Saturday, September 6, 2014

Passenger of the Day: Sir Incheon

Seoul from my hotel window
Working with the flying public is always an experience, and my recent trip to Seoul is no exception. For the most part, the people I encounter are super nice. Sure, we get the rotten apples from time to time, such as the couple in row 21 who were working out some domestic issues. The woman had been so quiet during the boarding process, but turned into the Kraken after takeoff, yelling and belittling her husband for all around to hear. He, in the mean time, sat in silence, looking straight ahead, almost as if she were not speaking to him, but some apparition seated in the empty seat between them. Later, when I walked by, she had her head in her palms, completely distraught, perhaps with her marriage at its end. He, still, was silently staring ahead, obviously not as bothered by the whole situation.

There were quite a few military men on board as well; in fact, only 10% of our passengers were women. All my single lady friends, you should be flying to the states from Korea! One guy stopped me as the aircraft was still climbing to ask if he could make a purchase from Duty Free. He seemed very urgent about it. Politely, I informed him that duty free would not be opened until after the dinner service, or in about 2 hours. He found this agitating, so I mentioned that we did have over nine hours for him to make purchases. Curious as all get-out, I asked what was so important that he had to buy it right away. Jack Daniels.

A laugh escaped me, and I resumed my composure to tell him, “Well, you couldn't drink it on board the aircraft.” “Why not?” he pouted.
“It's a Federal Aviation Regulation...” we don't want people getting ten sheets to the wind, causing us to divert to Alaska, which makes all these people two hours late, and those who have connections miss their flights, and they will be very upset with you, and I don't want all these people upset with you. I also don't like the paperwork. I'm sorry, you can buy all the duty free alcohol you want, but you can't drink it on board; it must be served by a flight attendant.

Three men sat at the bulkhead of economy with blankets wrapped around their legs, an odd protrusion visible between their calves. “Alright, guys, what's under the blankets? Bags? Yep, we can not land with them at your feet.” They knew they were caught, but I've been doing this a long time and I know the tricks. What really got me was that I had just asked them not 5 minutes earlier to place their bags in the overheads.

In contrast was the nice young woman who sat across from my jump seat. She had a pink and white camouflage back pack, as if a recruit in the Hello Kitty army. She reached her seat to find that she had no seat in front of her under which to stow her back pack. She asked where she should put it. “Well, the good thing is all the leg room you have here, the bad thing is that everything has to be stowed in the overhead areas.” She pouted for a second, and I knew why, so I also told her she could have it down during flight, but during take-off and landing, it would have to be stowed above.

She was quite talkative and I enjoyed listening to her story. She had just flown in from Houston on the new 787. She remarked that she was not used to large aircraft with two aisles and had enjoyed the modern jetliner experience. She was going to Seoul for a month to see her husband. I guessed correctly that they were still newly weds. Her husband of about one year was stationed in Seoul, working with radios and communication. He would be flying back to Texas with her in a month and they would then be moving to Seattle for his new post. She wasn't necessarily looking forward to the move but seemed a little relieved to hear me boast about how nice it was in part of the country. She was in the running for passenger of the day, but the winner was back at row 57.
South Korea

Here was a family of three going to a religious convention in Seoul. When I got to their row to pick up dinner trays, I asked how they enjoyed their meal. They said it was very good, to which I replied that I was happy to hear, since I'd worked so hard to prepare it. They ate up my sense of humor and I then noticed the young woman at the window had placed a stuffed animal on her arm rest, facing out. I asked if he was enjoying the view. The three of them laughed and I moved on to the next row.

A large bear statue in Seoul
A few minutes later, as I passed by their row once more, I further noticed the stuffed animal. “Is that a bunny with a pig nose or a pig with bunny ears?” I asked her. She sort of shrugged her shoulders, “A pigitt?” I asked, “Half pig, half rabbit?” Her mother agreed. Finding out it didn't have a name, I warned her she should pick one before I did so for her, and she may not be happy with my selection. I loved the laughter these encounters elicited, knowing I was making a great impression on their trip.

Halfway through the flight I learned that the pigitt still didn't have a name. I took a serviette and wrote down 8 names for her to choose from, and then added title options, such as Dr., Professor, or Sir. When I handed the list to the young woman, her eyes rolled with a big smile and the father laughed in approval. I didn't give them a chance for banter, as I immediately turned to retreat to the galley.

