My friends think that I live a glamorous lifestyle, jet-setting my way around the world while getting paid to do so.
My parents think that I’ll never settle down, find a good husband, and give them grandchildren, as I’m never in the same place for more than three days straight.
My passengers think I’m a glorified waitress. My sole purpose in life, according to popular belief, is to wait on passengers hand and foot, and ensure that they remain adequately lubricated with fermented beverages so they can quite literally drown themselves at the impressive altitude of thirty thousand feet, trying to forget that they are confined in a giant sardine tin with no way out. That is, of course, until the captain decides that it is time to bring the mothership back home to earth.
My brain thinks that I am crazy to be doing this job. The hours suck - hello twelve-hour shifts, jet-lag, and crazy sleep patterns. Then there’s also the slightly-higher-than minimum-wage salary and the wonderful interactions with all the passengers, some more charming than others. The less charming ones believe that holding a paid ticket entitles them to hit on us flight attendants - just because we one: happened to be there, and two: wear fitted uniforms.
But my heart tells me that I am exactly where I want to be. And the heart has a mind of its own.
Despite the crazy hours, the hostile passengers who hold us personally responsible for flight delays and missed connections, and the guys who try their best to squeeze every single last drop of free booze out of the airline in the shortest possible amount of time, and think it’s their God-given right to flirt with us... I love my job.
Which brings us to me. My name is Adrienne. Adri for short. And don’t confuse me with the captain, please. I am only a mere mortal, way below the higher plains on which such exquisite creatures roam.
To be clear: the officers in the flight deck don’t breathe the same, stale recycled air as us. They are way above such things. And incidentally - elevated to a much higher status than the rest of us ordinary folk who can’t fly a plane. Pilots are a special breed, really. I like to think that the term pilot was invented as an acronym for Pretentious Individual Life-form and Occasional Tool.
But I digress...
I’ve been flying with Pacific West Airlines for the past three years.I started out on mediocre regional routes in cramped Dash-8 propeller planes, between towns that didn’t even have the luxury of having one horse.
Then I worked my way up to Cityflier domestic. And then to domestic first-class.
And as luck would have it, I’d just earned my wings as an international flight attendant, and I couldn’t be more excited to take to the skies in even bigger aircraft, flying between much more exotic places.
But don’t get me wrong, I am starting my illustrious career as an international crew member in tourist class - or terrorist class as we call it. I’ve been warned that it’s a jungle out there, trying to feed three hundred-odd hungry mouths, who are all inwardly upset that the upgrade-fairy hadn’t paid them a visit, and are in an extremely unhealthy passive-aggressive relationship with their neighbor, fighting to the death over dominance for the coveted middle armrest.
I always pity the passenger in the middle seat. For they have two battles to wrestle, while being the ham in the middle of a very stale sandwich. They are usually the poor folk who either don’t hold any sort of frequent flyer status with the airline, or are not frequent travelers, and hence don’t know the rules of the game in terms of upfront seat selection.
But back to me for a second. Before I decided to join Pacific West airlines, I attended university and obtained a degree in psychology. But it only took a few couples counseling meetings to realize that I was in completely the wrong profession.
You see, I am an optimist of the glass-half-full variety. I believe in fairytales and happy endings. In romantic sunset walks and knights on white stallions. And in a nutshell, a career in psychology was not for me, as during my very short-lived stint, I’d seen enough messed-up stuff to scar me for a lifetime. But perhaps most of all, I didn’t want to become a cynical, bitter non-believer.
However, having a background in psychology is actually pretty damn advantageous in this job, as I’d quickly come to realize. I can psycho-analyze the shit out of passengers, and know exactly when it’s time to switch from peer to parent-mode. I can be scarier than a maximum-security corrections officer when it’s time to cut off inebriated passengers, or settle a dispute mid-air between a passenger exercising his apparent constitutional right to hit the recline button, and the one behind him who allegedly has suffered a dislocated a kneecap as a result.
