Category Archives: passengers

Airlines Need New Blood

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Airlines, like vampires, need new blood. My airline didn’t hire anyone new for many years. I mean ALOT of years. In that time even our youngest flight attendants grew up. Every day someone else got married, had a kid, or just matured from the hedonistic thrill-seeker and spontaneous lover of life. The fun faction was waning and we became stagnant. That sucked for those of us who still wanted to live it up on the layovers, but it also sucked for the customers.

A fun-loving flight attendant might see that they’re flying with a great crew to somewhere exciting, but when they get to the plane and see their long lost partner-in-crime, she’s showing off her baby bump and ultrasound pictures and you know that another one has bit the dust, rarely to return. You’re happy for them but at the same time in an incredibly selfish way, you’re bummed that their life choices are making your own existence a little more drab.

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Luckily for me, I’ve chilled out as the years have gone on as well. When I got hired at 22 I was up for anything, and nothing bothered me on or off the plane. Going out on a 10-hour layover in Omaha with my equally young and new crew wasn’t even debated. We were ALWAYS doing something, even if that just meant going down to the hotel bar for a bit. We found adventure wherever we could, or at least sniffed out the potential for trouble. We were brand new to life outside our parents shadow and were just gagging for new experiences.

We had to wait six agonizing months before we got our flight benefits that allowed us to jump on a plane on our days off and take off to see the world. I think I waited five days after I got my benefits before I took off to cash in on the main benefit of serving drinks and nagging people about tray tables in the air for a living, for very little pay. My old roommate from college had a job that let him take off for a week in late January so we spun the globe and looked at the possibilities. It was overwhelming. Our options were cut down significantly when he told me he didn’t have a passport. Jamaica it was then!

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Jamaica is Jamaica, but that didn’t matter. I was on a holiday that I paid for all by myself and I could do it again whenever I wanted. I really thought I’d stumbled into the best career in the world and didn’t understand why more people didn’t look into jobs with the airlines. Of course this was before I tried to have a serious relationship or even considered having a family. Oh, and then there was the money thing too. You don’t worry about such things when you’re in your early 20s, nor do you mind living in a 750 square foot 3 bedroom/2 bath apartment with five other people. That changes. Earning $22,000 a year seemed like all the money in the world back then.

For the next couple of years, every American-based airline was hiring in droves. Every time I showed up in Operations at the airport, I saw new eager faces with brand new Travel Pro luggage. I thought it would just go on like this forever. Then 9-11 happened and everything stopped, though experts said the airlines were starting to struggle before that anyways, the attacks just expedited the slowdown. After that, every major airline had layoffs and furloughs. That was the beginning of the end for the party at my airline. It took us nearly 12 years before we got all our furloughed flight attendants back and started hiring again.

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I think when the first new hire crossed the graduation platform in early 2013, the youngest of us “older ones” was 33. So on New Year’s Day in 2013 the youngest flight attendant we had was 33 and the oldest was too old to imagine. During those twelve years everything changed. Like I said, every day someone else grew up. Every day someone else got serious with someone they were dating, or got married, or started a family, or figured out that being a flight attendant forever is a tough thing to do so they’d just quit and start a new career or at least go back to school. The popular stereotype of a wild and free flight attendant adventurer was quickly becoming extinct as far as our passengers could see.

I was bummed about that on a personal level because I was still a free agent. I remembered that the main reason I took this job was to see the world and have adventures. I never married nor do i have any kids. I don’t mind the shit pay so as far as I’m concerned, I’m not one of the bad guys making my airline a tad sad. The only thing that really separates me from me 16 years ago is that I did get fed up of living in a dirty, cramped NYC apartment so I bought a house in the suburbs of Austin, though every now and then I really think of going back for just one more year. I didn’t really mind the mice at all. The winters however…

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But more importantly than what the hiring freeze did to me and my lifestyle, is what it did to my airline. It almost ruined it. We started getting the worse ratings from passengers. We weren’t young, naive, and doing anything to make the customer happy anymore. We were old and jaded and thought we needed to teach the world how to behave on an airplane. Granted, the world needs that lesson, but that doesn’t matter when you’re working in Customer Service. I mean the customer is always right even when the customer is an ignorant asshole. No amount of passive aggressive lessons is going to change that. I used to be so nice to people on the plane but after awhile even the sweetest kids turn into jerks. It’s just not natural to be that nice to people who don’t deserve it every day of your life. I’ve held up better than most of the people I work with, but I’m still a far cry away from how I was in the late 90s.

