Friday, July 22, 2016

Adventures in Flight: Open with Caution

I was attacked on board my flight from Houston! We were on approach to SFO and I was performing my safety checks. I got to row 10 and there on the floor in front of the two occupants of that row was a large guitar case. As you may know, items must fit under the seat in front of you. This guitar case took up the length of all 3 seats!

I was aghast! "Where did that come from?" I asked. "Was it there for take off?" They nodded yes. My flying partner must have missed it in the darkness. Or, sometimes passengers try to hide things with blankets or coats; they can be quite crafty.

Of course, I now had to find space for a guitar case, and this was a plane without a closet. Thank the gods the loads were light. I started opening overhead bins, praying there was one with room enough for this musical annoyance. Each bin I opened was full of bags, back backs, paper sacks, purses, a CPAP machine., full, full! Then I got to the overhead bin at row 20DEF.

I was running out of time, so the search had sped up. I opened the bin and before I could react, I was attacked! It came at me with great speed. It was close, but missed me and clunked to the floor with a loud thud, most likely heard by the homes we overflew several hundred feet below the aircraft. It got everyone's attention in the plane.

It was a horn! It was a horn that was about 3 feet in length. It was pointy on one end and blunt on the other, so either end would have been painful. With the light loads, no one was seated in the aisle seat underneath it. The dark horn spiraled like the stars would encircle one's head who might be unfortunate enough to have been clonked by it.
Yeah, one of these! *

What kind of horn was this? Who carries a long, pointy, spiral horn? What the hell does one do with an animal horn? What animal is out there cursing the fact that someone took it (and most likely their life to boot!).

It belonged to the man in 20F, who seemed a bit miffed that his precious horn had fallen six feet. Um, you put the horn of death along the edge of the overhead bin, in front of luggage instead of behind it, and you're going to get mad at me for not knowing this? I don't think so. You can take that bad attitude and shove it in a piece of fruit cake! I was nearly maimed! And what are you...a witch doctor? Why is there an ever-loving spiraled horn in the overhead bin flying through the air at me? Why? Where am I, Africa?

I'm asked, “What's the weirdest thing you've seen in an overhead bin?” Until now I may have answered, a cooler of human organs (which gets the plane a priority taxi for takeoff and landing!), funky hats, musical instruments, decorative canes, fancy suit cases, or once, I did find a flight attendant in the overhead bin, but that was staged. Now I can answer with pride, “A death horn!” 

I secured the spiraled horn of death back in the overhead much better than it had been to begin with and eventually found an empty bin for the large guitar. The man placed it in and I started to make my way to my jump seat at the rear of the plane, catching the eye of a deadheading flight attendant. She smiled knowingly at me, fully aware of what must be going on in my head at that time. Guitar cases and attack horns. Just another day at Mother Airline.

*Photo not property of Penguin Scott

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Adventures in Flight: Say What?

Often, I hear from people who, after finding out what I do for a living, express an interest in becoming a flight attendant. I frequently hear someone say, “But I don't speak any other languages.” Well, I only speak English and Texan (which only means I tell a good tall tale), but speaking a foreign language is not a necessity for becoming a flight attendant. It helps, but is not required.

Languages fascinate me. I wish I'd learned another language when I was young, for now that I'm old, my brain is too feeble and lazy to pick anything up. I'm quite frustrated when flying to a foreign locale and ask how to say this or that and the language flight attendant tells me, and then half an hour later it is completely gone from my memory, even though I'd said the word 1000 times (did I mention I speak Texan?).

Every now and then I hear a language flight attendant speaking to a passenger and I pick up on a word that sounds so interesting. I'll ask, what was that word you said mean? “Solamente.” “Nosotros.” Such interesting sounding words, that in the whole sentence of what to me is gibberish stands out so well. Then I find these are such basic words, and mean “only”, and “us”.

I took 2 years of Spanish in middle school. That was a very long time ago and I recall so very the fact that I use that language so infrequently. I can pronounce words like a pro, and have several Spanish speaking friends who tell me they are quite impressed with my pronunciations. I just have no idea what I'm saying.