The next time I saw them, I was handing out the breakfast trays before landing in Seoul. I was informed that pigitt was now Sir Incheon. I smiled in approval and reached into my pocket, “In honor of Sir Incheon's new name, I present him with a pair of wings.” She bounced in approval and immediately pinned them on his ear. “Normally, we wear them on our chest, but Sir Incheon can wear them anywhere he pleases.”

They were a fun family and we later exchanged names and made small chat. I thanked them for being so much fun. Passengers such as these can really make a trip enjoyable. The flying public can be strange, funny, and at times, quite entertaining. But for the most part, they are a joy. Especially when encouraging my sense of humor with funny stuffed animals.
My office

Adventures in Flight: Made, in China

The Monday blues; I'm surrounded by people who have them. I remember them, and I do agree, they are not the best hue in the rainbow. Having a job involves water cooler gossip, hurt feelings in the staff meeting, ignored recommendations to the supervisor, heavy traffic commute five days a week, two-day weekends to relax, have fun and recover from the fun had. I'll have none of that.

Even a bad day at Mother Airline is usually better than most people's good days. For me, a bad day is quite rare. It's quite often I find myself looking at a 3 or 4-day weekend and I'm always eager to get back to the skies for my next adventure. Often, I'm just so much more at home on a plane at 37,000 feet. I have no supervisors to contend with, I get to meet interesting people and when I am done with work, I'm in another city where a van picks me up and takes me a nice hotel. Maybe I'll catch up on the news. Maybe I'll have a swim and a workout in the gym. Maybe I'll do a bit of shopping or exploring a unique city. Maybe I just relax and do some writing. Or, if I'm lucky, a little of all of the above.
 The assignment, fly to Shanghai for 40 hours and return on the 4th day at 9 AM. I love Shanghai; great shopping, wonderful massages, fantastic city. I've been trying to get back to Shanghai for about 2 years; the trips can be elusive for someone as junior as I am at the airline. I've had some artwork I have wanted to get framed, and to do it here is phenomenally inexpensive. One of the best perks of being a flight attendant is the ability to take advantage of great deals all over the world. You could save 90% on a quality framing job by coming to China, but the cost of a visa, a hotel and the airfare wouldn't make it worth while. My visa is paid for, as is the hotel. All I have to do is schlep the framed artwork back home, which is easy to do when you're one of the first 19 people on the airplane and know all the great hiding spots!
Some of the modern buildings of Shanghai

Shanghai is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. The largest city in China, and it's financial capital, it's vibrant, colorful, full of tall buildings and offers everything. The city looks like some futuristic space port, a skyline dotted with buildings decked out in lights, spheres, platforms, bowls, spires, antennae, glass and columns. In Shanghai, it's not a building unless it makes a bold statement or looks like either a UFO, or a place for a UFO to land.
Rainy evening from hotel window

I walked into the briefing room and found it quieter than normal. I felt very out of place, not recognizing any of the other flight attendants. Usually, the briefing sets the mood for the rest of the trip. Some crews don't get along as seamlessly as others. Some crews are very fraternal and there can be many inside stories and backgrounds that someone new to the scene, like me, can feel left out of. Briefing rooms are often loud and full of chatter among flight attendants getting up to date with the lives of fellow crew members they've flown with for years, but the members of this crew were oddly silent.

If I thought this was going to be one of those crews who were not as seamless as others, or that this was going to be one of those trips where I stick to doing things on my own, I was wrong. Some of the flight attendants were quirky, others had a dry sense of humor, but all were very friendly and accommodating. No one seemed overly odd or demanding and the teamwork was soon evident. It wouldn't be a bad because of the crew.

With briefing finished, I now knew where I was working on the flight; economy, as usual, and seated at door 3 Right on the jumbo jet, 747-400, my favorite bird. It's so large and graceful, when it's not got a list of inoperative issues, as older planes are subject to having. The plane is longer than the first manned flight by the Wright Brothers.

I led the procession from the briefing room to the gate, as I needed to stop at the ATM for some cash. Insert card, some random beeping and machine gurgling noises, and a message flashed at me that no cash could be received, as my card had expired. I'm not sure why an ATM card needs an expiration, but now I'd be leaving the country with very little cash. It wouldn't be a bad day, however, as I always carry emergency cash with me.

After my delay at the ATM, I was now towards the back of the line of black-uniformed flight attendants heading to gate 99 to work the flight. As we exited the long moving sidewalk, we found those at the front of the group heading back in the opposite direction, “Gate change, it's out of 94.” Like lemmings, we got back on the opposite moving sidewalk and followed them, only to find out that it was 95, not 94, and 95 was half way between the start of the moving sidewalk and its end. We were snaking our way to the gate and it wasn't the most graceful start to a trip.