To be honest the worst flight attendants we have are the ones that feel stuck, liked a caged tiger. They don’t really have any other options for employment. Perhaps they didn’t learn a trade or go to school. Maybe they thought they’d be married and taken care of by now. It was a fun job that turned into a long career. I know many people who would love to go back to school but who can afford to do that when we have very little wiggle room in our finances? Those people grow to hate the everything about the job and their lives and I totally get it. It’s still no reason to take it out on the people that pay your salary though. Just as flight attendants are the face of everything bad that happens to a customer from the time they book their ticket until they land at their destination, the customers are the faces of all the frustrations those flight attendants feel about their existence.

Airlines need that infusion of new blood to keep fresh. Not only are the new ones nice and accommodating, they also remind old flight attendants like me what it was like when we were young. Watching some of these ridiculously young new hires interact with the passengers and putting them above all is just what I needed to put it all in perspective. Listening to them get excited about layovers in places I turn my nose up at was refreshing and humbling. Listening to them talk about all the places they want to fly to on their own time was sentimental. Watching all the youngens getting crazy and making bad decisions was invigorating. Maybe the idea of the wild and free flight attendant isn’t quite dead yet. Maybe I have some potential partners-in-crime out there still.

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I honestly think some of those foreign carriers have it right when they make you quit at a certain age. I would hate it now if tonight my airline said that I have to quit when I hit 40 but if I knew before i got hired that I had a shelf life, I would be fine with it. In fact it would probably do me a world of good. It was force me to think about the future and prepare for life after the airlines. I’m totally not prepared for that right now. If I lost my job tomorrow I don’t know what I’d do next, even though I have a degree. I think I’d also be happier at work if I knew the job had an expiration date. It is what it is and there’s no debate about it. When it’s open ended it can seem like a prison sentence. What makes you pull the cord and escape? I think it’s a great idea to keep the work force fresh. People would make the most of every trip and passengers would get flight attendants are their best. Of course that’s all dependent on flight attendants knowing that’s the situation from the get-go, it’s just not fair to implement an age cut-off after they’ve settled in and built a life surrounding the job.

One thing I noticed about flight attendants who do finally retire is that they are so damn happy about their decision. They say that suicidal people are often “doing much better” in their final days. That’s usually because they’ve made up their mind to end it and that’s comforting. Same with retiring flight attendants. I’ve flown with several people in their last few months and they have been absolute delights to work with. Some were pricks last year, but wonderful on their last trips, probably for the same reasons.

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I’m very happy that my airline isn’t forcing any of us out, but I totally get why they’d want us out in exchange for younger, prettier, happier, more patient people who would be paid less money and need less money to live. We’ve had our new hires on the line for just over a year now and I can already tell a huge difference in the morale of everyone. The passengers seem to like my airline more as well. Our ratings have gone up that’s for sure. Plus it’s alot of fun to watch some of the older pilots try it on with the 21 year olds at the hotel bar.

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Incovenienced Abroad: Scared In Switzerland

This entry is mostly done by the lovely Amanda, guest blogger to this site and my partner in crime for my trip to Zürich on Cinco de Mayo.

When I got the invite to join Brian on his twenty-four hour Zürich overnight recently, I jumped at the chance. I am also a flight attendant, so I used my flight benefits to hop on his flight in and tour around the city for a fun weekend in another country. We had a great time wandering around Old Town Zürich, sitting on the lake, and just generally soaking up the local flavor. I love spontaneous adventures.

Little did I realize the adventure part was only just beginning when we met the rest of the crew in the lobby the next morning waiting for the hotel van. I was already a little nervous about my timing – I still had to check in at the ticket counter and make my way through both security and passport control before boarding the flight home. But the airport wasn’t too far away, and, as a standby passenger, my name wouldn’t be called until the end of the boarding process anyways. As long as I checked in pretty quickly, the ball would be rolling and I’d no doubt waltz to the gate at the beginning of boarding, at the very latest.

I wasn’t too nervous until I heard more than one person on the crew say, “Where in the world is our van?” My heart sank a little deeper each time I heard it. I looked at Brian’s face, and his eyes were fixed anxiously on the street outside where it was supposed to meet us.