Maybe languages translated on the 
seatback monitors?
It can be rough working an international flight in coach and coming across passengers who do not speak English. On one such flight to Lima, Peru, I encountered a charming woman of small stature and a wide smile. I asked what she would like to drink, and from her mouth flowed all these words in rapid fire succession and not a single one could I understand. I apologized, as I leaned in, and asked if she could speak any English. The following words unintelligible to me provided the! And so many words flowed from her that fell on deaf ears. I looked for the nearest language speaker; far from me was he.

Fortunately for me, the woman next to her could translate. She wanted coffee and I did know enough to tell her, “Cafe un momento, por favor. Cafe con...dinner. Not now. Un momento.” The woman next to her filled in the blanks further and she understood; coffee would be served with the dinner, but not right now.

Later, when I reached her seat with the dinner, I asked if she would like pollo, or pasta. As if I had by magic maybe learned Spanish since we last spoke 20 minutes ago, she again went into a very long diatribe of words that had no meaning to me. I reminded her that I did not speak Spanish.

And this would happen every time I interacted with her. One thing I remember well from taking Spanish in school was “lo siento”, or, I am sorry. No habla Espanol.

She would roll her eyes, as if to say, “Oh, yeah, I forgot.” At least she smiled nicely at me. It must be difficult to travel in a world where you don't understand the language. Wait...I do that all the time. It is rough, but I've never been put out too much by not speaking the language, and today, with smart phone apps, it's getting easier.

There are two things I always say I wish my parents had done differently when I was very young and could easily learn things: I wish I'd taken piano lessons, and I wish I'd learned another language. It's so much more difficult to do those things when older. I'm just waiting for the day when Google creates a blue tooth contraption that one can wear that will translate languages in real time! (And, hey, Google, maybe you can call it the 'Penguin Translator'!)

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Passenger of the Day: Curtains!

There are flights, as rare as they may be, when I encounter a passenger who is not happy with me. My smile, charm, and good looks can only go so far, it would seem. Typically, it's a passenger getting butt-hurt over a company policy or FAA rule when they don't get their way, like the “Good Little Scout” I wrote about. Here is another story of someone’s panties in a twist.

I was purser and at the tail end of my service in the first class cabin. The meals had been served and I was picking up the last few bowls of lemon sorbet. I often take a look towards the back of the plane to make sure things are as they should be. There is a curtain that divides the first class cabin from the economy cabin, but it's sheer. I noticed a man standing just on the other side of the curtain. He mostly kept his back to me, but every few seconds he would look into the first class cabin, seeing what the woman in 3E was watching on her lap top and interested in finding out what I was doing.

The sheer curtain behind row 3 of first class.
Upon seeing that I appeared to be done working, he passed through the curtain and approached me, standing in the galley. This shocked me for a split second; long gone are the days when economy riffraff never thought to cross that curtain, but now that it’s see-through, it stops no one, it seems. He was a smallish man with dark hair and just a touch of gray around his temples. He had a thick accent, but I didn't have a hard time understanding him. His first question was about the curtain behind row three. “Is that for safety?” he asked. (Inside voice immediately stated that it obviously wasn’t to keep him out of first class! It’s a good thing inside voice stays inside.)

I explained that it was to differentiate first class from the main cabin and to offer a little privacy for those who paid for first class. He was intrigued about its sheerness, and I explained how that was so the working crew could see the whole cabin, a new feature after 9-11.

He next asked, with a smile, what the curtain was for that partially obscured the galley. “This is so that these passengers (mainly seats 1 A and B) don't have to look at the ugly galley during the flight. “It's also there so I can hide from people like you,” said my inside voice, although it does actually provide a little privacy for crew members to eat their meal out of view of passengers.

He thanked me, all smiles and excused himself to return standing sentry on the other side of the curtain. He eventually took his seat on the aisle in the first row of economy. I soon forgot about him, but not for very long.
Enjoying first class uninterrupted.

Half an hour later, he returned. I was seated in my jumpseat and looked up as he approached, smiled, and asked if I could help him. He pointed to the lavatory, just behind me, suddenly becoming mute. I informed him that the lavatory was at the back of the plane. He looked at me a bit cross, “But you let others use it from the back.”