At gate 95 was a 747 awaiting passengers. There was talk that it was our plane, not the one we were briefed on, but another, and this one had no working entertainment system. Someone mentioned that the pilots were in the process of refusing the plane. We soon realized that the plane was bound for Narita, Japan. We pitied the poor passengers on their flight to Japan with no entertainment. It wouldn't be a bad day because of the plane.

Our plane? Well, it was at the hangar, all ready for us. The only problem was that there was no gate available for her. We were next informed that the flight would be delayed nearly 3 hours. This is the point when at least 1 flight attendant gets out the contract to find out when we go illegal. This would happen if we did not leave before 4:25 PM. It was close, as we were scheduled to leave at 3.

When the plane finally did leave, it did so from domestic gate 86, meaning a long walk back to the terminal in which we had briefed a few hours earlier. I was glad to be leaving, as I really wanted to get my artwork framed and the thought of an hour massage for about $12 was a driving force.
Street in Shanghai

The service went smoothly and even the Chinese passengers, who can be known for being a challenge, were easy-going. I struck up a little conversation with a young man headed to China for a kid's Olympic program. When we landed in Shanghai, as he passed me to exit the aircraft, he handed to me a thank you card with a very nice note. My first thought was, who travels with thank you cards? My crew thought maybe he was trying to hit on me. I doubted that, as he didn't seem the type, and if had, he would have most likely included his phone number or last name!

Many of the Chinese passengers ask for hot water. I love the accent, “Haht ahwahturr...” They bring their own containers for the water, usually filled with things to enhance flavor, such as tea leaves, mushrooms, dirty socks...who knows what's in those? And the meal service is always fun, “Would you like lasagna or the chicken?” The response was often, “Rice!” That was OK, as the chicken had rice. But for the breakfast service on arrival, when the choice was omelet or noodles, “Rice!” didn't work. “No, omelet or noodles, no rice!”

I reached a row of seats and asked about a drink. Window seat asked for water. I poured a cup and as I handed it to him, he shook his hand in front of it and asked for half a cup. OK, I thought, I'll give this cup to someone else. I asked around, “Water? Water? Who would like a cup of water?” Finally, someone took it. I asked Aisle seat what he wanted to drink...water. I wanted to pour it over his head!

No, not a bad trip. Great crew, fun passengers, wonderful city, deluxe hotel accommodations, successful shopping, had fun hanging out with other crew members, and I even slept during my in-flight breaks, which can be difficult. Yeah, I've got it made. You can have your 9-5 jobs and office cubicles and rush hour traffic. I'll have my foot massage with a tall Tsingtao beer and rose pedals in my foot bath, please! And my 7 pieces of artwork? They will be delivered to my hotel within 12 hours. Thank you, China.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Adventures in Flight: Meeting Iselle

I hear the big island of Hawaii has never taken a hit from a hurricane, not for any particular reason, other than just luck. It's been over 20 years since a hurricane has hit the islands. While I've certainly been to the islands numerous times in the past 14 years, apparently, for no other reason than just luck, a storm finally nuzzles the Big Island and Mother Airline gives me a trip there.

Growing up in Houston, hurricanes aren't anything new to me. I remember one storm that passed right over us. I awoke to sideways-falling rain and heavy winds. We hadn't lived in the home long, and one of our newly planted trees was leaning to the right, dancing and shimmying as the storm pushed through. The eye passed over and the air got still and dry, the sun even peeked out for a bit, as if to see what was going on below. Then things went back to hurricane mode as we caught the back side, and that poor tree now leaned as far to the left as it had to the right, as the winds on the back side of a hurricane blow in the opposite direction.

I've always loved a good storm. Strong winds amaze me and as long as I'm dry, I don't mind rain. I was excited to be going to Hawaii the day the storm, Iselle, was supposed to land. The trip was only scheduled to be a turn, meaning a 13 hour duty day, 5 hour flight there, and about the same coming home. Turns are tough to work and there are times the crew goes illegal, meaning the flight goes longer than we are allowed to fly. It's happened to me before, and is why I always take my suitcase for turns- especially this time.

The crew I worked with was about as excited about the storm as I was. One, who had not been minding the news, wasn't aware of the hurricane until we mentioned it. We walked to the gate, discussing the what-ifs; might we go illegal, where would they put us up, there would surely be a loss of power and it would be horrible to be in a hot hotel with no air conditioner.