Finally I heard someone announce its arrival, but my momentary relief washed away as the tired inbound crew very slowly hopped out.

I floated through the next few minutes, feeling a bit defeated and incredulous at my poor decision to not go to the airport on my own. Meanwhile, Brian explained to the van driver that I need to get to the ticket counter ASAP. Another pang of disappointment hit me as the driver replied, “Ticketing is in another building.” He then offered to drop me off there to save me a little time.

“Yeah, when he said that another building was involved I honestly thought there wasn’t a chance in hell she was going to make it. Even with an on-time pick up from the hotel it was going to be a photo finish. When the van came 20 minutes late I thought she had a 5% chance. Once I heard about this second building noise, I was already thinking of how I was going to explain it to everyone back home.

 I was going to come out looking like an asshole any way I spun it though. You don’t take your girlfriend on a trip to another country and leave her behind. I’ve never met her parents but I’m sure I’d be beaten severely the first time I did.”

The whole ride to Zürich Airport I wrung my hands nervously as I stared out the window at what I hoped would be my last glimpses of Switzerland for the day. The flight wasn’t full, that I was assured of, so I knew I wouldn’t be competing with other passengers to get on their flight, but I still had several hurdles ahead of me. Both Brian and the Captain assured me that they wouldn’t take off without me, and that was a bit of a relief. But who wants a delay attributed to them, especially when it was my own dumb choice to save a few bucks and not jump on the train by myself an hour earlier?

“I’m not really sure if I could’ve backed up that promise of not leaving without Amanda, but I felt like the words needed to be said to her at that moment to prevent a breakdown.”

We pulled up at Arrivals to drop off the crew. I watched everyone hop off without a care in the world. I don’t know if I felt more sad or stupid, but definitely a combination of the two. Brian and I stared at each other with forlorn eyes, hoping we’d be seeing each other again before the flight departed. The van driver got back in and drove me the 150 or so feet to the Departures area, and he quickly got my bags out for me and pointed me to the correct counter.

No one was in line! And there was an agent, hallelujah! All that panic for nothing!

I sighed with relief as I handed the agent my passport and ticket, telling her I was going to New York. She took them and began typing away on the computer. Suddenly, her countenance changed just a little, and she asked me when I packed my bags, and who packed them. I thought to myself that she must be new, because she seemed a little nervous when asking me. I told her I packed my bags, just an hour ago.

“When did you purchase your bags?”

Okay, I thought, this is getting a little weird. “Um, nine years ago and…thirteen years ago?” I had no idea.

“What electronics do you have on you?”

“A phone and a computer.”

“When did you purchase them?”

Oh my God! I don’t have time for this!

“Two years ago and six months ago.”

She turned around and led me with a wave to a counter behind her, where another agent was waiting, this one bubbly and cute. She was handed my passport and ticket, and I began to unclench a bit. After some typing and a little difficulty processing my ticket, which was solved with the help of a stocky and sturdy woman seated next to her, I was handed my boarding pass and passport with a smile. Whew! I turned around and started marching away. Success! And wow, I even had a seat assignment! 20E. And my name is Denise.

Wait a minute, no it’s not.

I immediately turned around and trotted back to the ticket counter, as wearing my backpack forced me to do. I saw the agent and anxiously informed her of the mix up. Her eyes widened, and she told her large coworker in German of the error. “Scheiße!!,” she yelled.

I laughed aloud at her loud swearing. It was funny, but I also was looking for something to distract me from my tension. The first coworker again got to work, still confused as to how to check me in, but after a phone call to a supervisor and checking, double-checking, and triple-checking my new boarding pass, I was off and trotting once more.

Security was a breeze, and I was once again reassuring myself that I’d been panicking for nothing. I couldn’t wait to see Brian and laugh with him at how silly it all was. I followed the signs pointing toward my gate number, and I felt like I was in the clear. I’d even considered browsing through Duty Free, because I’d already been through the two places that could possibly hold me up. I decided against it as soon as the perfume cloud wafted into my face, and headed down an escalator that led to the boarding area. When I got to the bottom, I saw a sign pointing toward Passport Control.

“I would have killed her if she showed up with a bunch of Duty Free purchases. I was absolutely freaking out while I was trying to get my First Class galley together. Every other second someone was asking me if she’d boarded yet or if I was starting to get worried. Ummm yeah, I was getting a tad concerned.”