“Yes, when the cart is in the aisle, people can't access the lavatory, so they can use this one. Right now, there are no carts in the aisle, so I must ask that you use the ones at the rear of the aircraft.” He stood there for a good five seconds, which felt like 10 minutes. I thought I’d try a new tactic. “Do you have a first class ticket, sir?” I asked. “No,” he responded. “Then I need to ask that you use the economy lavatory, thank you.”

I mean, I 'had' just explained to him the whole curtain thing, providing first class exclusivity. Had he been elderly, or of difficulty in moving around, or very young and not able to stand long in a line, I’d have allowed it. But it ‘is’ company policy...and I would expect it had I plopped down first class dough!

He turned and went back to his seat; he did not use the lav, at all. He returned to his seat and basically spent the rest of the flight, which at this point was just less than an hour, staring at me.

When I got up to check on my passengers and bantered and laughed with them, I could see him glaring at me. When I handed out coats and jackets, his stare was iron. When I opened the offending curtain and secured it to the cabin divider for landing, his glare set into me like a knife.

And all the while I just kept smiling, as I always do.

Smile and the world smiles with you.

We landed at our destination and my passengers took their leave of the aircraft, thanking me, saying farewell, shaking my hand. Mr. Curtains was next. While on the jumpseat I had looked up his name and with a smile, I bid him a great day, calling him by his last name. He stopped, moved in close, and asked for my name. “Oh, it's Penguin, Mr. Curtains.” I was still upbeat, as if I thought he was going to nominate me for an award, although I knew he was still upset that I wouldn't allow him to use the first class lavatory. He asked for my last name. I leaned in a little, “I don''t give out my last name. All you need is Penguin and this flight number.” (Inside voice continued, “And make sure you get my name right, I want to make sure Mother Airline knows that I'm doing my job!”)

People began to bunch up behind him. He didn't seem completely happy with failing to leave the plane without my full name, but that's been my policy for over 10 years, after dealing with a threatening passenger. He took his leave of me and I again, with a smile in my voice, bade him a great day.

He couldn't use the first class lavatory, but he certainly could not claim that I was unfriendly in any way, shape or form. I had engaged him in conversation, smiled, wished him well and even called him by name.

It doesn't happen very often, and maybe that's why they always tend to stick out with me, those moments when someone is dissatisfied in some way and asks for my name. And nine times out of ten, they ask for my last name. We don't give that out. I'm the only Penguin, she's the only Sara, he's the only Kevin...working flight 1306. That's all you need to know. Enjoy your day!

View from the window of door 1L

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Adventures in Life: Fantastic Childhood

It’s amazing the little things the mind remembers from our long ago youth. I remember the strangest things from little me; playing outside with a yellow Tonka tractor, the busy street we lived  on, finding a decomposed cat skeleton and making my friend hold it on a stick, the elementary school I used to go to and how we used to play duck-duck-goose and hold classes outdoors, watching the old black and white Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on a big screen at the nearby park community center, coming home as a latch-key kid and watching Donahue on TV and how I’d make fun of his name.  This was all when I was in first grade. Do they even allow first-graders to be latch-key kids these days?

New building but old name: Housman Elementary School
On nice days, we'd have class under the trees.

We lived in an apartment complex in front of which was a brick wall I used to walk along with my friends. We would jump down and climb back up. I once pushed a girl who was too timid to jump and when she landed she ran away crying. Turns out she sprained her wrist. I got in a lot of trouble for that one.
You can still see where the wall used to be!

The guy who drove me to school was a rotund guy named Moe. I had a red pencil eraser in the shape of W. C. Fields with a top hat. I had no idea who Mr. Fields was- to me he looked like Moe and that’s what I called the little red rubber man when I played with him.

Down the street was the day care Mom would put me in when she went out on dates at night and from time to time I’d be there during the day on weekends. I had girlfriend (as much as one in first grade could have a girlfriend) with red hair and freckles. The sitters would get us all in our cots and would turn the TV on to watch MASH. The name of the place was The Ark.

Freeman Park Center used to show movies for kids.

