Friday, July 11, 2014

Passenger of the Day: The Pacer

Passenger of the Day: The Pacer
by PenguinScott

I took the escalator down to the food court and loved the view of the LaGuardia tarmac from the ground floor seating area. I was in search of a great Reuben sandwich I had heard about from a flying partner, so I walked from one place to the next, but never did find it. For a food court, there weren't really many choices; Italian, Chinese, Mexican, pretzels or a takeaway sandwich shop. A man was in my way as I moved from one end to the next, pacing, his cell phone wire tracing its way from the black phone in his hand up to his ear. He was oblivious not only to my trying to pass, but of others moving about the cramped seating area, as well. I said excuse me, which didn't seem to register, but he just happened to casually pace in a direction that allowed me to pass with my bags in tow.

After securing a burrito and making my way to a seat near the windows, with views of aircraft, I noticed the blockade guy still pacing about. He wore a crisp white shirt tucked neatly into black slacks. He was too important-looking to not have a jacket...ah, there it was, hanging on the back of a chair at a nearby table. He had begun pacing in larger circles and at this point was further from his table than he needed to be. On the table was his expensive-looking briefcase and on the floor was a large, black roll aboard suitcase of fine leather. It appeared out of place among the brightly colored chairs and modern art hanging form the rafters of the food court in concourse B. He was a diamond in the rough! He is my passenger of the day.

He wasn't talking on that phone with it's cord attached to his ear. It was more like he was just listening. Books on tape? His expression was that of concentration, paying very close attention to whatever it was coming through the cord. Big deal going down at work? And always with the mindless pacing; back then forth, around this table and then that, towards me, then away. Listening in on a board meeting?

He was in stark contrast to others in the area, especially the family seated next to me; the young girl eying me with great curiosity. Nearly everyone in the family- mom, 3 kids and grandmother- wore flip flops. Mom's was pink, to showcase her nice white cracked feet that supported a large frame. The older boy's was black with white skulls- a hooligan. The girl who seemed fascinated with me wore lime green ones. I wasn't sure if they were flying today or visiting the airport pool facilities, but judging from Mom's skimpy white blouse and very skimpy black shorts, I'd say if flying, she'll be asking for a blanket, while on the plane her flight crew sweats in their polyester uniforms. I miss the days when people looked put together when out in public. The Pacer looked nice.

Mostly, I watched out the windows. In the distance I could see planes flying to the south, then turning west, towards us, their bright landing lights flickering in the New York afternoon heat. It would only take a few minutes and they'd be landing on runway 22. The Pacer was still pacing, not seeming to look at anything in particular; the ground, the empty tables, his phone, the upper corner of the food court. He seemed oblivious to the fact that anyone was around him. He was completely lost in whatever was going on in those headphones. He didn't seem worried or upset, just very focused. The table supported only his bags; there were no food or drink items.

After completing my meal, I sat and waited for the time at which I should head to the gate for my flight. I was tired, not having gotten as much sleep as I should have, even though I had a 17-hour layover. But the six hours of sleep would have to do for the very long day ahead of me. It was a day very different from what The Pacer was used to, I'm sure. I'd board a plane with people going to Houston. During my announcements, I would find a red warning light on my control panel above my jumpseat. I would call the captain, a pack of mechanics would board and play with buttons and scratch heads until an hour later the fix would be found. At this point, the plane would miss our window of departure and we would sit in the penalty box, an area where planes hold away from the gate, for another hour. Four times the captain would have us ready the plane for departure and three times it would end up not working out and we'd sit longer. The Pacer, on the other hand, would earn money from the backs of people working for him...or if not people, his money would earn him more.

After reaching Houston, I was still to work home to San Francisco. Fortunately, it was the same plane, so I wouldn't misconnect. But this would be the fun flight; tired from lack of sleep, worn out from a full meal service in first class on the flight from New York, plus assisting in economy, eager to get home after a 2-hour delay, and having to do another boarding process. Good times, indeed. But The Pacer has no idea of this kind of life.

We arrived in Houston and mechanics again came on board to deal with a few write ups we had in flight. An ash tray went missing from the lavatory, and while smoking is most forbidden, it's a must have item in case someone does light up, they have to have a proper place to put it out when we yell at them for doing so. A light in the galley was out and a drain in the lavatory was plugged. 

Needing paperwork for the flight home, I walked up to the gate to have it printed out. Catering arrived with my new galley just as passengers began boarding. The senior flight attendant in back was asking about ice and the hand held devices we use to sell food and drink items in flight. The new captain for this segment asked about his crew meals, but there were none. He asked for coffee, which I went to make but discovered they had yet to turn on the water supply in the galley. Meantime, we are still boarding. Passengers ask about the delay and hand me their trash and ask about room for luggage and make comments about the plane not having a closet or entertainment. I have to make boarding announcements, as well. I check the coffee that's still not brewing, close overhead bins, hang jackets for customers in first class and ask the pilots to call about the lack of ice in the back galley. I'm asked about the coffee and tell the captain it's not brewed yet. I want to inform him that I'm not a Genie and that I can't blink my eyes to make it appear, but he seems too business-like. He'd get along with The Pacer, I'm sure of it.

I make more announcements and deal with more passengers and a catering rep shows up with two bags of ice and a couple of extra snack trays, which must be for the pilots since I had enough for my passengers already. I can't keep the bin the ice is in, so I remove them for the rep and discover much has already melted and the bags are not completely sealed, so now I have a counter full of water. I can't have bags of ice leaking all over my paperwork, so I take them to the aft galley while my flying partner makes the door-closing announcement for me.

When I walked back to the front of the plane, I had to arm the doors. As I turn from this activity, the captain shows up demanding to know if his meals had arrived and wondering why the doors were closed without letting him know this information. He starts into me, saying something about a need for better communication, like I did something wrong. I calmly look at him and inform him that it is not in my scope of job functions to notify him of the door closing; that's the job of the gate agent. I followed up with letting him know that he failed to inform me that he was ordering crew meals, and when they arrived with melting ice, my priority was to get the melting ice to the aft galley. When I returned, the doors were closed and I had to arm them and clean up the water, which was laying siege to my paperwork. I think The Pacer would have been proud of the manner in which I stood my ground.

He seemed to understand, and after a grunt of disapproval, turned his attention to the meals themselves, asking to see them. I took them back out from the cart and placed them on the counter. They were wrapped in plastic wrap, so it they were difficult to view. He poked at it it bit, didn't seem pleased and went back into the flight deck. I wasn't sure if he was going to have new meals brought or if we were now ready to go and my flying partner was as confused as I was. I followed him in and waited, but he said nothing and ignored me. I asked him if he was ready to go. He growled a yes. He'd nearly forgotten, but I asked if he wanted his damned coffee. I didn't really say damned, but I was thinking it.

I put the meals back, delivered a hot coffee and closed the flight deck door. Finally, we could perform our safety demo for the passengers. Finally, the brakes would be released and finally I would start getting paid for the Houston-San Francisco segment! That's right, flight attendants only get paid when the plane's brakes are released.

The Pacer probably made as much money in the half hour I watched him pace as I made in my long day of dealing with passengers and pilots. It's not always easy or glamorous. But it's my job and I love doing it. Like The Pacer, I used to make good money when I was a general manager, but I didn't have any free time back then, and certainly not as much fun. I think I like things better the way they are now.

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