Death and the Expedited Boarding Process

Alright, so my dear friend of many years Jeff died three years ago this month, quite unexpectedly, all of 37 years old.  Jeff had a passionate interest in All Things Airline, and even now I feel his energy and his spirit closest to me when I’m around airports.  I went with him on his first trip to Europe, it was to visit him that I took my first trip to Australia, and we never tired of discussing the minutiae of where, when, and how best to get places.  “Did you know Aeromexico flies from Tijuana to Tokyo?” I would ask.  “I think I’ll take Turkish to Egypt so I can stop over in Istanbul.” he would say.  Whereas before I would have frantically called him to report a sighting of the Air France A380 in Washington, or e-mailed him Can You Believe?! when Icelandair inaugurated their non-stop service from Denver to Reykjavik, now I feel him beside me sharing the thrill, and I marvel at how easily we’re able to communicate here, three years into his Next Big Adventure.  In his memory, I write to share one of my favorite stories of a trip we took together, full, as always, of the hope that our paths will cross somewhere out there again.

After we graduated from college, I ran off to San Francisco and fell into an airline job, and Jeff joined the Peace Corps and was posted to Cameroon, where he spent nearly two and a half years. I had always wanted to visit Africa and could fly on most of the world’s airlines for next to nothing, and so a trip was planned. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Forty Things I Never Would Have Gotten To Do (Part III)

Kia Ora!

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

Forty Things I Never Would Have Gotten to Do (Part II)

“Aloha” from the Biggest Pool in Hawaii!

So, I’m in the elevator in my hotel in Oklahoma City this morning, en route to the lobby, and the elevator stops on the third floor.  In piles a gang of about seven kids, all around eight or nine, who are running amok in the hotel the way eight- or nine-year-olds will (is there anything quite as thrilling as a hotel elevator at that age?).  Their leader, a curly-haired girl in glasses, decrees the second floor to be next on their itinerary, so it’s not ten seconds later that the doors open again and the gang swarms off.  Just before she leaps off the elevator to assume command of the second floor recon, their leader stops.  Leaning against the elevator door so that it cannot close, she turns to me and asks, “Are you a pilot?”

“Flight attendant,” I tell her.

“Oh, a flight attendant,” she repeats.  “So you go from hotel to hotel all over the place?”

“Well, yeah,” I say.

She cocks her head, considering this.  I usually wear my uber-neutral Passenger Face in hotels, too, when I’m in my uniform, but perhaps it’s not quite as neutral as I imagine, cuz this nine-year-old girl reads it like a billboard.  “It gets old, huh?”

I laugh and say “sometimes” to the closing elevator door.  Her investigation concluded, she scampers off to explore the great unknown of the second floor, and I ride to the lobby, then trudge off to the airport van.

And now I’m in another hotel in another city, and have just hung up the phone from talking to my husband, who thought I was going to be home tonight.  He’s bummed out that I’m not coming home, which bums me out, and this is one of the main ways that going from hotel to hotel all over the place gets old — it’s less the hotels themselves and more the time spent away from home.  Away from the kitties and from waking up next to my husband and from good coffee that doesn’t cost $3 a cup.  But I’ve had loads of fun at hotels, too, with this job  — fancy ones, tacky ones; waterfront hotels and downtown high-rises and sprawling off-brand complexes miles from nowhere.  And so, in keeping with my effort to highlight the fun (or at least funny) parts of this gig, and having been called out this very day by a nine-year-old for wearing my oh-so-over-it heart on my sleeve, I dedicate Part Two of our Forty Things I (probably) Never Would Have Gotten to Do If It Wasn’t For My Airline Job feature to hotel adventures!

30. Skinny dip in the largest pool in the Hawaiian Islands on Kauai

29. Crash the very grand luau at the Grand Wailea on Maui

28. Sling trays for three legs on a 727 with the whole sweaty crew smelling like the gym after our hotel in Louisville, Kentucky ran out of water

27. Cross “Sleep with a Pilot” off of my “Now That I’m a Flight Attendant” To-Do List in Reno, Nevada

26. Be pampered by a Japanese toilet

25. Attend the Great Midwestern Polka Festival poolside at our Chicago layover hotel instead of sleeping (an option ruled out by the Great Midwestern Polka Festival poolside) after an all-nighter

24. Re-enact a Brady Bunch episode after putting (Body Shop Satsuma Orange, I remember for some reason) bubbles in a hot tub in Las Vegas

23. Be an audience member at a real-life Newlywed Game at an airport Holiday Inn in Hartford (“Grand” Prize for the Winning Couple: one night at an airport Holiday Inn in Hartford.)

22. Stay at a Fairmont

21. Be asked, along with the rest of my crew, to leave a wedding reception in a New Jersey hotel, only to welcome the newlyweds aboard our flight the very next morning.  We showered them with champagne and our best wishes, and, as was so often the case back in those days, a good time was had by all.  Now there’s an extra fee for that.

Forty Things I Never Would Have Gotten to Do (Part I)

Go get ’em, Vicki!

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.