Mom was dating a man who would become my step-father. He was a funny guy with a thick New York accent that she and I would make fun after his visits. He was my introduction to things Jewish. That Christmas, we didn’t have a Christmas tree in the apartment, we had a Hanukah Bush.
Down the street was a Dairy Queen behind which was a large parcel of land full of trees. Winding through these trees were trails that went up and down dirt hills, around bushes and along the banks of a small creek. Older boys would race their bikes in this forest and I thought they were so cool. I couldn’t wait to get older so I could ride up and down and around the dirt trails.
The very DQ where Dad taught me about manners.

Cleared of trees and bike paths, now an empty lot.

And in that very Dairy Queen holds a very dear memory for me. My father had once picked me up for my weekend visit. I suppose this particular night, he was a little early bringing me back and we stopped for dinner at that Dairy Queen. It was during this meal that I recall Dad telling me about the importance of manners. He instructed me on my use of please and thank you, of yes ma’am and no sir, and this was the first time I heard the word chivalry. It was a strange word to such young ears, and it would be a few more years before I really mastered the meaning of the word.

I took a drive to the old neighborhood. It’s possible that I’ve not been back since we left, circa 1974. The forest of bike trails is gone; it’s now an empty lot and a huge church. The wall I walked on has been torn down but for its foundation and a strong iron fence stands guard instead. The old elementary school is all new and modern; the original since demolished. The park seems so much smaller to my adult eyes. The Ark is now a gas station.  And my father recently passed away.

Inside the DQ

Little from our past ever stays the same. Things change, evolve or give way. Friends disappear as quickly as they became known. People grow old and die. We move on. But there’s nothing like going back down memory lane and seeing what has remained as symbols to remind us that no matter how far we’ve come, our more simple beginnings can always be humbling. 

And as I finished my meal at the DQ (the same meal I recall enjoying as a boy with my father) the rain started coming down. It was Summer Solstice and a Strawberry Full Moon. I looked across the street to the park in which I used to play and then up to the sky. There were huge billowing clouds reaching the upper atmosphere. And closer to Earth…a rainbow. I smiled as I looked at the empty lot behind and for a moment saw the bikes jumping hills and heard a young boy cry out, “It’s getting late, ya’ll. I better get home before Mom worries.” I’m glad I’ve been able to keep parts of that little boy in tact. He certainly had a fantastic childhood!

A rainbow arcs across the skies over where I once lived.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Adventures in Flight: Hello from Denver

View from my hotel room in Denver

When I first started flying for Mother Airline, most of my layovers were long enough to get out and explore the cities in which I stayed. These long layovers are where I enjoyed exploring, did a lot of my shopping or went to see a movie at a nearby theater. After 9-11, the layovers got shorter and to save money, we more often than not stayed in hotels near the airport, not near stores and their sales or theaters and their new releases.

One of the reasons I remember long Denver layovers are for the sales I'd find at the Ross, the flying pizza at Anthony's and watching movies at the 16th Street theaters. It's been years since I've had a long Denver layover. So when I saw the trip in my line, I was eager to return and explore an area that I know has been revitalized. 
Large hand-thrown pies at Anthony's

What a let down! My first experience back on 16th St. after so long an absence, staying on the narrow sidewalk out of the sun in temperatures of over 90 degrees, was running past the gauntlet of all the smokers standing in a row, looking miserable, inhaling their cancerous smoke, and blowing it for all the rest of society to consume. Ahh, the mountain air of Col...hack, cough, wheeze...orado!

I had heard from many sources about the increase in homeless along 16th St. I didn't think much of it. I see a lot of homeless on my layovers. Honolulu has quite a few. I see them in Seattle and certainly when I'm in San Francisco (of course in SF, one can have a decent-paying job and still be homeless!). But oh, my, they have intensified here; to the point where it really detracts from what should be a positive experience. Hand made signs on boxes; shopping carts standing by for treasures dug from trash cans; half naked youth making weird signs with their hands while talking foully to friends a block away as if in some gang; the mentally unstable yelling at the top of their lungs to either no one or invisible entities who might be shouting things back. It's quite the festive scene, and until you've smelled a group of homeless sweating in 95 degree heat smoking cigarette butts found on the ground, you've not been festive enough! Whee-you!

