After almost seven years of flying, one would think I have seen all there is to see on the job, right? Think again!
#’Tis the season to be silly
Just this Christmas, same as all the Christmases before it, Nigerians from all over trooped home. Flights were full and hectic. And everyday at work, it was possible to go through the full range of human emotions and still have gaps to fill.
On this day, the flight had been delayed about four hours due poor visibility at Owerri, the flight to Enugu was cancelled and some of the passengers were trying to get on the Owerri flight. The airport was akin to a marketplace: noise, trash, bags, kids and grown ups. My crew and I waited on board for an improvement in landing conditions and as soon as we got this we commenced passenger boarding.
With the flight as busy as it was, there were some sitting anomaly. Families had been scattered all over the place: kids separated from parents, husbands from wives; we usually tried to sit families or groups travelling together as close together as possible, but because of how things had gone, people were assigned the seats that were available. Sometimes, crew try to reunite such people on board, but it was usually the prerogative of the passengers to speak with their neighbours to find out if they were willing to swap seats, and these neighbours reserved the right to accept or decline.
On this flight, one of the families so affected had sat the children by the emergency exits while the adults were seated at the rear. Now, for safety reasons, it was regulation to refuse certain groups of people seating at this place: pregnant women, the elderly, children, obese passengers and passengers requiring assistance for mobility. In an emergency, they would be more hindrance than help in getting the exits open and carrying out passenger evacuation. Straight away my colleague proceeded to resit the children, and though passengers were reluctant to swap places, all seats got sorted save one. The mother of the children who had earlier accepted to swap places with her son then wanted to give conditions. I was caught between a rock and a hard place.
The aircraft doors were shut, we had pushed back from the gate. There was not a lot I could do about the situation, but it needed dealing with. I made an announcement explaining to the passengers why we should not have that child at the overwing row of seats, then looked in the cabin: no movement, except the mother constituting a nuisance in the aisle.
“Let him sit there.” I told my colleague. “Madam, you can resume your seat, don’t bother moving anymore. Thank you ma’am.” I said to the woman. I saw the look my colleague threw my way, I was breaking procedure, but he did not know what I had to factor in to reach that decision – we still had the safety demonstration to go through and we were already taxiing!
Safety demo done, I was walking through the cabin double checking that the cabin was secure when the same colleague told me about a man who was asking for an infant seat belt for his child. “The fuck!” I muttered under my breath as I flicked my wrist to check the time.
The airport in Owerri closed at 18:00hrs, the time was 17:09 and we hadn’t even taken off; the one thing I did not need was more drama. When I got to the man in question, I saw he was carrying a boy on his laps. “Hello sir, my colleague said you needed some assistance..?” I let the words trail into an audible question mark.
“I tol’ him I wanned a belt foh mah boy an’ he said no.” I heard his accent and mentally rolled my eyes. They return from South Africa, the UK or the USA, these brothers of mine, and expect when they say ‘jump’ you ask ‘how high’.
“How old is the boy sir?” I asked looking pointedly at him.
“Tu yeas,” he answered.
“I am sorry sir, but any child two years and older has to take their seat for take off and landing.” I told him.
“I don’t care! Just get me a belt, that’s all I wanna see right now.” he said annoyingly.
I looked again at my wristwatch 17:10. I went to my station and called the Captain to advice him of the situation. He asked me to confirm the child’s age, and I could hear the weariness that creeped into his voice. He must have been considering how much time we had and if we could return to the gate to get that issue sorted out.
I went back to the man and asked him again, “How old did you say the boy is?”
“Almos’ tu,” he mumbled.
“Hey man, you’ll just have to make up your mind about his age. Is he two, or almost two? In fact are you sure you are his father? Is his mother here? Because I am sure she will know exactly how old her son is..”
Those were the things I wanted to say to him, but instead I said
“First you say two now you say almost two, I need to be sure of his age sir.”
He adjusted himself in his seat and I recognised the stance he had taken, petulant stubbornness, my niece was a champion of that stance when she didn’t want to be moved.
We were cutting it very fine and a further delay would have resulted in the cancellation of that flight; a situation we all would rather avoid.
I said to him, “If you insist he is almost two, I will get you a belt..”
“That’s what you shoulda done. Yea, you do that!” He cut me off.
I looked at him long and hard, dwelt for a few seconds on what I would rather had done, sighed and then returned to my station and called the Captain to say it was sorted. When he spoke, I heard the relief in his voice.
I have no idea why, but over the Christmas period I was either rostered, or called out, to operate a lot of the Owerri and Enugu flights.
