Did he just eat his earwax? Unbelievable. Yes times have changed in the airline profession. "Ma'am, please don't hand me that dirty diaper." "And sir, if you don't turn off that cell phone before take off, I swear I'll pop a slide!”
Back in a big way, less naive, more in touch with the world in general? Well, maybe. Is anyone really fully prepared for that hard curve that throws you into the full circle in life, or in career? I've been here before; a flight attendant in a previous era. It's now two months, 21 days and eight hours back fresh into this new, adventurous opportunity. After stepping away 26 years ago for a fulfilling position in the international tourism arena and what eventually led to a major effort toward handling a small business, it seemed timely. It seemed perfect. Well hang on! We are in for some turbulence.
Ah, the flight-attendant interview. It was a spontaneous decision, but everything seemed to point directly back to that very moment. After completing forms and tapping the mark set high above our heads confirming our height, we are directed toward a room full of nervous energy. Now is the time for presenting, selling ourselves to an audience. Lip twitching and pant legs shuttering, I confess being nervous in the middle of my speech — nice move. Somehow managing to get the point across, now on to master the third level.
Good! One-on-one interview — my specialty. Realizing that my breath was a bit less-than-fresh due to lack of food or drink, I threw my self into the ladies room for a quick swish of mouthwash, frantic fidget with the outfit, then back on the floor. The waiting game. Still waiting. Then my name is called. I've just won the lottery! Okay not really, but it felt like I had. The one-on-one went as expected. Selling myself like a mad woman. More waiting. Then my name is called again. I've just been crowned! You would think so with the screams and tears pouring from both the interviewer and interviewee.
Funny thing is, this victory simply secured a round-trip ticket from Anchorage to Seattle for yet another interview. Days later, four people out of 34 were hired. I'm not THAT special — or am I? I've just been chosen to attend a 5-6 week training course, during which I will become an expert on evacuating an aircraft in seconds, reviving those that pass away on their three-hour vacation flight, and doing the Heimlich maneuver on choking children. I will be glued to a grueling schedule that pays around $20 a day. Really? For learning how to save lives? Let's reflect back to the ‘80s; a 26-year moment of reflection. "Step on this scale please. Hmmm, you could loose around 2.5 pounds. Work on that. Hold your wrist out. Oh wait, you measure right around the medium bone size. Well, your weight is okay then. How's your skin? Are you tweezing? What products are you using? Married? Children?" The list went on. "Healthy?" As if to say, "Good, because we are going to squeeze you into a metal tube with approximately 30 smokers. We need super, skinny gals to exceed 14-hour days with bouts of bronchitis. "Hired ! You're perfect for the job!"
Flying during the '80s proved very different from the terrorist awareness of the 20th century. The door was always open, the flight deck door that is. Friends, relatives, local politicians and sweet, little boys and girls expressing dreams of flying their own 737 one day. Everyone was invited. Pilots used to invite flight attendants to the front to experience landings. Wings skimmed tops of clouds. Then with a shout from the captain "Hang On!" Swoosh, down we'd go diving into the heavenly fluff. Nothing like full-grown adults playing with a great, big toy. We were positive that we were safe — just lots of butterflies and craziness. Stories float around of flight attendants joining their pilots on night freighters. Mile high? Well, depends on how you define the activities. Jokes were played here and there. We watched as flight-attendant pranksters placed extra nylons perfectly around the meal tray for captains and first officers, framing little white lines of Sweet ’N Low drawn perfectly beside each cup of coffee. All poking fun — no one was serious about sex and drugs of course.
The '80s also presented a time when sexual harassment finally peaked enough interest to make some positive changes. Many of us suffered with a strained laugh or giggle in order just to be a "good sport." While bending to cross and straighten seat belts between flights, it wasn't unlikely for a belligerent pilot to place his hands on your hips and proceed to rub himself across your backside with as much pressing as possible — claiming he just needed to slide by. A touch here, a touch there? An uninvited kiss. "Good sport." Pleased to say pilots today are highly professional, humor laden, hard-working team players and look to provide the best travel experience possible. I find most to be an uplifting, considerate breath of fresh air.
As we jet back to the future, we've definitely flown past the classier times of travel. Gone are the times when both customers and airline crew retained the impeccable dress and manner of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Apparently those were the "good ole days" where there existed equal parts of respect and admiration. Some of our most well behaved frequent flyers are children — excited, curious, generous with a please and a thank you. They possess an amazing ability to follow direction. They turn off and store their electronic devices long before the full-grown adults and adult children. Following direction is their expertise. I recall a beautiful 8-year-old girl seated in the last row coloring quietly before takeoff with her 5-year-old sister. Perfectly relaxed. Suddenly, she comprehends the “ready for takeoff” announcement. Collecting all of her crayons, book and bag, she's urgently preparing. I catch her eye. She turns to her sister, while raising both tray tables, stating "Hurry, let's get ready for blast off!" She makes my day. I said, "Thank you." She responds, "You're welcome," adding the most angelic smile you can imagine. She is polite, put together, kind and thoughtful. Her manner is impeccable.
Landing on the point of respect. Flyers revel in the convenience of travel. Commuters enjoy the successes of building their businesses. Family members cross state and country lines consistently targeting that hug and hello with those that they love sprinkled throughout our globe. Flight attendants lend that touch of support and the basic needs of safety and care along the way. And still, to present time, I am baffled. Why is it that a highly intelligent, mentally and physically capable, uniformed professional trained in security, required to perform and take charge in a heart attack, firefighting, human rage, assist with vomit, crying babies, crying adults find they are unable to gain the ultimate respect in this working world?
Once in a coffee shop, a patron had learned what I had chosen for my latest line of work. He simply leaned over and said, "Get me a glass of water would ya?" Sad. Sounds odd, but a favorite part of the job over the years has been holding the hand of the terrified, those who are shaken to the core with the fear of flying. As a person who doesn't think twice about takeoff and landings, turbulence or most other normal happenings during flight, it is sometimes difficult to tap into each and every passenger’s personal sense of well being. Most hide it well. However, it is unmistakable when to recognize the fear displayed in a passenger who displays shifty, watery eyes, stiff shoulders pinned up to their ears, and glowing white knuckles. The slightest touch and soft, confident word can instantly unravel their terror. We do this every day.
Yes, a lot has changed in the aviation world. Some things haven't. I know this much, flying touches the soul. As a passenger flying is about getting from Point A to Point B. As a flight attendant it's about the customer, safety, the adventure. Blast off after blast off we covet this career. It offers a highly professional, niche quality of life. We see the world, I think, sometimes more clearly then most. And yes, he did eat his earwax.