Monday, June 15, 2015

Passenger of the Day: The Rotarian

Often, when I'm tired, I get a bit loopy. I'd been up before 6:00am for 4 days in a row and this was a long day, starting in Houston, flying to Phoenix for a 2-hour sit, then to Denver for nearly 3 hours before flying back to Houston; not my favorite kind of day. Three legs in a day is rough with 3 boardings (for which we are not paid), 3 galleys to set up on 3 different planes, long sits between flights (for which we are not paid), and 3 times taxiing out for takeoff on the jump seat trying not to nod off. It was a long 13 hour day for which I was only paid for 7. It's a damned good thing I love my job!
One of the ways I combat such a day as this is to allow myself the chance to be a bit silly. I flirt a little with the ladies when doing the exit row verifications by asking if they are over 15, and asking the men if they are intoxicated...yet. When asking if they are willing and able to assist with the emergency exits I end by asking that they not 'practice', which always gets a few chuckles. I chat up the children, asking if they are out of school, where they are traveling to, and if they've flown before. I enjoy conversing with passengers, making them feel welcome and comfortable and trying be humorous when I can.

At one point in the day, and I don't remember which flight this was, because they all tend to blend together, I met Bob. He was somewhere in his 60's with thinning hair and a mustache and had come to the back of the plane to use the lavatory. What I noticed about Bob was his bright shirt, on which were elephants, birds, zebras, gazelles, and lions and a somewhat tropical design. It was much like a Hawaiian shirt, but for the African animals.

The lavs were occupied, so while he stood there I complimented his shirt. He told me that he had at one time lived in Africa. Intrigued, I asked where in Africa, and he tried to explain the area west of Victoria Lake and he then got very nostalgic over how beautiful it was there. I admitted that I would absolutely love to see it.

Then I noticed something else about his shirt; something not entirely noticeable from a distance. Within the pattern were also rotary symbols from the Rotary Club. He was impressed when I asked about this, and eagerly acknowledged that he was a member. This opened up an opportunity for me to share my Rotary Club experience.

When I was in high school, I was involved in a youth leadership organization which allowed me the opportunity to speak to the Dallas Rotary Club members several times. I had achieved a type of acclaim to where I was soon being invited to events to meet high rollers in industry and politics at various social and networking events. I once had breakfast with the female CEO of the Chesebrough-Ponds Manufacturing Company, who would later donate money to our organization. I shared appetizers with Governor Ann Richards. I met bank presidents, city mayors, actors, athletes, car dealership owners and members of congress, often speaking in front of large groups of people thinking very little of it.
Being congratulated by a delegate after winning office in 1985

I found it somewhat natural to be in front of these people talking about myself and my involvement in student politics. Not only was I on the student council of America's third largest high school, but I was an elected officer to a state-wide leadership role in HERO- Home Economics Related Occupations (in those days, I wanted to be a chef).

It was through these talks and interactions that I lost any fear of public speaking and now allows me to make announcements on the plane standing proudly in the aisle and facing the passengers instead of hiding behind the bulkhead, as many flight attendants do. Years later, when I was the general manager of a multi-million dollar business, I found it easy to speak at various business council events in my town, networking with other leaders and promoting my business.

But I've never forgotten my breakfast meetings with the members of the Dallas Rotary Club, held in a fancy restaurant on the grounds of the Texas State Fair. Their interest in me and numerous invitations to come speak at their breakfasts opened many doors.

I thanked Bob for his involvement with the Rotary Club, which had been so generous to me. He looked a little surprised at this, so I continued, “The Rotary Club gave me 2 college scholarships, and I've never forgotten what an honor that was.”

Bob smiled and said, “You should become a member. It's a great way to serve the community.” He told me how it's no longer reserved for business leaders. Their membership started to shrink so they opened their ranks to just about anyone wanting to join. He said they even allow women now, after apparently losing a court case.

I assured Bob that I'd look into it and then a woman emerged from the lavatory. He started to enter and I told him he was going into the woman's lav. He did the usual shocked body-jerk when you tell someone this, and then I laughed, “I'm kidding Bob!”

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Adventures in Flight: Culinary Delights

One thing I learned early on in this career is that if you are going to a new destination, one of the best resources for dining and shopping information are the flight attendants on your flight. They've always been a wealth of information on where to find great deals, which restaurants will provide memorable meals and what are some of the grocery must-haves that should be taken back home. They know the bargains and how to get around.