I always get nervous walking through Customs. I’d blame the show “Locked Up Abroad,” but I think my minor fear had started before that. I guess I feel like I’m going to stutter when posed a question, as I sometimes do when I am on the spot, and it’s going to set off alarm bells, which will then bring about an interrogation in a dark room for hours, with one agent screaming in my face, another with a clipboard analyzing my behavior.

It’s never happened, but I fear it nonetheless. I gulped a little and went up to the friendliest-looking agent, a frizzy-haired lady named Claudia. She was talking to a plain-clothes agent in her booth and she cheerfully went over my passport. I began reviewing in my head how I’d answer the question I was expecting her to ask, which was why I’d only spent twenty-four hours in Switzerland.

Instead, after lots of typing, I noticed her brow furrow and her conversational tone turn inquisitive toward her booth mate as she pointed at the computer screen.

“Have you ever lost your passport?,” she asked me, but more in a friendly way than suspicious.

“No,” I’d responded, thinking little of it, “but I just used it yesterday.”

“Hmm. It looks like it was used again,” she said. The lump returned to my throat. “Are you sure you’ve never reported it lost or stolen?”

“No, never. I’m a flight attendant, I have it on me at all times.”

“So you’ve never lost it?” A big smile crossed her face, and she sang, “Never ever ever?”

I laughed nervously. “Never ever ever!”

“When does your flight leave?”

“In thirty-five minutes!”

She cartoonishly grabbed her hair, stuck out her tongue, and yelped. I couldn’t believe I was in the real world at this point. She called up a fellow agent, and she assured me that agent would be here right away and they would try to get it taken care of in time for me to catch my flight.

“At this point the gate agent had told me that she had checked in so I felt very good about her making the flight. My biggest fear had been that the flight was set to depart in less than an hour. Since my flight was the only one my airline operates each day, there’s no need to keep the counter open after the JFK flight checks in. I had no idea all of this drama was going on and there was no way she could let us know.”

The next agent, a very pretty younger woman, came to her booth and looked over the screen with her. I looked at this new agent pleadingly, hoping she would somehow make it all go away.

My hopes  were dashed when I saw her writing Claudia’s full name and badge number on a form. Claudia then said to me with a reassuring smile that I was to go with this new agent and it would be sorted out. I couldn’t bring myself to look around the room as I was being led away by the armed customs agent. I was absolutely sure that everyone around me thought I was about to start pooping balloons of cocaine in the Customs toilet (if that’s what they make people do). I’m sure that’s what they told their friends, at least. “You’ll never believe it, I saw a drug mule get arrested,” I’m sure they said. “She looked so guilty!”

I was led to an office in the corner of the room, where I was sat on a bench behind it, I suppose to avoid nosy stares from other passengers. I was again asked if I’d lost my passport ever in my life, and once again I answered with a confident NO!

She told me to wait there as she went into the frosted-glass office, where another officer had been sitting. They again stared at the computer, scratching their heads and obviously producing no answers. I tried desperately to send help messages telepathically to Brian on the plane. All I wanted was for him to reassure me, and I knew there was no way for that to happen. I wanted to cry, but I also wanted to hang on to the shred of hope I still had left.

“I did not receive that telepathic message.”

My final obstacle after this was to get to the gate and get on the plane, so if it was resolved soon, my fate would mostly be in my own hands. That said, I also began thinking out a contingency plan for flying back to the US whenever this fiasco was over.

I saw the female agent get up. Perhaps she had good news! She bent down to pick something up before walking out of the office. Something jingly.

HANDCUFFS!!!

I nearly fainted as I saw them. I’d done nothing wrong! I wondered if Brian would think I was cool if I went to a Swiss prison. That’s kind of hot, right?

“way hot.”

As soon as I saw and heard them, though, she’d clipped them to her belt. Of all the times to accessorize, she had to pick that moment! She looked at me empathetically, however, and said, “I am so sorry for all this, I am going to check with one more agent. Stay here, I’ll be right back.” She quickly disappeared, and so did my hope for getting on the flight. I watched everyone else walking freely to their gates, and I felt like a mangy dog at the pound, being passed over by prospective owners and aware my days were numbered.