When we reached the gate, we were inundated with nervous passengers asking if we were really going, how safe was it, and were we worried about flying into a hurricane? I got so tired of the questions, that when we began boarding, and more questions came, I played a few games, such as dumb, “I don't have any information, you probably know more about the storm than I do”, to dumber, “What hurricane?”

I thought it was interesting that people were flying to an island about to be hit by a huge storm, and it was the flight they were concerned with. The worst part of their day was certainly going to be on the ground, not in the air.

The captain made an announcement before we left that calmed everyone's fears; we would be just fine, arriving long before the storm was to reach Oahu, and the winds when we landed wouldn't be much stronger than the ones we were leaving in San Francisco. It was a delight to the passengers, but a let down to me.

The captain was right. We landed to very anti-climactic Honolulu weather; calm, balmy, partly-cloudy and rather nice at 10PM. We took off just over an hour later, about 6 hours before the weather was supposed to turn ugly. We had a few bumps after take-off, and that was the extent of it. I was hoping to meet Iselle, but we beat her and left before being formally introduced.

There is a saying that warns of being careful of what one asks, as we were not free from excitement on this flight. Working in economy and hanging out in the aft galley during the flight home, I was made aware that there was a medical issue when the purser made an announcement asking if there was anyone on board with medical training. Nothing like that announcement to get your attention. It turned out to be minor; a woman with some tingling in her arms and shortness of breath. We administered oxygen and on board was a dentist, a nurse and an anesthesiologist to look after her. She was fine and after landing would walk into the terminal without the aid of a wheel chair.

It was a gorgeous morning in SF when our 757 touched down back home. The one good thing about Hawaii turns is that, with over 10 hours of flight time, I could now enjoy 36 hours free from duty. Yep, time for some well-deserved shut-eye. After all, Mother Airline would be sending me back out for more adventures once my rest was finished. Never a dull moment in the life among the clouds, and one of the reasons I love my job!

Jetset in 3...2...1

One minute I'm home on my couch enjoying what I thought might be a day off. Being on call with my job is a beast unlike any other. Waiting by the phone for a call from the crew desk to be off to a host of possible places: Sydney, Denver, San Diego, Orlando or sitting at the airport for 4 hours in the event that something goes awry and I'm needed, were all in the realm of possibilities. After 14 years, I still have sit on call every other month. I used to love it much more than I do now. Having a line, where I know what trips I have all month, is better for having control over your life. With a trip, I can trade for others or attempt to drop it for a day off. When on call, I only have a single day at a time that I can trade and there are so many rules; you must have at least 3 days in a row, can't have more than 6, can't create a new block in the month,...I'm sure there are more that I am forgetting!

So it was a day spent wasting it away on my couch watching Air Disasters on Netflix – not for the faint of heart, to be sure, especially before taking flight. But watching shows about what can go wrong seems to instill in me the knowledge that things will go right because of the lessons learned. It's funny how I can do this, but wouldn't want to watch Jaws before going swimming in the ocean!

Thoughts of a possible nap crossed my mind as the hours passed and the chances of a late trip grew greater...or I'd find out at 7PM what trip I'd get for tomorrow. Either way, a nap was sounding like a doable thing.

I was a call-in reserve for the month, which means each night at seven, I can find out what my trip is the following day. However, there are times we are not given a trip. The options here would be released for the following day, or converted to ready-reserve, which is what happened to me the previous day and was why I was sitting around wondering if the crew desk would end up calling me.

Then my phone rang – the ring tone familiar – that of one of my favorite songs by Stevie Nicks, perfect for a call that is to whisk me away to a far-off place...“You will fly like some little wing,” she sings, “straight back to the sun”. It was the crew desk calling with an assignment and I was soon to be jetting off.

Normally, the phone rings and I've got at least 4 hours before flight. This call was different. I was asked if I could be at SFO in 2 hours. I looked carefully at the time and considered that I wasn't packed nor showered, but I was within my normal prep time. Yes! I don't receive a lot of short call outs, but when we do, we only need to do our best to make it, and I knew I could.

The next minute I was getting ready for a trip to Honolulu; deadhead there in a coach seat, lay over for 14 hours, work one leg home...great trip! This job can have such a sense of urgency at times. “I'm needed in Hawaii!” Drop every thing and jet off.

Taking off from SFO

From wasting a day on the couch in front of the TV to sitting in the window seat on a jumbo jet watching the traffic on Highway 101 flow by as we taxied under a clear, blue sky to the start of the runway. It was such a gorgeous day, what was I doing at home on the couch? Oh, yeah. Waiting for a call from work. Had I not been ready so quickly or not lived as close to the airport, I might not be on my way to Oahu.

