Monthly Archives: October 2011

Straight Guy Lesson #20- Seat Back Pockets

For as long as there’s been air travel, passengers, flight attendants, and cleaning crews alike have been fascinated by the contents of the seat back pockets.

They always remind me of that game on The Price is Right when the contestant had to blindly stick their hand in the big bag and pull out a chip. Sometimes the chip would help them win a wonderful prize. Sometimes the chip would get them closer to the booby prize. Sometimes the chip would be a strike and they were one step closer to leaving the show with only whatever shitty thing they had won to get them out of Contestants’ Row and on to the stage.

Almost everyone I talk to has a story of leaving something behind on the plane, usually in the seat back pocket. I myself left my little Canon digital camera in seat 19C on JetStar flight 912 from Sydney to Townsville on Saturday February 21, 2004, not that I really remember or am incredibly bitter. No, it’s not like I had the entire Australian/New Zealand holiday on that camera or anything! Grrrr! Seriously, let me know if you come across it people! You can have the camera, I just want the memory card! But I digress…

Every flight attendant I know has a story of finding a wedding ring, iPod, or wallet in there. They say they get returned to the rightful owner but I’m really not sure. This never happens to me in any case. I only find chewed-up gum and wet tissues.

Still though, we all think that there’s something magical in there, like there is in the cartoons when someone sticks their hand into a kangaroo’s pouch. You can’t just go in with your guns blazing, though, there could be a million things in there and only 5 are good: iPod, iPad, camera, PSP, or wallet. You need to treat that seat back pocket with the utmost respect and with a poet’s tenderness. Pretend the entire thing is a Faberge egg. I know someone who got stuck by a needle! Off they go for a series of tests.

Other than the unknown surprises, there are some things you know will be in the seat back pocket: the inflight magazine, online shopping catalogue, and that staple of the ages, the barf bag. Yes they’re still there and yes people still use them often. Which reminds me, be careful when you handle yours, sometimes people like to use them and just put them back in the seat back pocket. Neither the flight attendants nor the aircraft cleaners will notice this so it will remain in there, stewing, festering, and morphing into something quite alien.

My dear friend and fellow blogger Sara (pictured above) was asking me about barf bags just the other day and that’s what got me thinking about them and about the seat back pockets in general. We decided to both write about the subject.  Here is what she had to say…

“On my flight home from St. Louis I was bored, tired, restless, and probably still a little bit drunk from the night before. (see picture above for what I think Sara meant by that). I began exploring the seat back pocket in front of me. I thumbed through the Sky Mall magazine, the American Airlines magazine, the Spanish language magazine, and some new magazine that they are now wasting money on publishing. I was looking for one thing…. the barf bag.

I was really curious to see just how deep the airline cost-cutting had gone. Did they still provide barf bags to all passengers? In 31 years of flying, I do not recall ever having partaken usage of a barf bag. I also do not recall ever having seen a fellow passenger utilize this resource. It seems like people don’t really get air sick anymore? I would LOVE to know the annual cost of barf bag purchases by American Airlines. And…. success. They do still provide barf bags. They even now spend more money by printing messages on them!

After reading this article about all the crap people dump in seat back pockets, I can see the benefit of providing these and suggesting that they be used for diaper disposal. ew”

Well Sara, let me tell you what I’ve noticed about the barf bags. They do indeed get used, and sometimes even for vomiting into! Unfortunately they’re small and often times the sick person isn’t just throwing up once. That little baggie gets filled up pretty quickly and then we have a problem. They can either go to bag #2 or make a run for the bathroom. I try to stay away from bag #1.

Personally when I hear that someone is getting sick, I fetch one of the large “market bags” we use to collect rubbish. Those things are massive and don’t leak. An entire row could use it as a regurgitation trough and there’d still be plenty of room for more.

Surprisingly enough, we do use those barf bags for other purposes, really useful things. Sometimes passengers have medications that need to be kept cold so we’ll fill the bags with ice and put their meds on top, then return everything to the passenger. Sometimes people get injured or feel feverish so we can turn the bags into little ice packs (always checking to make sure they’re clean inside first, of course.)

Whenever we have a super cool and/or smoking hot passenger that the crew wants to bestow a gift to, those little bags are the perfect size to stash a handful of vodka minis. It’s kinda like we’re packing their lunch for them as they run out the door and off to school, except they’re running out of the plane and off to have a smoke.

Side note: I bet the airlines make money off all the publications in the seat back from the advertising. Just a guess though.

You’ll want to read what Sara has to say about running with the bulls in Pamplona.  SAngRiA Smiles 🙂 is the name of her blog.

