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!

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