Seated next to me was the first officer who would be flying me home the next day. We talked briefly and then he lost himself in a movie while I played tunes and did a few crosswords. Four hours later, we flew over Pearl Harbor. I could see the white monument of the USS Arizona clearly. Further back in the harbor were naval ships; a carrier and a few destroyers. Beyond that were the mountains of Oahu and the Western shore of the island. We made a sweeping turn and lined up with the runway and soon our 767-400 was parked at the gate.

When we got to Waikiki Beach, it seemed that everyone was was packed! I checked in and changed clothes, then it was time to jam in a short vacation; a couple of Mai Tais at the hotel pool bar, enjoy the sun set, a bite to eat, a walk on the beach and then time to head to my room. Not a bad day at work.

The following morning I would regroup with my crew in the hotel lobby to be on our way back to the airport. Once through security, we reached the gate and found out why we, along with the pilots, had all been flown to Oahu to work back. The inbound flight had diverted to Hawaii from Sydney due to pilot legalities; it was as far as they were allowed to fly. The passengers had all cleared customs in Oahu and had been waiting in the gate area for a few hours. This sounded like bad news for us, but they wound up being quite nice, just very tired; most would sleep the whole way.

I was assigned to work the aft galley, which was a task since we were boarded with a full-on breakfast service. It's been a very long time since I've had to do a full-on meal service of any kind on a flight that was not international. The crew worked well together and we had a very good time. Before we knew it we were starting our descent into the Bay Area. We landed under the same beautiful skies as we had left the previous day.

I got home, repacked my bags for the next assignment where I would be off again, seeing the world, tending to the tired traveler and happy I love my job.
Diamondhead crater from Door 4

Passenger of the Day: Meltdown


I'm a typical Sagittarius- love to travel, outgoing, tend to speak my mind, often without fully considering the ramifications. On my last birthday, I turned 46. I often still feel like I'm in my 30s; mentally, that body often demands that I'm 46. I have a younger brother who came to be when I was 9, so I have vivid memories of his younger years. Being the oldest grandchild, I have numerous younger cousins. Many of my friends have children and I've been a flight attendant for 14 years, so I have seen my share of kids and temper tantrums.

I have never seen a meltdown like this. Ever.

It was a red eye to Newark so much like any of the many red eyes to Newark I work on a regular basis. The sun had come up and a few passengers had their shades raised, so it was light in the cabin. I looked at the display at my jumpseat which showed 22 minutes left of flight. My flying partner came to the forward galley to inform me that all though the seatbelt sign had been turned on, a man in row 10 was having trouble getting his daughter to sit down and buckle up. He snapped at her when she asked to have the child buckled up. I looked back and saw that he was now going down the aisle to the aft lavatory with the princess in tow.

I remember them from boarding. She was a cute thing; blond hair, chubby cheeks, cute lavender-colored shirt. She was about 3 years old. Dad was about my age, his brown hair beginning to gray. He was traveling alone with his daughter.

Early morning from the plane

When they came back up the aisle, she was still unhappy, but not any worse than many kids I see at this stage of flight. Some have issues on descent with the air pressure hurting their ears. Others just get bored out of their gourd, or tired, so they act out. I often find it a little humorous when they have their tantrums. I remember my brother; he'd go silent as the big scream would build pressure, then he would simply collapse to the ground like a rag doll, or one of those toys that goes limp when you press on the bottom of their stand. Then, being the big brother I was, I would wave my arms in unison to his cries, like a musical conductor. It never seemed to help the situation, but I enjoyed it.

The captain signaled our final approach and it was time to prepare the cabin for landing. I made my announcements and then walked back to the cabin to assist in the checks. I got to row 10 and the little girl was now in full-tantrum mode. Dad, his full attention on his girl, was struggling to have her sit down and get her buckled in. I could tell I didn't need to say anything, so I didn't. I observed for a moment and let him know I was there in case he needed anything. He barely regarded me, as he continued to struggle with her.

I could see them quite well from my jumpseat. What's worse, I could hear them as well. Actually, not them, but her. She screamed in a gravelly voice of a little girl. Her vocabulary for this meltdown was limited; basically just, “Let me go! I need to pee,” (which she was making up) “No! I don't want to!” and, “I want to go!” People around managed to mostly ignore the tantrum, but every now and then I could see a smirk. Sure, I felt badly for the dad, but it was a bit humorous.