Finally, I saw the agent quickly heading back toward me. I readied my wrists for the handcuffs, just in case. She again apologized. “We’ve found nothing. I’m very sorry, have a great day.” Really? Nothing? All of this and it was suddenly okay? I didn’t waste time asking more questions and I ran off like a crazy person toward the tram to my gate – the final obstacle.

Of course, the tram pulled away as I reached it. I tapped my foot nervously as I stood there sweaty and frazzled, physically feeling every second ticking down as I waited. The next tram finally arrived and I cursed its slow speed. When it arrived at the departure gates, my inner New Yorker came out and I pushed my way though the doors first and ran, no longer rolling my suitcase but running with it, down corridors and up the escalators, until my gate was in sight.

There were still plenty of people boarding. Success! My name was called shortly after at the podium so I could get my seat assignment. It was all over. I handed my ticket and passport to the final agent I had to go through. She was smiling until she put her hand up in a stop sign.

“Have your bags been out of your possession at any time?”

I looked around. No one else was being asked this question. I wasn’t imagining this – I was a suspect.

“No,” I replied with exasperation. She began looking through my passport and at my ticket again, and told me to wait. I started again trying to summon Brian with my mind, but that worked as well as it had the first time. She called a second agent over, and, with a raised eyebrow, pointed to the security sticker on my passport. He instantly told her it was fine. She waved me through. I felt like I had no physical or emotional strength left in my body as I entered the jet bridge. I could see Brian on the plane, watching for me to board. I collapsed in his arms with relief, trying to laugh about it, but not at all ready yet.

“I don’t think I’ll ever tell Amanda that she was being punked and all those agents were in on it. Even the inbound crew and the driver that were so late were in on it. Ok, not really.”

He quickly poured me a glass of champagne, which I drank so fast I nearly choked on it. I wondered what lay ahead of me in the US, but at least it would be on my own soil when I would potentially be held and questioned.

I slept through most of the flight home, except to occasionally review the situation with the crew and finally start laughing about it. I hurried off the plane in JFK, anticipating a problem, but got through Customs in a blink of an eye, perhaps because the agent was too busy reviewing the previous night’s basketball game with either a traveler or an agent in plain clothes going home for the night. I met Brian by baggage claim, and I don’t think I’ve ever chanted “USA!” with such little irony in my life.

Before we even started our trip to Zürich, Amanda said she wanted to write about it. I think she secretly sabotaged her ordeal to make it seem more dramatic/impressive, like in Chuck Palahniuk’s “Haunted.” At the very least she may have done it subconsciously 🙂

You can follow Amanda’s Twitter

And also My Twitter

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.

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.

 

August 12, 2011 GIG-JFK

Bored… Bored… Bored… I am so bored!

On the plane between Rio and New York, heading North.  I’m not sure where we are exactly but it’s about 3am NYC time.  About an hour ago we were over Venezuela.  I could tell by all the oil rigs.  We have about three hours left.  All my passengers are dead asleep.

I slept like a rock on my break, which was good because I’m not sure when my next good sleep will be.  It won’t be tonight because that’s now and we land at 6:30am.  I’ll sleep for a few hours during the day and then go out with Cindy, Diggy, Buffy, and Sport in the East Village.  Diggy and his DJ buddies are throwing a party on Houston and Orchard.  I’m sure that will be a late night.  I’m positive of that.  So that will be very little sleep because the next day I gotta get up at 10am to watch the Liverpool game on TV and then head straight over to Newark to stand by for the SAS flight to Stockholm.  So that night will be spent on a plane and not much sleeping will happen then I’m sure.

Once I get to Sweden I reckon I’ll be out partying all five nights.  I can only hope we sleep in during the day, but I’ll be way too excited to do that.  I’ll be up early and wanting to wander around and check out Stockholm with my camera and journal.  I think my best bet is to take a sleeping pill on the plane to Stockholm and sleep all the way there.  At least I’ll be hitting the ground fully rested.  I won’t be at my house again until the night of the 23rd.  I left it on July 29th so that’s nearly a month.  I’m glad I don’t have any pets.  My plants will be lucky to be alive.

I got the lowest maintenance plants known to man.  My mom once threw one away and six months later it was still alive.  That’s the perfect plant for me.  I like my friendships that are like that.  They can remain dormant yet preserved thru months of neglect.

