Monthly Archives: December 2010

Straight Guy Lesson #5- Hotel Rooms

Hotel rooms- your home away from home and little slice of space just for you.

If you’re a full-time flyer then you may spend between 60-100 nights a year in a hotel room, depending on the type of trip you fly.  If you have seven two-days trips each month then that ends up being around 84 nights at a hotel each year.  If you only do five three-day Europe trips then you’ll start at the 60 mark.  That’s before you pick up a single trip, and everyone starting out picks up at least one extra trip a month.  So roughly a fourth of your year/life will be spent in hotel rooms. Learn to love them.

The airlines have promised you certain things when it comes to accommodation on the job.  You’re not supposed to be on the bottom floor for safety reasons.  The hotel should have food available 24/7, or at least very near food.  You’re always given the option of a non-smoking room, which however, may be a floor that allows smoking.  Those rooms are annoying, like the smoke knows to stop at your door and not go in.  That’s about it as far as the hotel’s responsibility to you.  As long as the hotel meets those criterium then they’re an option for the Hotel Board to decide on.  The range of hotels in staggering.  For the most part it’s an inverse relationship.  The nicer the country, the more meager the hotel.  The shittier the country, the more luxurious the hotel.  London is a closet.  Port Au Prince is a palace.

You’ll find that some of your crew members are way too particular when they request their room.  It’s ridiculous and it’s embarrassing.  I feel so sorry for anyone that has to deal with pilots and flight attendants, mostly van drivers and hotel staff.  You must really be a masochist to voluntarily put up with that hell.  I don’t feel as bad for airport security, we give them a hard time but they usually deserve it.  Some crew members don’t want to be on a floor too high up because there’s no water pressure.  The low floors have too much street noise.  The rooms near ice machines and elevators are too noisy.  The rooms near the microwave room are also too noisy.  In fact they don’t want to even be on the floor that has the microwave because it all smells like weird food, especially if Asian airlines stay at the hotel.  It’s like they have a particular room in mind and won’t quit until they get it. Airline people get a little too comfortable and start taking things for granted.  It’s the unbearable lightness of being.

Even though all rooms are different you’ll try to keep a basic set-up and routine.  We crave structure and are all creatures of habit.  You’ll keep your suitcase in same place in every single room.  Some people utilize the closet and the drawers.  I don’t bother with the drawers, it’s just too much work to unpack and then repack a few hours later. It’s easier living out of the suitcase.  When we get in we all set up the bathroom how we want it.  We have the toiletries laid out just so and our uniform hung neatly in the closet.  Some people have a cleaning ritual that includes putting on their own sheets and pillowcases brought from home.  The hotel sheets get washed so I’m ok with those but the comforters or duvets are ignored so those are pretty nasty and my naked body will never touch them.

Ignorance really is bliss.  Don’t think too deeply on what may or may not be in your room or look too closely to the refilled body wash/shampoo bottles.  At least the little bottle of mouthwash is factory sealed.  Ignore that undercover news report you saw online about how the glasses get cleaned in hotel rooms, sometimes with the same rag that was just used to wipe off the toilet.  Never look under the bed!  Some people use the shower cap as a condom for the remote control and phone receiver.  To test for bed bugs put the bar soap on the bed and check back with it later.  Apparently bed bugs head right for that.  I’m not sure if that’s true, it may be one of those tricks you use to fool yourself into thinking everything is just fine. One of my favorite layover games is to check for the one maid hair that’s found in every shower.  It’s like playing Where’s Waldo.  It may take you half an hour but that hair is always in there somewhere, sometimes on the ceiling.  A word to the wise, some people use the coffee makers to clean their panty hose.  Gross.  I sometimes use it to reheat food or warm a can of soup.  I’ve also found that if your room has one of those fancy pant-pressers you can use that to make a pseudo grilled cheese sandwich.

You’ll do all your dirty stuff in a hotel room, the messy things you don’t want to do at home, like dying your hair or having period sex.  I used to try to keep the room as clean as possible, as a favor to the maid.  I try to be a team player.  I put a liner in the trash can which I’m sure helps a lot.  I tried to leave the room cleaner than I found it but then I heard that rooms left like that don’t really get cleaned that well by the maids.  Now I’ll trash their room on purpose just so it HAS to be cleaned.