As we neared the airport, the meltdown went into hyper-mode. We were about 1500 feet from the ground and she was now standing in her seat. Her head bobbed from side to side as her hands went up and down as if she were beating an invisible drum. (I think I saw her eyes roll back and green vomit spill forth.) She began to hit her father, who was taking it all very well, but was looking worn and tattered. His calm was waning, but he calmly answered her cries and tried to sweet talk her into sitting in her seat.

Suddenly, I could no longer see her, and Dad had moved into the window seat, where she had been standing. I could only see the top of his head, which was directed towards the wall. It appeared that he was holding her in place in the corner of the wall and the seat in front. His head bobbed from the continued affront by his daughter; I could tell he was still being pummeled.

As we continued to descend into the New York area, I had thoughts of, 'what if he hurts her? What if he reaches his limit and stuffs a sock in her mouth?' I looked back and he had returned to his center seat and again struggled to place her in her seat belt. He soon gave up, and amid her shouts he simply held her as close to him as he could, all the while, she struggled to free herself and attempt to beat him, still screaming to be let go.

About a minute before touching down, I saw a few heads turn. Passengers in front were looking back, passengers behind were looking around and forward. Up to this point, Dad seemed to think that if he didn't look at anyone, no one would notice them. But he was now looking around and centered his gaze at someone just behind him who I couldn't see.

I heard him demand, “What are you laughing at? You think this is funny?” Um, well...

I was this close to picking up the microphone and letting him know that I would not be having any of that on my plane. But I realized this man was a hero up to this point in dealing with the meltdown, and it was amazing that he had not had his own meltdown before now. With his little girl continuing her rampage and screams, and with the plane just above the treetops, I continued to observe.

Dad stayed in his seat after the door opened and the passengers filed into the early morning of Newark's Liberty Airport. Many smiled and rolled their eyes at me as they left, and as the passengers came from further and further behind row 10, I realized that this girl's meltdown was louder than maybe I thought, as everyone seemed relieved to be leaving the monster behind. And where most children sober up at this point, hers was still going!

There was a lull in people leaving and the dad took the opportunity to make his way off the plane. In one arm was the demon child from his loins. In the other was his carry-on bags. I noticed her little pink flip-flops on her delicate feet, which, as she reached the door, she began to kick and they went flying in two directions. The nice woman behind them bent down to pick them up for him. He only got about 10 feet inside the jet bridge when he had to put her down, take possession of the shoes she'd kicked off and readjust, while still trying to calm his girl down.

At this point, the little girl was pointing back at the plane yelling that she wanted to go back. I was thinking, “Oh, hell no, you're not getting back on 'this' plane!”

When my two flying partners reached the galley area, I quickly debriefed them of the goings on just before touchdown. They could hear her screams all the way in the back, but didn't hear him yell. It was so sad and I felt badly for the father and girl.

The three of us made our way into the terminal to meet our hotel van. It had been a long night and we were ready for sleep. There were a gaggle of passengers ready to board the plane we had just brought in from San Francisco, but the next gate was vacant. There was meltdown girl, still with the tantrum, some 40 minutes after it had begun, and Dad, seated next to the window, as far away from others as possible, hair a now a mess, trying to reel her in. He had a hold of her, but she soon broke free and started away from him. I looked back and the last thing I saw was this little girl with beautiful blond hair, grabbing stanchions and tossing them to the floor like some lavender-shirted Godzilla letting lose on a city. I've never felt so bad for a parent. I've never been more sure of not wanting children of my own!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Passenger of the Day: The Kid in First Class


by Penguin Scott

How could he not be looking out the window? When I was a kid, it was the most awesome thing in the world, to look out the window at the activities on the ramp and to see the planes taxing around. Heck, I still do! I remember how Mom used to walk me onto the plane and make sure I was comfortable and that the flight attendants would look after me. She'd give me a kiss and leave me there in my window seat, and usually in the first row. I was so young- kids today don't fly by themselves as young as I did back then; I was about 5 when I started flying alone. I suspect Mom hesitated just out of sight to make sure I wasn't crying. No time for tears, 'there's a Texas International, oh, and a Braniff, I love those colors! Look at the Southwest 737, I see those flying over our house!' The memories, for me, are still so vivid.

But this kid, not only was he uninterested in the goings on out the window of 2F, he pulled down the shade, stuck a pillow between his head and the wall and closed his eyes. I didn't like this kid. From my jumpseat at door 1L, the best view I had outside was through his window, and he just sat there ignoring it all. The nerve!

