Saturday, March 21, 2015

Adventures in Flight: Prima Donnas and Princesses

It was just a trip to Los Angeles and back; two and a half hours there, sit for an hour, three hours back. It looked good on paper, sounded decent; nine hour duty day. But this was one of those days where I got to use my saying: I really earned my money.

Normally, I enjoy being purser on domestic trips, but I'm not all that experienced in doing the position on wide body aircraft. I can manage just fine, but I'm not very comfortable and I'd rather not. That was just how the rest of the crew felt about this 767, and since I was the most junior, I was stuck doing it. The purser works in first class, is responsible for making announcements, is the main contact with the pilots and handles any unusual situations that pop up. The pay is slightly higher, but it's not always worth it.

It was a day full of prima donnas, princesses and an ass hat or two. Let's start with the first ass hat. He was tall, odd looking and very special- at least that was what he thought. The flight attendant working first class with me asked if I knew him, like if he was famous. She thought he looked like a magician or something. I had no idea. I just know he was special; the manner in which he demanded things instead of asking, complaining about our Wi-Fi, getting up to use the lavatory, which was locked for take off, while I was in the middle of making the announcement to stay seated when the seat belt sign was on.

Of course, he had to have two drinks, asked for more hot nuts, of which there none, and let me know as I was still passing out trays of food to other passengers that he was done eating and I could take his. Since I don't pick up dirty trays while still serving other passengers, he got to sit there with his tray until I was good and ready to pick it up. He even waved me off once, which I just ignored, as I always do when that happens. I'm a safety professional, not your waiter!

Then, there was Princess Wine, who would continually ask for more as I passed her seat. It seemed like she would always ask for it just as I was returning to the galley to get it, which made me feel as if I were acquiescing to her demands each time and not just doing my job. It was classy, how she reached a point to where she would just tap her glass while looking down her nose at me to indicate that she wanted more. It was like, “Hey, I've got 18 people to serve dinner to here, you're not alone in first class, I'm only one person. You'll get your wine, just be patient.”

Just behind her was Princess Salad. Another task of the purser is to take the meal orders. My galley guy had told me we were serving salad with chicken and a side of tomato soup, or a hot chicken sandwich. It turned out that the salad had roast beef and it was onion soup. I sat her tray down and before I could explain what was going on, she scrumpled her face and huffed, “Um, what is this? I don't eat beef!” I offered to bring her a new salad with no meat. “I don't eat lettuce!” she demanded.
“You don't eat lettuce?” I asked.
“But you ordered the salad...” I shot back.
“I was expecting 'chicken salad'.”
“No one expects chicken salad,” said my inside voice (among other things) a-la the line from the movie “History of the World”... “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Oy.

Soon after this, Mr. Lost and Confused asked to buy duty free items. “Sir, that's only available on international flights.” He'd just have to wait for his next flight, which was to South America.

A few seats back in coach was a prima donna. Her greeting? “I don't have a tray table!”
“Well, hello to you, too,” (inside voice again). Her response after showing her that it was in her arm rest, “Oh. video monitor isn't working! My movie quit playing and all I get is this.”
“Ma'am, it's not working because 'this' is the safety demo. You have to watch it. Everyone has to watch it.” She huffed once more and I had to stop myself from laughing.

And then, sometimes it's the little things. While taking meal orders, a man approaches and asked me for assistance. I follow him to his seat and he shows me a spill. I see a white liquid...some sort of...milk? It's spilling from his video monitor, mounted on the back of the seat pod in front of him, where, somehow, milk was spilled during take-off and was now running down and spilling onto the seat pod behind. I grabbed some wet towels and assisted both he and the woman in front in cleaning up the mess. Next to the woman in front was Daddy, holding a sleeping child of only several months. He simply sat there smiling at me, holding the swaddled life form. It was then that I realized the milk I was cleaning up, and that was all over my hands, was BREAST MILK! Yes, classy times in first class, as usual.

And, it's the little things, such as at least 3 people not paying attention, so oblivious, that even waving my hand in front of them, it took several seconds to notice me, standing there with their food. You're in row 3. You've seen me serving all the people in front of you. You ordered a meal. You have your drink. The next step in the progression of things is a tray of kibble delivered to you. Put your laptop away and pull out the damned tray table so I can put this heavy tray down in front of you. No, don't try to take the tray from me...where do you expect to put it? Pull out your tray table. Yes, that thing there. Really? (You know, your flight attendant can tell who got the upgrades from coach, right?)
An LAX landing

Then I get to the last row of first class- center seat. He was a dead heading captain; a nice guy. He didn't ask for much, a can of sparkling water, a ramekin of hot nuts, no meal, thank you. After the service I went to check on him again to make sure he had all that he needed. He told me he'd been watching me do the service, and seeing that there were some difficult passengers, and that we were dealing with a very bumpy flight, that he was very impressed at how I managed things.

He went on, “You know, a passenger can have a bad day, a lousy drive to the airport, a curt gate agent, a gate change, a long wait in line to board. They can have so many negative issues before they get on the plane, but the thing that really makes a difference is the flight attendant. A flight attendant who gives really good service can make all that other stuff melt away. They land and walk out of the terminal and are asked, 'how was your flight?' and they say it was great...because of people like you, who care about their jobs and smile and make things seem flawless. I've been doing this for 24 years, and you're one of the best.”

I listened to him as my head swelled, I smiled, touched his shoulder and thanked him. It was a long work week, only four days, but days where I had to drive to work each one of them; no layover trips. Two days were on standby at the airport, hoping for a flight, but not being used and after sitting for four hours, was then sent back home. Days tired because of yet another bout of insomnia, a terrible affliction very common to flight crews who deal with an ever-changing schedule, where I had not gotten more than 5 hours of sleep in a row but once in over two weeks.

“Sir,” I said to him, “thank you. That makes my day. I'm fortunate to love my job.”

Another saving grace of this trip was that I worked with a fantastic crew. One thing that really makes my job easy is a galley person who knows what he's doing, anticipates needs and can handle being delegated little tasks while the aisle flight attendants are doing their thing in the aisles. We all got along, shared stories and laughs, and after the flight was over, compared our 'war stories' from the flight.

You land, walk to the bus, get to the parking lot, drive home, and it's all left behind. This was my Friday and I have three delightful days off. I earned my money today, but it was a great day and now it's all left behind me. I've said it before, even some of my worst days at work are better than many people's best day at theirs.