It’s really like I don’t even have a house.  I’m not sure why I got one.  Obama’s $8000 First Time Home Buyers tax credit was too good to pass up.  I love being home more than anything, but I’m also perfectly happy staying in New York and running around with my friends there on my days off.  I also love to travel and could do that forever.  I always thought it was a good thing to be that adaptable, being able to live anywhere, but now I think it says something about my personality, and maybe that’s not necessarily a good thing.  Maybe that’s why I’m still single.

I’m getting even more bored.  This flight is dragging.  I’m eating Brazilian cheese balls by the handful and drinking vegetable broth just out of boredom.  I’ve also noticed that I’ve been staring at the ice cream for the last ten minutes. It’s as good as in my stomach.

I’m so damn bored that I’m now racing glasses of juice.  I had set out ten little glasses of OJ and apple juice in case someone woke up and wanted one.  They’re sitting on the counter and the vibration from the plane is causing them to very slowly move down the countertop.  At first I thought the lady I’m flying with kept moving them but then I noticed it happened again when she was in the back of the plane.  They don’t go very fast.  It takes several minutes to travel a few inches.  They’re moving at glacier speed.

That’s when I decided to race two of them.  I picked an orange and an apple and made sure they held the same exact amount of juice.  I moved them back ten inches and let them go.  It’s been about five minutes now and Apple has moved 3cm and Orange 1cm.  It’s like watching turtles race.  I decided it’s more fun if I don’t watch them and just check back every few minutes to see how they’re going.

All the other glasses of juice are lined up in the back, cheering them on.  There are seven orange juices and just one apple so I’m rooting for Apple.  He’s a loner, Dottie, a rebel.  Some of the OJ spectators aren’t staying where they’re supposed to on the sidelines.  They’re slowly vibrating their way on to the track.

Fuck it, I’m starting the ovens early.  It won’t get us into NYC any earlier but it makes me think that we are.  The next step in all the steps that need to happen to end this flight is to serve First Class breakfast.  That should be happening in an hour but I think I’ll do it now instead, even if it means just two of us serving the entire cabin while the other two First Class stews are still on break.  Then we can move on to the next step.  Let’s get these steps done as quickly as possible, no matter how sloppy and rushed.  I’d make a horrible twelve-stepper.

Dying in a Plane Crash

I get asked about Plane Crashes more than anything else when I tell people I’m a flight attendant…by FAR!  It’s not even close between that topic and all the rest (unruly passengers and the mile high club)

People are fascinated by it.  I’m guessing because there are very few things in this world that are more visually impressive than a plane crash.  Not impressive in a good way, but it certainly creates a lasting image doesn’t it?  Think of how people rubberneck to see a fender bender; what if you were creeping by a wrecked 747? Of course you would look and remember every detail of what you saw.

Honestly though, I don’t think about it that often.  I mean would you if you were flying half a million miles every year? If it does happen though, and I’ve already told my mom this, don’t feel like that’s the worst way a person could go. Here are worse ways to die in my opinion (in no particular order)

Eaten by piranhas

Burned to death

Buried alive (in either cold snow or hot sand or anything in between)

Dipped into boiling tar- who really cares if feathers are later added?

Locked-in syndrome-usually follows a stroke, very drawn out and painful

Eaten alive by fire ants, or any kind of ants.  In fact it’d suck just as much to be eaten alive by lady bugs

Wood Chipper (it was horrible enough watching Steve Buscemi in one in Fargo, and he was already dead!)

Tossed into the ocean with concrete blocks on your feet.  Most of the traditional mob deaths would be worse than a plane crash, though Joe Pesci’s death in Goodfellas might be alright.

Lost in the middle of the ocean.  That may just be my personal worst way to die. I don’t like to even think about it.

Being on the Titanic, nearly as bad as above but at least you’re not alone and hopefully you had some decent food and entertainment before the iceberg- maybe you even had the chance to draw a rich girl naked!

Starvation

Crucifixion

Falling into a pit of snakes

Falling into a cave, breaking a leg, and never being able to get help

Smoke Monster from Lost

Watching that video from The Ring

Saying “Candyman” three times in the mirror

Anything Freddy Krueger related

Any of the ways you learn about when you go to the Torture Museum in Amsterdam http://www.torturemuseum.com/

I’m sure in those few seconds when you realize your plane is going down you’re going to experience terror like no other, but luckily it doesn’t last for very long and death itself is very quick and painless.  I’m not saying that’s how I want to go, but at least it’s quick.  And as far as the conversation in Clerks about masturbating one last time before you die in a plane crash… could you really get an erection in that moment?