Looking East along 16th Street

I did endure the heat well enough to walk to the end of the long pedestrian street. I got my slice of flying pizza and happened into a Krispy Kreme donuts on their first day to be open. I spent some time in the Money Museum of the Federal Reserve Bank in hopes that samples would be given (and they were...only, the money was quite well shredded and quite unusable for me). I did find a great price on a new pair of layover shoes, just like the old days.

Street buffalo art
There is a lot that is great about walking around downtown Denver. I love the interchange of new and old architecture and the colorful flowers. I really enjoy the numerous brightly-painted pianos left in the middle of the street with ivory ready to be tickled by anyone who passes by. I love that cannabis is legal and enjoyed an occasional wafting scent being enjoyed in public. And I really love the glimpses of white-capped mountains peeking from between skyscrapers of steel and glass.

I'm going to be so rich one day!
And just like that, time winds down. The office workers who were on their lunch break return to their offices. The streets empty just a bit for the tourists and more homeless. Young men and women emerge in sweaty Lycra from various gyms to show off svelte bodies and toned arms and legs. And Penguin waddles back to his cool hotel room to survey it all from the comfort of another layover hotel room window, high above it all. Mission accomplished. I do love my long downtown layovers!

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Passenger of the Day: Is This Thing On?

Taking my position in the aisle of the Airbus 320, I quickly surveyed my audience and set the bag of safety demo equipment on the floor at my feet. There were no empty seats to use, so the floor would suffice; with an aging frame, having to bend down for each new piece of equipment is daunting. I prefer it when there is an empty seat to use as my staging area.

The man seated in 21C looked up at me, knowing what was coming, and asked, “Do we get the enthusiastic safety demo, now?”

I looked down at the man smiling at me, my passenger of the day, and retorted, “Did you 'pay' for the enthusiastic safety demo?” He enjoyed my quip and chuckled, while it also garnered the attention of several nearby passengers.

From up front the purser had begun reading the safety demo and I began to demonstrate how to use the oxygen mask and seat belt (and if you don't know how to use the seat belt, should you really be out in public?).
Your flight attendant is trying to show yous something!

It came time to point out the nearest exits (which may be behind you) and instead of simply pointing them out, I did a slight jump, landing loudly on the floor, and pointed to the exits in a pose that was something between ninja and Elvis. People all over were laughing and now paying attention to me. Mr. Enthusiasm gave me a little applause. He was impressed. “I guess I 'did' pay for it,” I could hear him say to his neighbor in 21B.

People never pay attention to flight attendants on the PA. “Please don't put your bags in overhead bins sideways...” as they continue to do so. “Please take your seats, the captain has turned on the seat belt sign,” as they move from their window seat, making 2 others get up, as well. We could give out the winning multi-million dollar lotto numbers for tomorrow's game, and only one person would hear them...and they would think we were reading the numbers for last week's game. You can't win...there is no winning.

I don't really blame them. Not entirely. After all, there is a joke; How do you keep a secret from a flight attendant? You make a PA. We never pay attention to them, either... but we have an excuse. We usually know what is being said. The purser is welcoming you aboard and telling you where to stow things. The captain is welcoming you aboard and telling you the weather in the city we are flying to, the city I'll only be in for an hour...on the plane...never enjoying fresh why should I care?

Passengers hear this all the time, too. Especially the ones up front. These are the passengers who fly often and use their mile points for upgrades for extra leg room. They know what's going on and how to make things work. The back of the plane are the people who are saving money, who only fly once a year, who are too engaged with their snot-nosed 2 year old and his impending tantrum to care about what a flight attendant is saying. Priorities!

Evacuations at the gate will be done via the jetway.

You may think we don't notice, but we do; those who are paying attention. Yes, Mrs. 24C, I see you looking at the safety information card from the seat pocket, and I appreciate that. Yes child in 20F, I see you looking for the nearest exit behind you and I know you'll get out alive if we need to evacuate. Yes, grandmother in 30D, I see you knitting that afghan and wonder if you could make one for gets cold on my couch in winter!