Street pancake in Shanghai
When I was based in San Francisco, and traveling to China often, I learned about dining on the streets for breakfast, breaking my habit of eating at the costly hotel buffet. As deluxe as the buffet was, there was nothing like the dim sum, dumplings and street pancakes to be found for just a couple of dollars.

In Australia, I was taken to great pubs, not only for refreshing beer, but excellent pizza, while learning the history of drunken men being Shanghaied to work on boats to China.

My London layover is where I obtained my lust for clotted cream. The Belgian waffles in Brussels were heavenly. The best hot chocolate was near Notre Dame in Paris.

And it's not just in foreign lands where I learn of great foods. I discovered the Cuban sandwich on a Miami layover (served with fries that had been dusted in Parmesan cheese, a trick I now use to impress guests at home). I have a very hard time with my weight, as I love eating and when visiting a region with great food – and what region doesn't have great food?- I must indulge. Burnt ends BBQ sandwich in Kansas City, crab cakes in Maryland, cheese steaks in Philly, churros in Mexico City, butter in Paris, steak in Argentina, Indian food in London...the list goes on.

Argentinean steak

I love checking out local grocery stores when I travel to another country; there's nothing like seeing the fresh food in Asia, which often includes large frogs! When in Sao Paulo, a flight attendant took me under her wing to show me the great coffee and then a product that really held my interest: liquid garlic. I don't cook enough at home, but I just had to buy some for Mom, who got it for Christmas. She loved it, so I brought some back for my aunt, who cooks all the time.

Choco milk in a bag
My most recent hot discovery, and I'm most proud for having found it on my own, was in a grocery store in Lima, Peru. I marveled at how they sold milk in plastic bags; thick plastic bags that one must cut open with scissors. They had chocolate milk as well, and it was only a dollar for a bag with about a quart. I brought a bag home to find it was only about the best chocolate milk I've ever had. It goes really well with Besos de Moza, chocolate kisses filled with something akin to marshmallow, but softer. It's quite decadent and I can't stop buying it.

As the saying goes, “When in Rome...” and I don't mind if I do. Please pass the butter, I can diet when I'm dead!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Passenger of the Day: I'll Have the Diet Weapon

A friend of mine recently forwarded to me a story and asked my opinion. You may have heard about it. A Muslim chaplain and the director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern University claims she was subjected to racist comments after being denied an unopened can of soda by a flight attendant who said she feared she might use it as a weapon.

FA Penguin holding a Bro can of Coke
The passenger claims that after being handed a can that had already been opened that she asked for one still sealed, due to sanitary reasons. The flight attendant refused, citing company policy. The man next to her ordered a beer, which was delivered unopened. When the cleric asked why he got a sealed can and she didn't, she claims she was told because crew was not allowed to hand out an item that could be used as a weapon.

A further protest claiming discrimination prompted the flight attendant to retrieve the can of beer from the man, opened it, and then returned it to the bewildered gentleman. She then huffed to the cleric, and moved to the next row.

The cleric then asked the man seated across from her if he had seen what just happened. Not only did he see it, but he agreed with it, supposedly saying something to the effect of, ‘you Muslim, you need to shut the 'eff' up.’ He then leaned over from his seat, and said, ‘yes you know you would use it as a weapon, so shut the eff up.'

First of all, I thought I may have flown with this flight attendant. I was shocked one day while working the beverage cart, when a passenger asked for a can of sparkling water unopened and the woman I was working with refused. I later told my flying partner that I was disappointed she didn't give out the can, saying that if a passenger is going to spend a few hundred dollars on a flight on our airline, the least we could do is give a can of soda. After all, there is no company policy against doing so.

Second, my initial response to the story was that the man across the aisle needs to be taken out back and shot. Maybe not killed, shot, but shot in the knee or something equally as horrid as what he supposedly said to that passenger. I have a weak spot for such bigotry.

Third, that passenger needs to get over it; being given an unopened can of soda simply for sanitary reasons? Had she claimed she was Kosher, that might be different. Or just admit that you want a can to take with you. I'm more than happy to oblige, but let's not make up stories or just be ridiculous.

What does Penguin think?
Fourth, as far as using a can as a weapon, sure, yes, it's one of the things we have at our disposal at 35 thousand feet, but let's face it, passengers can bring on cans of their own, knitting needles, skate boards, and grandma's 13 year old fruit cake to use as a weapon. They don't need to wait for us to give out a can of freaking soda to get their hands on a weapon. This flight attendant needs to chill the freak out! That's what I think.