Shortly, we'd push back and turn onto the runway, which was just beyond the apron of this small airport. The pilots would rev up the engines to nearly full throttle before releasing the breaks and we'd shoot down the runway and fly into the air at great speeds, and at a greater rate of ascent than normal. This was Orange County and the high fallootin' folks who live near John Wayne Airport worked out a deal where aircraft must follow noise abatement procedures, and are limited to use the airport between 7am and 11pm. After shooting into the air, the plane levels off as it reduces power. Once over the ocean, it resumes a normal climb as it turns to the north or south. I love taking off from this airport, and even though I was unable to see out the windows of first class, I was all smiles.

The kid was like his father, seated next to him, in that he was short and heavy. His glasses were framed in black, where his father wore clear frames. His father was actually the interesting one of the two. He had golden hair, like he wanted it to be blonde, but, well, golden is what we get. His fingers were pudgy and his thumb had a silver ring on it. His watch was large and jewel-encrusted and was framed by two bracelets, big and gaudy. He was dressed in a bright orange shirt about 2 sizes too large and baggy black plaid shorts with large pockets full of electronics. On his feet were colorful sneakers with no shoe laces. It sounds like I could be describing someone in their twenties, but Mr. Jeweled Watch looked like he was pushing 50. This was a man built for comfort, not speed. He obviously had money, but more so than what he had in style.

The man in front of him obviously had money as well. But this man was dressed in a nice button-down shirt with cuff links and read the financial times while his wife, in a tangerine wool jacket, closed her eyes for most of the flight. Mr. Jeweled Watch probably made his money from services, such as from an air conditioning business, or owning a car lot. Mr. Financial Times made his as a CEO or from stocks. It's fun to watch first class passengers and try to imagine their livelihoods.

After leveling off, the boy, of about 8 years of age, gave up his nap and the window shade opened again...too late, kid, now I have to work! I began to take drink orders from the passengers in first class, of which there were 12. When I got to Mr. Jeweled Watch, I was afraid he was going to be stand-offish, maybe even a bit short, or rude. I couldn't have been more wrong. He was quite nice, with his large bag of goldfish crackers, asking for a plastic cup to put some in. He had taken out a DVD player and the boy began watching Sponge Bob. I commented on liking Sponge Bob and he smiled at me politely and went a bit shy. The boy was polite, another sign that as gaudy as he was, Mr. Jeweled Watch was a good father.

It was at this point that Mr. Jeweled Watch pulled out 3 individually wrapped sugar cookies with images of Mickey Mouse in frosting and handed them to me, saying they were for the crew. He apparently had been to Disneyland. I thanked him and later gave him a card of thanks.

During the flight, he and his son laughed together and seemed to really enjoy their time on board. They weren't demanding at all, didn't finish the snack that came with their first class seat, and hardly drank anything. They were delightful passengers and as he walked into the humid Houston jet bridge leaving the plane behind, he shook my hand and thanked me for the great service. The boy smiled and I handed him a pair of plastic wings. His face glowed and he thanked me as he showed his father and walked away. Surely, he didn't get as much excitement from those wings as I did when I got mine as a kid. But it seemed to make him happy, and that's all I hope to do.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Brown Shirt by Penguin Scott

Passenger of the day:

At first there wasn't much remarkable about Brown Shirt. Sure, he was fit, that was the first thing to notice about him. That, and his youth. Together, as well as the tight brown tee and snug denim jeans he wore, it was the kind of look that garnered second glances from many of the passengers who had already boarded and settled into their business class seats, but attractive people aren't anything new. I noticed the middle-aged woman in 8F eying him up and down as he made his way to his seat. Our eyes met and she quickly looked down, having been caught checking him out.

Brown Shirt, at first look, seemed to be in his mid to late twenties. After closer inspection, I think he was more likely to be in his mid thirties. He had a full head of light brown, almost blonde hair. His skin was youthful, but was just starting to show signs of the recklessness of youth; too much time in the sun, not enough moisturizer.

It wasn't his strong physique that piqued so much interest in Brown Shirt for me to feature him as Passenger of the Day. It was hard to ignore, with his tight brown shirt with super short sleeves. It showed off his well-developed arms, the kind more akin to a gymnast than a body builder. The tightness of the shirt also showcased a tight pair of pecs. I would imagine that 8F would have liked the rest of the torso, with a six, no possibly an eight pack.

He reached his seat at 6G and before placing his carry-on items away, he removed the things he would need for our 5-hour flight to SFO. A small laptop, a pair of bulky and expensive head phones, a few power adapters with the cords neatly wrapped around, an electronic tablet and an Ipod. This was a guy who's security blanket was technology, but this isn't what stood out, either.

