Saturday, November 8, 2014

Adventures in Flight: Productive PIT Stop

I was dining at the airport in Newark, NJ a while ago. It was lunch time and there were few seats open so another flight attendant asked if I would share my table with her. She worked for the other side of our airline and we each had a lot of questions for one another, since one day we would be working together after our two companies merged.

She was on her way to San Francisco for an 11-hour layover. I was on my way to Cleveland for a 20-hour layover. Upon hearing that I'd be in Cleveland for 20 hours, she quipped, “That's so unproductive!” I recoiled. 

Learning history in Pittsburgh

Unproductive? Why would she say this. She had no idea of my plans while in Cleveland. Then I realized that she meant it was unproductive for the company. How odd, I thought, that she was that wrapped up in the company to want only productive trips, ones where flight attendants are constantly on the plane, much like how planes don't earn money when at the gate. Flight attendants must be robots in her world.

I let it go, thinking she was a little odd, which in our profession, meeting flight attendants who are a little odd is nothing new. But as time went on, I heard this saying over and over again from the flight attendants on the other side. “You guys like long layovers, they are so unproductive.”

Our complaints of them is how they work themselves to death. They are known for having a younger work force, who, for some reason or another, think flight attendants should be making $80K a year, so work, work, work. They work San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale turns, over 11 flight hours and a duty day of 14 hours, with no rest in between. Then, some of them will turn around and do it again the next day. (There are a lot of professions to earn beau coup bucks. Flight attendant is not one of them.)

Each side has flights to China. Ours is a 4-day trip, where theirs is 3-days. They like theirs and we like ours. We go out and shop and dine and explore before resting up for the flight home. They go out and shop and dine and then go right back to the plane without much rest or chance to explore local cultures. 

Seeing the sights in Beijing; Temple of Heaven

I've experienced what my future flying partner wants our work life to be like. I've had the short layovers, where you get to the hotel and try to decompress as quickly as possible, because you look at the clock as you slip out of your uniform and realize that horrid van that takes you back to the airplane will leave in only 9 hours. That was after a 13 hour day, and the following is almost as long. Considering you lose an hour in transit to and from the airport, an hour to get ready in the morning, an hour to get ready for bed, and hopefully 8 hours to sleep, the absolute minimum layover that I ever want to see is 11 hours, and that's if I don't want to sleep, make some calls, enjoy some television, read. And to venture out and explore takes more, yet.

One of my first trips in San Francisco was one leaving late at night with a 5 hour layover in Oregon before flying first thing in the morning to Chicago. I was a reserve and had been up all day long, not knowing I would be treated like this until the trip was assigned to me just hours before I had to fly it. That's the life of a reserve. Now that I've got 14 years under my belt, I shouldn't be treated like that unless I ask for it! I've dated that woman. I have the scars. I like to be romanced!

The comment I hear often from the other side is how much they enjoy their time at home. My response is, “Yeah, but then you're too tired and spend half the day taking a nap. I'd rather use that nap time sleeping in my hotel room!” I usually get silence in return as maybe they realize the truth of my sentiment.

Nice rooms and nice views; this one is in Beijing.

I got this job to see the world. When I'm in China, I want to see the sights and museums and experience some of the local culture. And not just China, I do that in any city I visit. I know a lot about most of the cities my airline flies to simply from going out to explore while on a layover. Working for the airline is akin to having an education paid for.

On a recent visit to China, my flying partners started talking about this. We decided that as a work group, our side is generally more cultured, better rounded, and more experienced, than their side. Our flight attendants seem better able to cope with various cultures and have a more thorough rapport with passengers. We are better rested and provide better service in flight, as well.