The story has been making the rounds on social media and I'm not so certain of its authenticity. I later found out that this was not on the major airline for which it was originally reported to be, but one of the express jet airlines who operates their own company using the major airline's name. That was a relief for me. Other than the woman I hope I educated about the unopened can, I'd hate to think of flying partners on main line airlines being this dim.

Adventures in Flight: Rite of Aviation

Photo of Delta Crew

A flight attendant has her photo taken in the cowling of an airliner engine. It's something that's been done thousands of times. Even before engines had cowlings for us to climb into, sexy young flight attendants had photos taken sitting on the front of a propeller. It's a rite of aviation, something flight and ground crews do for the unique privilege of having access to doing so.

But in the case of this young flight attendant, a passenger witnessed her being photographed before boarding a flight. Then lo and behold, the woman being photographed was one of the flight attendants working her flight. The passenger obtained her name, found her on social media and then went to her local news team, who ate it up, and spat out a story about the photos; questioning its safety and necessity. They released the full name of the flight attendant, surely without permission, but never mentioned the tattle tale passenger.

When the news hit social media, saying she could lose her job, I caught wind of it right away. I immediately found the photo I had of myself in an engine and sent it to the newscaster's social media page. I then suggested to the flight attendant community that we all do so, and before I knew it, a movement had started. Hundreds of flight attendants world wide sent in photos and scathing letters.

Penguin and a 737 Engine
A few nights later, perhaps under pressure, the newscaster aired a second story. At first, I thought he was going to redeem himself with a new story about how this was really nothing. He explained the support from around the world, showed numerous photos of similar nature, including the one I sent him, and even included a few soundbites from our union president. Things were looking good, and it was exciting, knowing my photo was on the news.

But then he went and interviewed passengers to drum up support for his original story, which seemed to be that something dangerous went on here. He interviewed passengers? Passengers can be quite unknowing about the goings on of things aeronautical. They are often scared of bumps and aircraft noises, leery of crew and suspicious of other travelers. After all, look at how this whole mess started...a paranoid passenger who witnessed something that has happened thousands and thousands of times, and freaking out about it to the news media! Hello!
Flight crews in support of Ericka

One thing every photo you may have seen of crew members in engines is this...someone has taken the photo. Usually a pilot or mechanic, or other crew with pilots and or mechanics present. We don't go around jumping up into engines all willy-nilly and risking the safety of the very conveyance that will be taking us to our destination. We are a trained group of professionals. We are the first line of defense on board aircraft. We are screened and trained and overseen. We are flight attendants.

Better news stories might include adequate crew rest, job outsourcing, feet dragging in negotiation of new work contracts, putting the customer experience before safety concerns, food storage procedures or the obscene salaries of those at the top. But no, we went with an aviation rite misunderstood by a passenger and a news team who failed to do a thorough investigation.

This was a nothing story about a special privilege enjoyed by countless personnel in a safe fashion. It's a shame it was put under the bright light of confusion and scrutiny, but I'm proud of having had a hand in bringing some sanity back to the fore. So next time you're at the airport and see flight crew posing for photos on the tarmac, it's all right to be a bit jealous...we've worked hard to earn the privilege of being in these photos. It's not all right to go whining to a TV station and earning the scourge of group of airline professionals.
Airbus engine

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Adventures in Flight: The Enabler

FA Penguin, at your service

This is how it usually happens; I ask a first class passenger what they would like to drink. They ask what wines we have and after listing them, they find they don't like what we have to offer and instead order a diet coke. I ask, “We went from wine to ordering a diet coke?”

Or the time I asked the young woman on her first trip to Chile along with her husband for her drink order. She asked for orange juice. I comment, “Just orange juice?... nothing more exciting, like a mimosa or a screw driver?”

Or the young college guy on my flight to Buenos Aires, who looked like he wanted to ask me a question as I picked up his dinner tray, from which he'd eaten every morsel. After pressing him, he said he would love a second meal if that was possible. I told him it was quite possible, as we had a few left. Later, during the landing service, I asked if he'd again like a second meal. He smiled wide and nodded, as if I'd offered the keys to Shangri La. It wasn't so much his nice demeanor and smile, all though, that's the quickest way to a flight attendant's heart. I'm an enabler!

Life is short and one has to live it to the fullest before it throws you under the bus. Or in my case, under the plane (although, these days, it's harder to tell the difference between the two judging from those who travel).