The space above his seat had already been claimed. The man in 6F had arrived just before him and placed his larger item there. He pulled down the overhead bin across the aisle, towards me, and found a spot for his larger item there. When he reached up to put his bag in this space, even the large surly man seated next to me took notice. The arm muscles went taut with the weight of the suit case and the shirt lifted up over the waist band of his jeans exposing a bit of skin. His jeans were low and a decorative band with bright stripes was exposed; flashy and expensive underwear. I guess if I had a body like that, I'd be a little showy as well.

Still in need of space for a smaller back pack, he moved a row back and found space in a bin, but there were a few blankets that someone had placed there. He half picked one out and asked the man in 6F if he needed the blankets. Being told no, he pushed them back to make space and then leaned down to pick up the back pack he'd placed on the ground. While he did this, 6F put his back pack in his space. It made me chuckle as I could see Brown Shirt roll his eyes, 6F clueless to the fact that the space was not arranged for that of a stranger. Without hesitation, Brown Shirt shoved 6F's small bag to the back and placed his back pack in front and then lifted the large bin closed, again exposing the flesh above his colorful underwear waistband. The woman in 8F again taking note, and this time not looking to see that I noticed her.

What I noticed next and what happened for much of the flight is what was so remarkable about the young man with the rock-hard body in 6G, Brown Shirt. It was an activity I've seen before but never with such vigor, and I know my writing abilities will fail to provide a picture that does this story justice.

It couldn't be from stress. Brown Shirt was too young for that much stress, and judging from the head phones and Ipod and the fact that he seemed to be watching shows on his computer, it's not like he was overworked. Although, seeing a young man such as Brown Shirt having a business-class ticket made me wonder just what he did for a living. We were leaving the nation's capital for Silicon Valley. Perhaps he was a big shot with some technology company visiting DC to talk lawmakers into opening up loopholes so his company can further cash in. Or maybe he was just visiting family, a rich fortune 500 member, perhaps, who demanded certain results in the lofty expectations that the rich have on their family.

Maybe it wasn't stress, but simply a nervous tic. Or maybe, just maybe, Brown Shirt had the best tasting fingers of all time! Yes, Brown Shirt spent much of this trip biting his fingernails. But this wasn't your grandfather's fingernail biting. This was a craft honed and perfected by a pro.

Think of a young boy at a picnic. He's not eaten in hours and has been playing rigorously on the playground with other boys his age. He's not worn out yet, but he's got a voracious appetite. Mom calls the boy to the table and hands him a plate of chicken wings. Some of his friends are still playing, so he's in a hurry to eat so he can get back to the jungle gym. He eats one wing in less 15 seconds and moves on to the second. While eating the second he's already eying his plate for which wing will be third. He eats quickly and with passion.

This is the image I had in seeing Brown Shirt attack, not only his finger nails, but cuticles, as well. Placing his finger into his mouth, he'd move the finger this way and that, while his jaw moved the teeth up and down to get at the good part. He'd take it out and regard it briefly for a new plan of attack and then pounce on the victim. Every now and then, he'd free a piece of dead skin and roll it around in his mouth, letting his tongue feel it against the back of his teeth, moving it from one side to the next before ingesting it. Then he'd go at it again.

He moved with quickness. He was a professional. This was a race and he was far, far ahead. There was so much to eat and not one, but TWO hands with five fingers each. One finger, then the next; nail and then cuticle. Right hand and then left, all the while intently watching the images on his laptop and oblivious to anything else going on aboard the plane. Finger in, chew, turn, gnaw, turn, chomp, chew, gnaw, turn, bite, finger out, observe, finger in, chew, gnaw, turn, scrape, scrape, chew, turn, gnaw, turn, chew, scrape, turn, gnaw, finger out, another finger in, chew, scrape, gnaw, turn, gnaw, gnaw, gnaw, turn, chew, bite, enjoy.

Then the airplane door was closed and we pushed back. My seat was rear-facing and in the center of the plane, his was forward-facing, next to the window. I had only to turn my head to look outside and I could see him clearly, going to town. I would eventually lose interest in watching his appetite for fingers as I enjoyed a meal (not finger food) and a movie, followed by a nap. When I awoke, I noticed he was still at it. It made me chuckle. This was some good entertainment, here!

I've never seen anyone chew their fingernails with such vigor. I am certain to never see this again. It wasn't for the tightness of the shirt to show off the hard work in the gym. It wasn't for the youthfulness of being in business class, surrounded by business travelers. For looking like a squirrel going after a meal in the park, you, Brown Shirt, are passenger of the day.