Sunset in Pittsburgh

I like my long layovers, but I'm tired hearing from others how they are "unproductive". Having just come home from a 24-hour layover in Pittsburgh, I accomplished a lot. Besides a nice long walk, learning some history and meeting nice people, I opened a new bank account, called my insurance company for information about my upcoming move, wrote a letter to my aunt, got caught up with a few friends on the computer, looked up information about the city I'm about to move to, edited a story, watched the news and then went out to grab dinner and eat in the park while watching the sun set across the Allegheny River...ALL WHILE BEING PAID (per diem). Had I been home, not even half of that would have been accomplished. Sounds pretty damned productive to me!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Adventures in Flight: Closing a Chapter


I walked into the terminal at SFO all smiles and my head held high. Sure I was going to Beijing, and there is a lot to smile about in going to China. However, as I filed down the hallway among other airport employees and flight attendants, I had a feeling much like that of just after I was hired. There was a newness, a feeling that I was standing at the edge of a great adventure, knowing my life among the clouds was about to begin, that my travel lust would certainly be entertained.
Planes of the SFO International Terminal

This was to be my last flight as a San Francisco-based flight attendant; and perhaps it came too soon – I still have business cards not handed out!

For me, it was a momentous day. I parked on level 7 of the employee parking garage, as I always do. It affords such a wonderful view of the airport and of our gates at SFO. I can see the metal birds tearing down the runway and taking to flight. Often, I arrive early just to sit and watch, as I did on this day, taking a photo for posterity. For others, it was just a day, but I appreciated all the things I was going to miss about living in the Bay Area and being based at SFO. I was going to miss this view when parking for work, but I was also excited for the adventures that lie ahead for me in Houston.

The view of SFO from where my car was parked.

When I walked into the briefing room, the purser had arrived early and placed in each of the chairs our briefing sheet a puzzle page from the newspaper and a small bag of M&Ms. I had flown with this purser a year ago, when I last visited Beijing, and she had done the same thing. She must get Christmas cards from M&Ms! What a great way to start my trip.

There were 15 flight attendants working a 747. Normally, I am the most junior, number15, and I don't have to choose where I'll be working, I simply take what ever position is left. Today, however, there were 2 junior to me. It's been years since I've worked in the premium cabins, as they always go senior. I know the service well in the back of the plane and I do well interacting with customers and reacting to minor medical issues that arise from time to time. Today, however, I would have a choice of 3 positions from which to choose, and when they got to number 13, the upper deck galley, a business-class position, was still available.

I remember my first flight on a 747. I'd been flying less than a year and got a trip to Narita, Japan. Those days, we were staffed fully and there were 19 flight attendants. Somehow, I was juniored into the upper deck galley position. The crew was great about it, saying they'd work with me. I worked with 2 great people who would help me along, telling me what to do next in the galley as they went into the aisle with queen carts. I did a great job, in the end, garnering quite a few kudos.

When I get to Houston, there will be no more 747s to work. Until things change, which in this business, they always are, this would be the last time working a 747. There's talk of retiring the fleet. I will miss working this wondrous bird if they go away.
747 taxiing at SFO

When seeing that the upper deck galley was still open, I decided to go for it. What better way to spend my last flight on the 747 before leaving SFO than working upstairs and having this experience bookend my first flight?

Now that there is only 1 aisle flight attendant, there is more work involved than my first experience upstairs. I worked with a girl named Lulu who shared my enthusiasm and positive attitude. We worked quite well together and had a good time. I soon realized that I preferred working in economy. Upper deck is much less social. When Lulu left for her break, I was left all alone for two hours with no one to talk to.

The service went swimmingly and had I been more familiar with that galley, I could have worked much smarter. Fortunately, the purser came up to give us some help. Help? Sure, while greatly appreciated, she would leave my galley a terrible mess where I am normally very organized.

It was good to finally reach the stage of flight where I took my jumpseat for landing. I could have been landing anywhere in the world. The upper deck jumpseat has no window and the passenger windows I had visuals with, all two of them, were closed. I had to sense the plane to determine at what point to assume my landing position which I got, spot-on.

It's sad to be leaving but I'm anxious for the next chapter of my life, returning to my home town of Houston and enjoying life in new skies. It's sad that I won't be working 747s very much, if even at all, but at least I still have the wondrous metal birds to take me to my next adventure. Onward and upward!

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!

Adventures in Flight: 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!