The other day I was at the airport waiting for a movie date when I got caught up in gist with some of my colleagues swapping flight experience stories. With a combined total of over sixty years of flying, it was only fair we would have personal experiences as passengers too. Here are some of our experiences:
So called for his more than slight resemblance to the actor. He had been on a flight to the UK with a transit stop in Frankfurt. As he walked on board, he heard the announcement “Boarding completed.” As he walked down the aisle he stopped at every other row of seats, reached up above him and shut the hat racks. In places where the racks would not close because people had haphazardly put in their bags, he rolled his eyes – in his mind, rearranged the offending bags, shut the hat racks and moved on to the next. A few rows to the end of the aisle, he saw an elderly woman struggling with her bags. “May I help you with those ma’am?” He asked.He had put the bag in the overhead compartment, shut it and heard the reassuring click as the latch caught, and was turning away from the woman when he saw another cabin crew member walking towards them, ostensibly to help. It was the sight of the uniform that snapped him out of it. He spent the next two minutes apologising to the crew, and the rest of the flight with his eyes pressed to the window. He had clean forgotten he was flying as a passenger with an airline he did not even work for/with!
After the meal and duty free service, she had gotten bored on her flight so she walked to the galley to hangout with the crew. There was a water dispenser there and which serves a multitude of purposes. (It encourages passengers to get out of their seats if they need rehydration, which helps to stretch their limbs to prevent some of the negative effects of sitting in one place for too long – deep vein thrombosis comes to mind; it saves the crew the back and forth of serving water to dehydrated passengers, thus conserving their energies; it saves the airlines fortunes in the cost of bottled water passengers would have consumed and so on.)
While at the galley passing time talking with the crew, a number of passengers came, drank from the dispenser and left the used cups on the galley surface. Still talking, she gathered up the used cups, emptied those with water in them, neatly stacked all of them and, looking around, found the trash compactor. It was the silence that made her realise something was wrong. She was standing there with her finger on the ‘operate’ button, looking guilty as sin in a galley that was not even hers!
She had been travelling with her husband. From door closure through take off, meal service and duty free, she kept up a lively stream of chatter, giving her husband a running commentary of everything being done and why. She pointed out what should have been done differently; how that crew member’s stance was not overbearing but assertive; how that hair was not up to grooming standard as it fell below the wearer’s collar; and when there was an announcement, how that was code for Doctor or any Medical personnel as there had been a medical emergency but the crew were being careful not to alarm the other passengers. She kept this stream of chatter on until her husband pushed the crew call button. When a crew member came to answer him, he flashed her a smile as he said “Please, do you by any chance have a spare uniform? You see, my wife is part of a cabin crew as well, but she can’t sit still long enough to let us enjoy this trip.” Then lowering his voice to a stage whisper, he added “I think she misses work.”
I will have to break mine into phases of different flights.
Announcements: It never ceases to amaze and amuse me how people I am familiar with, talk with, become a whole ‘nother people once they are on board and handle the public address system. For some it works; for others, I do not know why they bother. I have heard things like: “There’s a light and a whizzo (whistle)…”; “Your seatbelt fassun (fastens) and unfassun (unfastens) like this…”; “…you are kindly requested to switch off all mobai (mobile) phones…”; “Now we har hin de year (we are in the air)…”
There is this colleague of mine, when she makes announcements, it is like someone is slowly throttling a sheep. She reminds me of a Walkman when the battery is about to die out. She announces in slow motion, a painful annoying slow drone! I have been scarred by my colleagues’ phony accents and mispronunciations. A good thing I do not pay full fare, or I would have asked for a refund at some point.
Service: I try and offer a good service, so when I travel as a passenger I expect a bit of the same. But some crew members just do not help. If it’s not “Beef or Chicken?”; it’s “Cake or Meatpie?”; or “Tea or Coffee?”. On occasion I have been tempted to counter their offer with “Did what?” Did I even refer to that as an offer? An offer would be “Would you like A or B?” Right?
And then there are the passengers who want everything and more. The other day I was travelling with a friend to Abuja. Given, it was an early morning flight. This passenger in front of us asked for a snack and a drink, then asked for an extra snack, drink and water. And then he asks another crew member for some tea – as if he had not had anything. If he had asked for these things in one serve, it would have been asking for much, but calling the crew back and forth even from where I sat – right behind him – it looked like asking for too much. It was a wonder the crew did not think to bless his tea with a little gift.
Last year, I travelled to the UK for a few days to see my niece. On the return flight I had gone to the aft galley to introduce myself to the crew. We had been trained at the same facility, but even if had not been, crew were always sympathetic to crew. I got a bottle of water, and was offered stuff from their crew cart which I declined. Halfway through the flight, tired of the in-flight movies, and needing the exercise, I went to the galley to stretch my limbs and chat with the crew a bit. I was standing facing the cabin, leaning against a bulkhead. Someone had just said something funny and I had thrown my head back to laugh. I was still struggling to catch my breath, tears stinging my eyes when I saw a gentleman collapse in the aisle.
He had just come out of a row of seats to my right and only took a few steps before his legs seemed to given way from beneath him. He crumpled like a pack of cards and seemed to take forever to hit the floor, but in truth all of this took less than 15 seconds.
The laughter died in my throat as I jumped towards him, the rest of the crew following behind me. I managed to catch his head before it hit the floor. “Can I get some blankets please?” My voice rang out. Other passengers tried crowding the scene. “Are you travelling with him?” I asked no one in particular. Silence. “If you are not crew, can you please step back and let us handle this.” I continued to call out instructions while getting up to elevate his legs. That was when I saw my rolled up sleeves and realised I was travelling as a passenger too! I handed over to the crew nearest to me and returned to my seat. Though the Cabin Service Supervisor in charge of the main cabin came to thank me and all that, I was more surprised by how quickly and easily I entered that role. And how after everything, I was still calm – no shakes of any kind, apart from the initial surge of adrenaline.
I guess it’s true what they say, “If the shoe fits…” And I am sure all cabin crews will agree with me how once you have worn those shoes, no other shoe truly fits.
PS: A crew once said she knew she had been in the business of flying for too long when ice from a drink she was mixing fell to the floor and she kicked it under the fridge without thinking. She was at home in her kitchen!