I've been an enabler for many years, and it's only intensified after my 2 close calls with death. If there's something you want to do, something you want to try, something you want to experience, I say, get out there and do, try or experience while you still can! You're never promised tomorrow.

One of the things I enjoy about being a flight attendant is being part of people's life adventure. I deliver passengers to weddings, to vacations, to job interviews and even funerals. Travel is such a rich experience. Some of us get to do it all the time. Others, only once in a while. I strive to do my best at making sure people who need it, can have a memorable experience while on board the aircraft.

Some of the girls going to PVR
Just a few days ago, I was flying to Puerto Vallarta. On board were 10 attractive young ladies, all wearing identical tee shirts, all quite vibrant and happy. One asked if she could buy all the ladies in the group a drink; all 10 of them. I said, certainly! What's the occasion? They were all friends of passenger18A, who was about to get married, but not before this bachelorette party let them loose on the Mexican beach resort. I asked what the men were doing. They were all taking a cruise! “You guys know how to do things right!” I told them.

The rock star life in Lima
Currently, I'm writing this from Lima, Peru, where I dined on Peruvian dishes for both lunch and dinner in the hotel executive lounge. Last night, after arriving to our swank hotel, I enjoyed a few Pisco sours at the casino bar with some of my crew. I am enjoying the view over the Pacific ocean from my 15th floor room. I live like a rock star! I could never afford such a lifestyle without this job; staying in deluxe hotels all around the world, meeting fun people, working with great crews and trying local dishes and drinks. I truly am wealthy for my life, my friends and my family. 

I don't care about your diet, I'll offer you dessert. I don't care about your beliefs, I'll tempt you with sin. I don't care about your conservative ways, I'm going to keep having fun, and go sliding into my grave sideways, shouting for joy! I just want you to accompany me. Not in the grave part, but in having fun getting there!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Passenger of the Day: New Father

Seven in the morning is a little earlier than I like to start my day. I'm not much of an early person so, I'm not all that talkative at that hour. Even the nicest person can approach me to chat and I tend to tune them out and zone in on my own little cocoon. So when the young man came up behind us at the gate and started to chat, I let my flying partner take over and I turned my attention to the gate door, willing it to open with some sort of mind powers I wished I possessed. I could then just get up and walk onto the plane and await the boarding time in peace and quiet before I start pretending to be nice for the day.

When the boarding did start, the first man down the aisle was a large one and I knew right away he'd need a seat belt extension to get properly buckled up. He was very friendly and started chatting with me. He was on his way to North Carolina for vacation, and the way he spoke about it made it sound as if maybe he hadn't had vacation in quite some time. I was too tired to think to ask and just kept up the friendly demeanor, which helped bring me into more of a humane attitude.

The second man to board was a very old man who was brought down the aisle in an aisle chair. He had a very difficult time standing up to transfer into his seat. For some reason, his assigned seat was at the window. Knowing the flight had about 30 open seats, I suggested to the assistants that we just let him take the aisle and if it were anyone's seat, we'd just relocate them to make it easier on everyone. I would be in the aisle during the boarding process and would keep an eye on him.

After I got the aisle chair passenger settled in and went over a few safety details with him, I looked up and saw the young man who had attempted to converse with a very tired, somewhat grumpy flight attendant (me) a few minutes prior. He smiled wide at me and seemed to admire my uniform as I rose, taking in my stripes and tie. I smiled back and said, “Oh, it's you, again, good morning.” His name was Patrick and he is the passenger of the day.

I moved back to allow him to access his seat; 23A. Rather than go right into his seat, he stood and started up a conversation. He was on his way to Kuwait to rejoin his company. He had been allowed home to be present for the birth of his daughter. He was thin and tall with blue eyes and sandy blond hair, cut short- military style. He was easy on the eyes, in military shape and very talkative. What impressed me was his outward personality, his manners and the fact that he was nicely dressed. Obviously, he was much more of a morning person than I, but his engagement energized me, so I continued to get to know him.

He looked so young, so I asked his age and was sort of shocked when he said 23. I replied that I wouldn't have guessed older than 19. He smiled bashfully and admitted that his baby face gets him carded a lot. He continued; his wife lost her mother 5 days before the birth of their daughter. His lieutenant had found out and decided not to tell Patrick. But when the base commander caught wind, he not only informed Patrick, but sent him home so his wife wouldn't have to deal with the birth while grieving for her mother- and the week before Mother's Day, no less.

