afforded me many opportunities and many years of amusement. Life takes us unexpected places, and it is entirely possible that in a different life I could have saved up for a trip to China or frequently visited France — it’s not like only airline people do these things. But it is for the opportunities (and the laughs) that I am most grateful, and thus do I bring you Part One of Mister Stewardess’s Big Summer Feature,
Forty Things I (probably) Never Would Have Gotten to Do If It Wasn’t For My Airline Job:
40. Watch the Space Shuttle take off from the cockpit of a 777
39. Get hit on by the drunken boyfriend of a (female) soap opera star
38. Exfoliate with champagne and sugar
37. Meet Chris Isaak after one of his concerts in New York’s Central Park
36. Get bitten black-and-blue by an Englishman
35. Learn that “You’re Welcome” in Japanese is best-remembered with the phrase “Don’t touch my mustache”
34. Try caviar
33. Respond to a call light to be asked by a self-proclaimed addict for morphine
32. Restrain a psychotic passenger with flight attendants’ pantyhose
31. Sell Duty Free to Whitney Houston
OK, that’s ten. Check back next week for ten more. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years — surely there are ten more. Hopefully there are thirty more — we’ll find out.