You usually get a little fridge in your room but if you’re staying somewhere cold you can use the ledge outside the window as a fridge extension.  It really frees up some space, especially if your fridge is crammed full of useless minibar items that cost way too much.  In some places, like Caracas, you can sometimes get free porn if you clip your ID to the cable going into the TV.  Most hotels are onto that one because some idiot flight attendant left his ID behind when he checked out and then had to call the hotel for someone to get it.  How do you explain why your ID is clipped to the back of a TV unless something is up?  Every now and then your porn channel will come in unscrambled.  If that happens then watch it for as long as you can because once you turn the channel, it’s gone forever.  If you turn back then it’ll be scrambled again and the free porn will be nothing but a distant memory.  Some hotels have secret hiding places that crew members will use to leave goodies for each other.  The Los Angeles Bonaventure was famous for that.  The hotel is circular and the far wall of the hotel rooms is curved, the one made entirely of windows.  Because the ceiling doesn’t exactly fit flush to the curved wall, there are little gaps where you can reach up if you stand on the desk.  People leave all sorts of things up there: porn, minis of liquor, wine, People magazine.

You’ll find that spending so much time in hotels will eliminate certain chores you have to do at home, like shopping for toilet paper, shampoo, hand lotion, towels, and shower curtains.  If you tell the maid that your significant other LOVES the way you smell in their lotion, she likely to hook you up with dozens of bottles.  Score!

The worst feeling is checking out of the hotel and realizing you left food in the fridge (or on the ledge outside the window.)  That precious food has probably been all around the world with you and you were so looking forward to having that on the flight back home.  You might need to leave a post-it note on the door to remind yourself.

So make your room your own and learn to love living out of a suitcase.  It may be one of the few things you really have control over when you’re on the job.  Try to see a layover as a much-needed break from reality rather than being stuck away from all that are near and dear to you.

Straight Guy Lesson #4-Probation

Every major airline has a probationary period that starts after you complete your training when you get “on the line.”  During this hellish time (usually a few months) you can be fired for absolutely anything without an explanation or apology.  One day you’ll be working, the next day you’ll be back wherever you came from.  During Probation you will be scared shitless anytime anything goes remotely wrong, no matter how ridiculous or insignificant.  Any time you have to tell a passenger that you’ve run out of their first meal choice or that they won’t make their connecting flight is told with such unspeakable dread.  Any disagreement with a fellow crew member is reason to toss and turn all night long.  You hold your tongue no matter what people say to you or how horribly they treat you.  Like a slave, you just turn the other cheek and take whatever is thrown at you. Thank you Sir may I have another?!  You’ll feel like you have no soul or backbone.  In your mind you have all your witty comebacks and how exactly you’re going to tell the passengers off, but just file those away for a while.  You’ll have plenty of time to be a jerk right back to the passengers later on, but for now, you have to play ball.

You may find yourself allowing three hours travel time to get to the airport when it normally takes forty-five minutes.  You cannot be too careful.  That day when you get off of probation is circled in red on your calendar. Your life will change that day, especially if you work for an airline that has a union.  Once the union covers you then it’s damn near impossible to get fired, no matter how hard you try.  Feel free to use all the witty retorts and give all the attitude you wish after you make it off of probation.

Just in case you think you may get fired though, here are some Must Dos that you need to accomplish ASAP. Once you’ve completed this list then you’ve pretty much done the best things you can do as a flight attendant and you can hold your head up high as you’re being fired for gross incompetence or whatever they say you did or did not do.  You’ll also have the staple photographs and scars that prove that you were at one time a flight attendant.

#1  Have your picture taken sitting in the Captain’s seat

#2  Have your picture taken standing in an engine

#3  Have your picture taken lying inside an overhead bin

#4  Join the Mile High Club

#5  Stay out all night on a layover and show up for pick up without sleep or shower

#6  Hook up on a layover with local

#7  Show up to the airport on your days off and just fly somewhere random, just because you can

#8  Sit in the cockpit for either take-off or landing

#9  Hook up on a layover with another crew member

#10  When you ferry a flight (no passengers, just crew) sit on a plastic tray at the front of the aircraft in the aisle and “aisle surf” during take off.  Hopefully you’ll be on a wide body aircraft with two aisles and you can race a friend.  Gambling will occur, not only on who wins the race but also on who bleeds the most.  Fun times for everyone.