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Straight Guy Lesson #19- Duty Free

Duty Free shopping is a wonderful thing when you’re traveling abroad. You can find deals on everything from perfume to alcohol to local food specialties. Part of the fun of international travel is seeing what goods they have at the airport’s Duty Free Shop.

Duty Free shopping inflight, however, is a pointless pain in the ass, at least for the flight attendants. It’s a miniscule part for what you do as an international flight attendant but I’ll give you the rundown anyways.

It’s a two-man operation and usually selling Duty Free just means you make a quick lap of the cabin with a heavy cart and say things like “Duty Free purchases?”, “Duty Free today?” “Do me free?” “We have the same crap on the way back.” “You can get this stuff at the airport when you land.” “Duty Free?” “Cigarettes, alcohol, jewelry, fragrances?” “Something for your loved ones meeting you at the airport who will be expecting a gift?” Some of those we say louder than others.

No one really buys anything, though sometimes they’ll stop us and look at the merchandise for half an hour, trying on all the watches and sniffing all the fragrances. This is annoying because as soon as Duty Free is done, we can start our breaks and take a nap. When we get too impatient we’ll leave them with the catalogue and tell them that if they decide on something just to find one of us and we’ll make the sale, knowing full well that by the time they get back to us the Duty Free carts will be locked and sealed.

Flight Attendants hate selling Duty Free and the person in charge of it is always the most junior member of the crew. I don’t understand why we even do it inflight. The passengers could’ve bought the stuff in the airport before we left and in most cases, at the airport when we get in.

When you arrive in airports like London Heathrow, you can’t even exit the airport without going through a massive Duty Free store first. When you leave an airport like Rome Fiumicino, you can’t even get to your gate without going through Duty Free first.

We rarely sell anything inflight and if we do, it’s the cheapest crap imaginable, like the cartons of Benson and Hedges cigarettes, Tolberone chocolates, or an eye mask. The sales hardly make up for the cost of the fuel needed to carry the extra weight of the two heavy Duty Free carts. The airlines must get paid a lot of money to put the carts on the plane because we always have them onboard.

The only practical use of the Duty Free process is having access to electronic chargers. I can charge my phone and iPod on the plane without having to make much of an effort or lug around cords and chargers all over the world. When the cart is opened I can take out the necessary equipment, plug them into a seat power port, go about my business, and then a couple of hours later put the chargers back in the box for resale on a later flight.

There’s also a hangover remedy that we sell that some pilots swear by. I haven’t tried that one yet. I just stick to the oxygen in the cockpit for those fragile days.

There’s no incentive for us to try to sell the Duty Free crap. We get something like 3% of what we sell and they send us a check every few months. The largest check I ever received was for $24 and that was when I was flying Main Cabin a ton right around Christmas.

Sometimes flight attendants will try to market the items we have by placing them on top of the cart for all to see. Sounds like a good idea, but they always put the cheapest stuff on top, the stuff geared for the kids like jelly beans and a little teddy bear wearing a Captain’s hat. Even if they sold everything they had displayed, the money earned wouldn’t buy you a cup of coffee. They should at least promote the expensive jewelry, electronics, or watches. That makes sense to me.

Oh, another fun thing about Duty Free is watching the gentlemen check out each and every ladies’ watch and fragrance we have, and we have A LOT! The time and money he spends on Duty Free is a great gauge to how bad he fucked up on his business trip away from his wife and family.

Some female flight attendants are great at flirting with the men and talking the saps into buying them something expensive or good smelling. I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

The entire Duty Free process on the plane usually takes half an hour. We go through the plane, sell the goods, count the money, inventory the cart, fill out the paperwork, and then lock up the carts with seals and padlocks. Easy, but annoying.

On my last trip it took well over an hour just to finish selling the shit and collect the money because the lady I was working with was trying to sell everything in Euros, convert them into dollars out of her pocket so she’d have Euros for the layover in Rome, and then make all the numbers add up correctly.

By the time I counted everything and finished the rest of the work, we were nearly at the two-hour mark. Somehow all the numbers added up but I’m pretty sure I lost money out of my pocket trying to make change for all these people paying with $100 bills.  The lady insisted on letting them pay with them and I have no idea why.  I usually say “correct change or credit card only.”  We don’t get paid enough to deal with all that shit.

Theoretically, one way you can get ahead in life via the Duty Free cart is to take cash from the people purchasing things. We get a 15% employment discount on everything we buy as crew members. So if a passenger buys a $300 watch and gives you cash for it, you can just secretly claim the purchase as your own, use your card which will only be charged $255, and walk away with a $45 profit. It’s win-win since the passenger isn’t getting ripped off in the slightest, just the company. I don’t know anyone who’s actually tried this but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.