So those are my thoughts on plane crashes, now please never ask me about them if I meet you in a bar or especially if we meet on a plane.  Next blog will be much more upbeat I promise. This was probably the wrong thing to post just hours before I have to fly for thirteen days in a row.

St. Patrick’s Day 2011 Tokyo

We’re about three hours away from landing at Tokyo Haneda, not too shabby. We’re flying right along the International Date Line.  I have no idea which side we’re on.  I have no idea what day it is.  I slept during my entire three-hour break.  It was fantastic.  My one and only passenger is still asleep.  I haven’t had to do anything for the entire flight.

There are three meal services to do up here in First Class between New York and Tokyo but I didn’t have to do a thing or cook a single meal other than the needy cockpit.  Well 3/4ths of them were needy, one was really nice and low maintenance. I just move the carts around in preparation for maybe working, but it never came to that. This is easy money.  Not only am I not having to do shit, we’re understaffed by two people so that will be an extra $270 in my pocket. Because of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami and subsequent nuclear power plant explosions, all the people who were supposed to work this trip didn’t show up.  They had to scramble to find minimum crew.  I didn’t care, I needed the hours.  What’s a little extra radiation? If I can’t be tan I may as well be green.

Now I have the last meal service ready to go along with the chocolate chip cookies which I baked to perfection.  Too bad no one will know anything about them because no one will eat them, not even I.  Unfortunately the strange blind man in 1J is coming back with us to New York the morning after tomorrow.  He only booked this flight to rack up some miles.  I guess he needs a few more long flights to retain his status of Executive Prick.

I liked him when he first got on, how could I not with him being the one and only First Class passenger? Me being overly nice was my eventual downfall.  When offering him the newspapers before take off I elaborated on each and every paper we had.  Usually I just say, “Paper today?”

No, I was going to make a point of providing excellent customer service so I did just that and said more about the papers we had than what was printed in the papers themselves.  I felt pretty good about how I presented them but the guy just glares in my general direction and says, “I’m blind!”  Oops.  I had no idea.  It looked like he had a lazy eye but it also looked like the other one was okay.  I apologized and he said it was fine but things would never be the same between he and I.  The worst part was while he was eating his meal (from coach), I was sitting in the empty seat/pod in front of him working on my bids.  I was facing backwards so that I could keep an eye on my cabin.  The man calls the Pursor over and complains that I’m staring at him while he’s eating and it makes him feel uncomfortable.  So I give up, is he blind or not?  I guess only when convenient.

The sun was down when we took off and has been down ever since.  It’ll never come up on this thirteen-hour flight.  It’s nearly 7pm in Tokyo and so the sun has set there as well.  I love it.  The other straight male flight attendant was bitching about it being dark the entire flight but I couldn’t be happier.  A sleeping passenger is a happy passenger.

One hour away.  My passenger is still sleeping though I’m not sure if he’s still blind or not.  I caught him reading his menu earlier.  We’re right above Sapporo and took a turn so that we’re now going straight south.  I’m looking forward to seeing a new hotel.  That’s always fun, especially in Japan where they usually have random things.  I’m also excited about being in a new city.  Tokyo and Narita are not the same thing at all.  That’s like saying Yonkers is the same as Manhattan. I already told my crew that my room is open for nightcaps when we get in.  One guy and one girl have already given me their RSVP.

NEXT DAY-  I’m trying to decide if I want to try to figure out the subway and go into downtown Tokyo.  I know I do but I’m really dragging my feet here.  Some of it is getting over a hangover from my room party last night.  It wasn’t a party so much as just having Kylie and Max over for drinks, music, and Uno.  At 4am we were all wasted and falling asleep on the floor.  I blame the physical exhaustion rather than the vodka.  We called it a night and everyone stumbled back to their rooms.

When I woke up at 9:30am I was still drunk.  When I woke up at 3pm I was still drunk.  The room is still spinning and it’s 5pm.  There could be an earthquake and I’ll probably not even realize it because I’ve been feeling the floor move all day.  WOW, while I was typing that sentence we really did have an earthquake.  The blinds started moving as if the window was open and a breeze was coming in.  Everything else just kinda shifted and slided for about 10 seconds.  A quick check with the USGS website confirmed the quake.  Ok, I may need to get out of here. I don’t want to be found in my underwear in rubble.