#11 Upgrade someone just for the hell of it

#12 Get an oven rack burn/scar.  No one will believe you were a flight attendant until you have scar lines on your forearms.  In fact, burn off all your fingerprints as well, just like a real flight attendant.

Straight Guy Lesson #3- Other Straight Flight Attendants

The dynamics of your relationships with other straight male flight attendants are very complicated as well.  It’s a fascinating case study.  We are a small fraternity of brothers and it seems every year you’re losing members to the other side, sometimes members you’d never think that would fall to the dark side.  Sometimes our most successful members put in a trade request.  Ultimately, everyone gets their trade request, no matter how much their parents, best friends, or ex-lovers object.  For the most part all the straight guys get along really well.  It’s welcoming to have another dude around you can talk to about straight guy stuff for a couple of days.

If you’re at a base long enough you’re going to hear about every other straight guy at the base and people will be shocked that you don’t all know each other.  “What?!  Of course you know Kevin!  He’s straight too, slept with half the base.  Really funny guy.  Yeah, you have to know him.”  Of course that’s as silly as asking a black guy if he knows this other guy Ty that also lives in Atlanta.  “Oh I’m sure you know him, he’s black too.”

Some flight attendant bases are massive and you can go years without meeting everyone.  After 12 years I still meet people for the first time when I get on a plane to work a trip.  You sure hear about the other straight guys though, especially if they’re single and active.  It’s always funny at that moment when you finally meet another Straight for the first time.  You know so much about him.  You’ve been hearing about him for years and you know about all the other flight attendants he’s slept with and you probably have a couple in common.  That’s usually a good bonding point and will be discussed later in the bar over some whiskey drinks and Sportscenter.  Of course whoever got there first will have bragging rights for all time.  A word of advice though, when you start laughing about a girl you had a fun layover with and you know that he had also been with her, make sure she was just a fling and not a serious girlfriend.  Nothing is more awkward than making comments about a girl and then finding out that your new straight friend used to be engaged to her but she broke it off at the last minute.  Trust me.

I love meeting the other straight ones.  It’s like meeting a long-lost sibling or a unicorn.  There may be a little competition on the plane or at the bar to win a girl’s favor but after you’ve been flying for a few years you really don’t care if you win or not.  It’s just fun being a guy with other guys and talking about guy stuff.

There’s another faction out there though, but thank god they’re becoming extinct.  I haven’t seen them in years but they’re out there for sure.  They are the straight homophobes that wear the Superman pin on their uniform.  I noticed this once when I was brand new and asked the guy if he was a Superman fan.  He looked at me with an intense seriousness and dragged me into the galley so he could tell me about his secret organization, much like the Masons or Stone Cutters.  He said that the S Superman pin meant something much more important than liking some silly comic book character.  The S meant that he was a Straight and that was how he let the world know that he wasn’t just another “faggot flight attendant.”  I was shocked.  I figured most people could tell by talking to a person for a few minutes if they were a Straight or a Gay but I guess he needs a shiny blue and red pin to help them out.  He said us Straights need to stick together and that he’d put a Superman pin in my mailbox at the airport so I could join the club (cult).  I think he was planning a revolution or something because this was all done very hush-hush with constant checks around us to make sure no one was listening in.  I guess we can’t let the Gays catch wind of this!

I’m not sure how he thought everyone would instinctively know that the S pin meant that he was straight though.  I didn’t get that part.  I was apparently being groomed for fast entry into the club and I didn’t even know what it meant.  What chance would anyone else have?  Lots of flight attendants wear pins on their jackets or aprons during the service and no one bats an eye.  So watch out for those guys.  They are the Scientologists of the airline industry and completely whacked out.  I think most of them have quit the job once they realized they just weren’t going to eliminate the Gays from the flight attendant profession.  There are still a few stragglers though, I hear stories from the underground.  They usually hang out with the pilots on layovers.