On the 29th I was boarding passengers on an Owerri bound flight when these girls came on board with a cake and asked me if there was anywhere they could stow it.
Who buys a cake, checks in for a flight then wait till they got to the door of the aircraft before asking if there was a place to stow it? So what if there really wasn’t or I said no? Fortunately they had boarded early so there was still ample space in the cabin, plus I checked their boarding passes and realised they were business class passengers.
“Yes ma’am,” I said. “In the hatrack above your seat.” This with a smile.
“What if a bag crushes it?” A shrill voice asked me. I turned to see a third girl standing inches from my nose.
“Just put it in the hatrack ma’am, the cake’ll be fine.” I told her barely keeping the smile in place.
“What if a bag crushes it?” She repeated and I was wondering exactly how retarded she was when she added “Are you taking responsibility for the cake? Ehn?”
“Breathe Franque,” I thought to myself.
“No ma’am, you brought the cake here, you stay responsible for your cake.” I told her.
“Then why ask me to put it up there?” A queue was already forming at the door.
“Madam, I have said for you to put the cake in the hatrack, can you trust me enough to do so?” I asked her. “It’s either that or you use the cake as a footstool or carry it on your head for the entire flight,” I wanted to add, but professional courtesy made me bite that back.
Seeing that they were getting nowhere with me, they decided to do as I had asked. “Won’t you come and put it up?”
“Please give me a moment,” I said to the queue waiting at the door, then I looked first to the owner of the voice making sure to drill her with a stare, then I looked from one to the other till I had made eye contact with all four of them, and then I turned back to the door, smile in place and asked the gentleman at the door “May I see your boarding card please?”
#Forest full of sleaze
In my line of work there is a certain skill people seem to pick up, or maybe it is a talent that the job just brings to the fore: an ability to make everything – even good morning – sound sleazy. Some do it so well, you will smile with them; others you want to slap.
Funny thing is, there is no escaping it.
Take for example the other day, I was checking my catering when I realised I did not have the ‘silverware’ – tea and coffee pots with milk jug. I asked the InFlight service (IFS) attendants who were able to get me tea and coffee pots but nothing else.
I was flying with this Captain I am fond of and he was there with me just close to the cockpit, a customer service agent (CSA) and the IFS attendant were there too. I picked up the handset to enquire from my colleagues down the back if there was a set loaded for them. “Hi girls,” I announced, “Do you have any milk jugs so I could send IFS to come and take it from the back?”
As soon as the words hit my ears, I knew I had set myself up. There was at least five seconds of silence which was then followed by raucous laughter. I thought I was going to die from embarrassment as heat suffused my neck and face.
A few weeks later I was with the same Captain when a colleague who had not seen him in a while came up to say hi. “Captain, I had your wife on my flight yesterday and…” The Captain and I exchanged looks and I barely held my laughter in. The guy looked at us, frowned and then said “Ehen nau, I had your wife on my flight yesterday nau. Or was it two days ago? No, it was yesterday.” He said concentrating on the wrong part of his statement.
When I caught my breath from laughing, I asked him “Are you sure? What happened yesterday?”
“I had Captain’s wife…” Finally the second shoe dropped. “No o, Captain that’s not what I meant.”
I have learnt that people in my occupation do not have a monopoly on this skill. On one flight from Abuja to Lagos, a colleague had been called on to assist a frail geriatric to his seat. She helped him settle in and even stowed his bag and cane for him, then leaned over to show him the Passenger Service Unit in the panel above his seat. “If you need anything sir, just push this button here and I will come.” She said.
His face lit up. “Really? If I push this button you will come?”
“Yes sir,” she replied.
“Wait. You mean if I push this button, this one here, you will come?” She nodded in the affirmative. It was then he said in a barely audible whisper, and she was thankful it had taken her till she had straightened up and was walking away for all the pieces to fall in place, “Are you a screamer?”
And just two days ago in my recurrent training class, my line manager had a talk with us about leadership and personal development. To help drive home her point, she had used one of the on-board managers as an example, and did she use her. She had said “Even before Kay became an on-board manager, she had shown leadership traits and great promise. Then, you could sleep with her on board and have no fear.” A few of us had shifted in our seats, then to reiterate she said “Seriously guys, if you had Kay on your team, you could sleep with her and nothing will happen.”
“Confirm results after nine months though,” someone said and we all laughed as my manager tried, but failed to save this.
After flying as long as I have, meeting the people that I have, there are still those things that happen and leave me saluting the human condition.