I was once doing the demo in first class from San Francisco to San Diego. On my flight was none other than Sharon Stone. She looked amazing, was full of smiles and came across as being quite gracious. Many passengers would later ask, “Was that Sharon Stone I saw up in first class?” Why yes it was. And you know what? She paid attention to me when I did the safety demo. I enjoyed her performance in Sliver...and she watched mine in the first class aisle...the only person in first class to do so, by the way! (It was on this very trip that her husband would make the news for getting bit at the San Diego zoo. Karma? He paid no attention as he read during the demo.)

That's why I enjoy making announcements that sound a bit different. I enunciate words slightly awkwardly or infuse a little humor. It's an attention-getter with the aim of getting people to hear what I'm saying. Hello, we're talking to this thing on?

If you really want to see a whole plane of passengers paying attention to the safety demo and the flight attendant announcements, fly immediately after an airline incident. Following any major incident, for about a week afterwards, nearly everyone pays attention...after the Miracle on the Hudson flight, when Capt. Sully landed in the Hudson River...after the tragic German Wings flight crashed at the hands of a suicidal pilot...after the crash of Asiana 214 in San Francisco...I commanded the stage of the aisle like a five-time Tony award winning actor on Broadway!

We notice those paying attention; it happens so rarely. We see those picking their nose, brushing their teeth (yes, I saw that once) knitting, watching movies, texting, reading the Wall Street Journal, and we especially see those watching us. We do it for a reason, your safety...telling you such things as which doors not to open in a water evacuation (passengers in the Hudson opened doors they were told not to, letting cold water rush into the plane). Do us a favor. Listen up for a few minutes. Each plane is slightly different. It can save lives!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Passenger of the Day: Baby Mama

Perhaps it's why she arranged their seating in this manner, as I could hear her in the aisle as I set up the aft galley. She traveled with her husband and two children and commented on the fact that their seating was two on one side of the plane and two on the other. “Well, we should be able to switch seats around a bit. No one will want to sit next to the kids. She put the boys, aged 2 and 4, on one side of the plane and she sat next to her husband. Between them was an aisle and two seats.

This would do for now, so I left them alone and went back to setting things up in the galley.

At the start of the safety demo, I knew I was going to have to fix things in that last row with Baby Mama. When I got to the last row, I found two things: no one else had joined them in that row, and Baby Mama had moved to the aisle seat next to the children. But right after takeoff, she moved back next to her husband. 

Penguin learning how to be safe at emergency training

“Hi, there. I just need to let you know that someone is going to have to sit next to the young children over there,” I said, smiling warmly to her. She protested. “I'm sorry, but an adult needs to be with children of that age, in case the oxygen masks deploy. They need help reaching the masks and putting them on.”

“Well, I can just move over if that happens,” she shot back.

“I'm sorry, it doesn't always happen that way. In a sudden decompression, you won't be able to move over. The plane will be in a dive, things will be blowing all around, sight will be limited due to fog created by the sudden change in pressure, people will be screaming, masks flying back, gasses expelling from your body, flashes of your life whipping by...mass pandemonium.”

Oxygen mask compartment open for repairs
Of course, most of that was inside voice. But she got the picture and rolled her eyes. With a big sigh, she moved next to them. For the remainder of the 3 hour trip, the two adults took turns sitting next to the boys, who never seemed to look up from their entertainment device.

As we began decent into our destination, the movie the boys had been watching ended and the two became a bit unruly; fussing and whining. Baby Mama was on the A side and Dad was next to the boys. I was behind them in the galley getting ready for the double chimes to sound; our queue to prepare the cabin for landing. Baby Mama suggested to Dad that they separate the boys, “Why don't you hand one over here,” she stated. The father silently complied (I don't know that I heard him speak even once during the flight). He picked up the nearest child and began to hand him over.

She quickly shot to him, “Not that one!” Had I liquid in my mouth, I'm certain the spit take would have been one to rival the best comedians. Having no liquid in my mouth, my other option was to double over in laughter...silent but for the sudden outburst of a chuckle. I looked back and my flying partner had obviously heard the comment, as well, for she was nearly on the floor laughing, in tears, having wet herself slightly.

That's some good parenting!

Foggy cabin