Straight Guy Lesson #1- Welcome Aboard!

This will be the first in a series of lectures welcoming you, the “straight” male new hire flight attendant, to the airline world.

The way it works is very simple.  You will not be taken seriously as a “straight” male flight attendant until you pass a series of tests.  First and foremost, if you can go your first year without touching another man’s penis then your friends, family, and colleagues MIGHT stop making air quotes when they talk about their “straight” male flight attendant friend/son/coworker/neighbor/lover.  Most definitely you’ll be met with disbelief and skepticism.  You are guilty until proven innocent.  You are gay until proven straight, but don’t overtly flaunt your straightness, it’ll seem like you doth protest too much.  You’ll hear phrases such as: “closet close” and “in denial”.  That’s fine, just let it roll off your back.  Let’s face it, you are a minority and people will let you know that every day of your working life.  Learn to love the gays.  You’re on their island and they can make your life miserable or wonderful.  If you play your cards right you’ll have the best wingman a single straight boy could ask for.  Having a good-looking, stylish gay man on your side when you walk into any bar in the world will only help your cause.  They don’t give a shit about impressing girls so they’ll be confident and completely at ease with even the hottest, most unobtainable babe.  You can just take the backseat and let your new best friend do all the work.  At the end of the night he’s not going to be an option for her so there ya go!

For the first few months your same-sex oriented coworkers will hit on you, don’t think they won’t, even though your airline might have strict rules about saying and doing inappropriate things on the job.  Please, no one follows those rules.  That’s why we all got into the business of international man of mystery and intrigue in the first place right?  Be flattered and appreciative, no doubt, but also be polite and unwavering in your declination.  After awhile you’ll be down with the gays but not a “closet case” or “in denial”.  They’ll accept you as their token straight friend and all will be right with the world.  Within the job you’ll be stripped of your air quotes but you’ll still have to work on the general public’s opinion of you.

This concludes the first lesson.  Just remember the essentials:  you have a gay job or at best, a girl’s job.  It will always be like that.  Don’t try to upset the balance of the profession.  Go with the flow and don’t touch anyone’s penis unless that’s who you are.  Don’t do it just to fit in with the crew.

And so it begins…OKC 7:38am

When I saw an overloaded business guy running OJ-style through the Oklahoma City airport with all his carry-ons dangling from every limb, my first reaction was to laugh at the idiot who overslept.  I know he didn’t get stuck in traffic, it’s 7:30am on a Sunday morning and there wasn’t a car on the road when we came here.  I saw more tumbleweeds than cars on the road.  He had no one to blame but himself so therefore he gets pointed and laughed at.  Then, with a sudden chill in a moment of clarity, I realized that maybe he’s trying to catch the flight to DFW before mine.  If he didn’t catch it then he’d be put on my flight and it’s pretty full already so an extra body might mean that I won’t get on.  He could make all the difference.  He might be the Tipping Point.  If I don’t get on then I won’t make the one and only flight from Dallas to JFK.  If I miss that then I won’t make the flight I have to work to Zurich at 6pm.  If I miss that trip then I can say goodbye to $800.  All of a sudden I wasn’t laughing at the poor schmuck, I was helping him out.  I had an insane urge to run along side him and motivate him, giving him cups of water, encouraging him, or putting him down like a drill sergeant ala Full Metal Jacket, whatever it took to get him to move faster.  I didn’t do that but I picked up my pace and followed closely, sending out nothing but good vibes and little prayers.  My airline’s gates are the very last ones in the terminal and it seemed that’s just where he was heading.  Luckily he turned off at another airline just before mine and promptly got into a fight with the agent because the door was closed yet the plane was still sitting there at the gate.  I don’t sympathize with the passengers very often but I really don’t get why they don’t just run down, crack the door, let the straggler on, and go about their business.  Forget delays or tower permission, no one has to know anything.  I know how long it takes to disarm the forward entry door, open it, let a person on, close it, and then arm it again.  It actually takes less time than it took for me to type all of that out.  It seems like such a little thing that would save a lot of trouble for everyone involved.  Nothing is more frustrating than being told you missed a flight that’s still just sitting there with the jet bridge attached.  Nothing is more exhilarating than thinking you missed a flight and then somehow finding your way into a seat.  Sure enough the agent told him that he was just put on the next flight to wherever, and that was that.  Hopefully there isn’t a nonrev crewmember getting screwed over by that little scene I just witnessed.  Drama so early on a Sunday morning!  That is just obstacle one of many obstacles commuting flight attendants deal with trying to get to work.  I survived this potential roadblock but there are several more to come before I’m finally at the right gate at the right airport in the right city at the right time.  And you wonder why most of us aren’t in better moods?