Patrick was very interested in talking to me about flying and my job. He mentioned that he thought it would be fun to be an air marshal. I thought it over for a second and gave him my opinion: air marshals are usually quite dry. They blend in well with passengers, keep quiet, watch a lot of movies and play a lot of games. They don't chat people up much, because they don't tell people much about themselves, such as why they are flying, or what they do for a living. They can't nap and they certainly can't occupy the time of the flight crew. With his demeanor, I told him he'd make a much better flight attendant! The rest of the crew agreed.

He professed that he thought that would be great, and that on a previous flight he had earned a pair of wings when assisting the flight crew by helping pick up trash from passengers. I told him to give it thought, he had 5 months left on his current tour, and hoped to re-enlist to keep up the great military benefits.

Later, in flight, he brought out his lap top and started showing photos of his girl. He started showing the purser, and then I came up and took a look. Next thing I know, passengers all around were asking to see and he was holding it up high for the large man with the seat belt extension to see. It was the sweetest little baby girl with a ribbon and bow on her head. The mother looked all of 18, but he said she was 23, as well.

Patrick was a sweet young man with a bright future. He was educated well enough to have a very enlightened conversation with many people. He helped numerous passenger place bags in the overhead bins and wasn't the least bit shy. When the purser made his landing announcements, he finished by announcing the birth of Patrick's girl and that he was returning to Kuwait to serve his country, something that really meant a lot to him, as evidenced by his comment, “No, I need to get back to my unit,” when I said that it was a shame he couldn't stay longer with his wife.

It's nice to see such patriotism and dedication, such manners and poise, from a young man such as Patrick. He made an impression on the people around him, and the crew. We landed at Dulles Airport in DC where he had a 7 hour sit before his next flight. We shook hands and I thanked him before he disappeared. The crew went to our next flight and boarded the plane. Even though we didn't need his help to collect trash, we all agreed...we missed Patrick!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Passenger of the Day: The Aisle is an Ocean

One of the questions a flight attendant hears often is, “We didn't get seated together, can you help us move people so we can sit together?” The short answer is, no, we can't. Mother Airline doesn't allow flight attendants to re-seat passengers. I'm not sure if it may be a union thing; we also aren't allowed to lift passenger bags into over head bins and are not covered by workers compensation if injured doing so. So the quick answer we normally give is that they are welcome to ask passengers to move and usually they are accommodating. (And as far as putting the bag in the overhead bin...if you can't lift it we can't lift it. I'd be glad to check it for free!)

Every time I'm asked to help couples sit together, I'm reminded of a time my parents came to visit. This was back when one could meet the arriving party at the gate. I noticed Mom filing out of the jet way before Dad. When I felt sorry for them not sitting together, Mom said, “I love not sitting next to him. He yammers on and on the whole flight and I don't get a moment's peace. It's nice that he can bother someone else for 3 hours!”

Lady Bossie boarded the 767 with dual aisles and immediately went into her hissy fit. “My husband and I were originally seated together, but now we have been re-seated and we're across the aisle from each other. Can you move the passenger in his seat so he can sit next to me?

Really? Across the aisle might be a good thing for your husband, who might like the break!

The inside voice said, “Um, nope. You can ask the man in the window seat just like all the other passengers with this issue. You're a big girl. You can do it!”

The man refused to move when asked; most likely because of the pushy manner in which she did so. The woman was fuming at the possibility of having to spend the next 6 hours on a flight with an aisle separating her from the poor man. And he seemed as if he couldn't care any less. He was quiet, calm, and more into his portable electronic device than the commotion she was causing during the entire boarding process. Bossie, came marching back up to the boarding door to protest.

Originally, they were seated together. But upon finding out that their seats were inoperative, they were moved to seats that worked, and placed in 5B and 5D (in first class, there is no C). It turned out that their seats had been repaired before boarding, but in the mean time, they were given to other passengers. She was referred to the purser, who referred her to the customer service agent. She was told, if the passenger refused to move, they couldn't do anything about it.

She next went to the captain, who looked as if he was ready to handle it his way: we can find you seats on another flight! She learned quickly that one should never bother the pilots when they are busy with their take-off check lists with something as minor as seat placement.

In the end, her loud protests were heard by other passengers, who in the interest of a peaceful flight and an on-time departure, moved, so that she could sit next to her precious husband. In their new seats at 3J and K, they proceeded to spend the next 6 hours of flight...glued to their TV screens watching 2 different movies with noise-reduction head sets on their ears. All that fuss to sit next to hubby just so she could ignore him the whole flight!