Back from my excursion into downtown Tokyo.  It was a little dicey for a while but I made it.   It had nothing to do with natural elements, it was all my own stupidity.  I’m glad I went out today.  Just the subway ride alone was worth it.  The people watching was out of this world.

It’s incredibly easy getting to downtown from here in Yokohama, even though it takes a long time if you’re on a local train.  I only had 600 yen and 440 of it was used to buy my ticket into town.  I figured I could find an ATM or charge my return ticket.  I wasn’t worried.

I got off at the lost stop- Shibuya, that famous place where they have the massive intersection where hundreds of people cross the street every single time the Walk sign comes on.  The first thing I do is cross with the masses and it feels electric.  This is already way better than that boring ol’ Narita layover.  Tokyo is pretty stimulating.

After I cross the street I try to figure out the best way to take a picture of the insanity.  I see there’s an enclosed walking bridge connecting the train station to another building across the street.  It has large glass windows and is three floors above ground.  That should work.  I go up there and get my photo along with thirty outtakes.  From there I just wander around the streets.  I go down little side streets and I go down busy boulevards with huge buildings and big colorful signs.

Everything is photo worthy.  Anything written in Japanese looks like it needs its picture taken. I got pictures of some restaurants, strip clubs, internet/karaoke combo stores, and then a series of a group of firefighters surrounding a building looking intense.  There were at least twenty of them and five fire trucks but no one ever saw smoke or fire, though we were all staring at the same building for half an hour.

I realized it’s St. Patrick’s Day but I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to pinch people in Japan. I’m not even sure if they know to wear green today. A see a few kids wearing green jeans but I think they wear those any day of the week. I doubt it’s a celebration of Irish Pride. Should I educate them on the phenomenon? I think I’d be cute to see more teens wearing, “Kiss Me I’m Irish” pins. None of the firemen are wearing green but they look like they’d get mad if I pinched them.

Along the way I looked for currency exchange places and ATMs.  I found no exchange places but many ATMs.  Most ATMs weren’t in English and the ones that were, didn’t seem to like my cards.  Uh-oh!

Eventually I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get out any money.  There’s just no way.  That’s when the search for loose yen began.  I looked on the ground, I looked around over fifty vending machines, I even looked for some kind of fountain where people might throw in coins for luck.  I saw a band playing for change outside a train station and thought about just borrowing a little from them.  I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded if I left them a twenty-dollar bill. It almost came to that.

I had a few yen, enough for a kids ticket or a very short ride, like maybe to the next station.  At least I could buy a ticket to get into the station and get on a train. You can’t get onto a train without some sort of ticket to put into the machine. I decided to just do that and then I’d figure it out when I got back to my stop.  I went to the self-serve machine and put in the rest of my coins.  I got a ticket that would only let me exit a stop or two down the line, but that’s alright, I’ll just keep going even though I know I’ll have major problems later.  At least I’d be near the hotel before someone confronts me on this.  I couldn’t decide if it’d be better to claim out-of-town ignorance or say that I lost my ticket.  I practiced both scenes.

I spend most of the time on the train worrying about this and taking photos of all the Japanese men and women in their little white masks.  Looks like I accidentally got on a train car that’s supposed to be just for women.  It’s all pink and says “women only” but I’m not the only guy on here so I don’t worry about it.

When I get to my station I see that I’m the only one to get off the train.  It’s at a big mall and conference center so after it closes for the night, the area is a ghost town.  That’s a good thing.  I see an exit turnstile and it’s wide open.  There are a couple random people standing around but I don’t think they’re cops or Metro employees.  I take a deep breath and just walk through quickly, but not suspiciously fast.  The once-opened doors start to close on me but I slide through them.  Some kind of bad beeping and red light flashing occur so I just keep going and look confused in case anyone is looking.

There are several exits for the station but I take the very first one I come to.  I run up the escalator and don’t look back until I’m above ground and out of the station.  Thank God.  That could have been a nasty situation, especially if no one spoke English.  I had a feeling it’d be ok but at the same time, it could’ve ended badly and I knew that.  I was very thankful that my exit was a relative non-event.  Next time, bring yen and lot’s of it.  Now I have six hours to kill before my 4:40am pick up.  Thank God for free internet and March Madness.