The Modern Businessman

Two things that I learned right away, but was unaware of at the time of my hiring are this: 1) my airline caters to the business traveler and 2) the business traveler is a strange creature.

I did not know this when I signed up for this gig; I had never even met a businessman before.  Now I see the same cookie cutter middle-aged businessman a hundred times a day.  They have the same drab suit, same iPhone phone with a Blackberry chaser, same Jimmy Johnson haircut and Jimmy Johnson hair color.  They have the same tubby stomach that they rest their identical laptop computers on.  They drink the same single malt scotch, tell the same jokes, and read the same magazines.

As worthless as these guys are to me in my existence, they aren’t that bad as passengers.  Businessmen travel all the time and know what to expect on the plane as far as the service is concerned, which limits my ability to cut corners.  They know what we will and will not do for them.  Since I’m male they aren’t that nice to me, but at the same time I don’t have to deal with them hitting on me relentlessly.  They pretty much leave me alone and I’m ok with that.

The people who travel every five years are the worst; they want everything under the sun and expect the flight attendants to do everything for them, like we did in the 1970s.  They don’t understand you have 124 other people to serve and it’s not our job to provide their baby with a diaper or stow their overstuffed suitcases in the overhead bins.

Whenever I do see a young person, early twenties to early thirties, I leech onto them like white on rice.  It is so rare a passenger is my age and traveling alone.  They must talk to me whether they’d like to or not.  Most don’t want to chat too long to the hired help though; we cater to stuck-up, self-important brats along with the older businessman.  One is the larval stage of the other: the caterpillar to the butterfly, but in a less beautiful way.

Eff Starbucks

 

I hate coffee.  I hate the taste.  I hate the way people revolve their lives around it.  I hate the way people act like they can’t even begin function without it, and insist on telling you so.  People put a higher priority on coffee in the morning than a daily affirmation or quality time with the wife and kids.  I hate the industrial giant it’s become.  I hate, most of all, what it does to the one saving grace of being awake in the early morning.  Before the introduction of coffee to a room, office, or city, everyone is walking around in living dead solitude.  Heads are heavy and still blurry from the half wake dream state we walk in.  People drag themselves around in sedation, in seclusion, in this waking-life surrealistic state.  It’s not an angry or an apathetic time, just not outright friendly one.

Still, there’s an understanding in the silence and it’s beautiful.  We’re all alone together and though we may appreciate the others around us, you’d never know it by the looks on our faces.  We’re dreary, we’re lost, we’re contemplating this day and that day and all the days.  Then some asshole is the first of many to order a large cup of joe.  It hits the bloodstream and people snap out of it after the first piping hot sip.  The room goes from various hues of gray to vibrant, radiant colors.  The people open their eyes and lift up their heads.  Things get back in focus.  Now conversation begins, frivolous, inane chatter in very clear tones about ridiculous things as inspired by their caffeine high.  Not only do people accept the transformation, they actually vocalize their thanks for the jumpstart.  Oh, now they feel alive!  Just because of a little synthetic energy, everything is how it should be.

I say fuck that.  What’s so great about having bright eyes and a bushy tail?  Tomorrow morning let’s drink dreamy nighttime tea that comes in dark blue boxes with pictures of moons and stars.  Why do we want to be alert and attentive so early?  I hate the way coffee brings down its tyrannical hammer on such beautiful mornings of inwardly focus and catharsis.  I love the smell, but I hate coffee.  I even hate the word, those fucking arrogant double Fs and double Es.  It’s just so neat and proper and easy to handle, just like we all should be.