It is not a job for the faint-hearted. You are a stand-in nanny, holding crying babies to give exhausted mothers a break. You’re a medic who has to respond to mid-air emergencies. You’re a referee, having to make difficult calls to resolve disputes between passengers. And you’re a confidante, a sympathetic ear, a complaints-resolution authority, and a walking vending machine.
Welcome to my crazy life in the air.
My first international flight was to Buenos Aires - supposedly the Paris of South-America. My apologies to any Argentinians; that statement is gross-overselling, and equates to misleading and deceptive conduct, which contravenes consumer protection provisions in quite a number of jurisdictions.
For those who don’t know, Argentina is located in the ass-end of South America. It is, in fact, an extremely ordinary city, perfectly forgettable, and was quite the anti-climactic beginning to my illustrious international career.
What it does have going for it, though, is the most beautiful, buttery-soft leather handbags. And so naturally, I spent my first international travel allowance on a beautiful, tan leather handbag and lived off tins of tuna and crackers for the remainder of the two-day layover.
Today, I was rostered on my second international flight, and we were heading to Rome - the eternal city. To say that I was excited was a complete understatement because Rome had always been one of those cities at the top of my bucket list.
On this particular flight, I’d been given door-greeting duty, along with Lisa, a girl whom I’ve flown with before, and who was also only recently promoted to international.
This duty involved pasting a smile worthy of a toothpaste commercial on my face, checking passengers’ boarding passes as they embarked to ensure they weren’t meant to be on a flight to Timbuktu instead, greeting them, and throwing some extra love towards our frequent flyers. And to be clear: we loved our frequent flyers at Pacific West, but we loved their money even more.
As I was greeting passengers stepping onboard into the terrorist-class cabin, I couldn’t help but overhear two of the other female crew members gossiping right behind me.
“Oh my God, did you see, we have Captain Johnson today.”
“I know, right!”
The voices belonged to Lisa and Madison, and the two of them were giggling like two teenage fan-girls who’d just scored front-row tickets to a boyband concert.
I turned my head back around, and suddenly an iPhone was right in my face. Said phone was firmly attached to a selfie stick, being an object that no person with a shred of shame should be seen with alive, in my humble opinion.
“Can I get a photo, please?” I followed the length of the selfie-stick to a guy who looked like he was in his early twenties, and probably about to embark on his first trip to Italy, much like I was.
And just because he asked nicely, and in fact, asked before just taking the damn photo, I decided to indulge him.
“Sure! Come stand next to me, and we’ll take one together,” I smiled, but you see, it was a conscious strategy on my part. Because while it certainly wasn’t unusual for passengers to ask to pose for a photo with them, a fear of mine had always been that I’d open the internet one day and see my face superimposed onto someone else’s body in some of the deepest, darkest corners of the internet. Someone else’s naked body, to be exact...
As with every other photo in like circumstances, I was really hoping that the budding photographer wasn’t one of those crazy-ass Photoshoppers who would eventually reduce my likeness to porn. Because somehow, I doubted that even performing Shaggy’s rendition of “It wasn’t me” would absolve me of guilt if something like that ever came to the attention of the good folk at Pacific West Airlines headquarters.
And that, my friends, was why I insisted on selfies with all my passenger-photographers - so that their likeness and image were right there with mine.
He took the photo and didn’t hold up the other passengers behind him for too long before the procession continued.
“Thank you!” He nodded in my direction as he started walking.
“No problem! You’re in 43C - that is on the right side, this way.” I pointed him in the right direction as he was heading for the opposite aisle.
Finally, the flight was closed, and we received clearance to close the cabin door and secure the airlock, which activated the compression system.
“Newbie, you can make the announcement,” Lisa said with a smirk.
I wanted to roll my eyes so badly, because she barely got promoted a handful of weeks before I did, but I just kept my cool and smiled instead.
I lifted the handset and activated the public announcement system.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on Pacific West Airlines flight 253 to Rome! It is our pleasure to have you with us this fine afternoon, and we particularly extend the warmest welcome to our frequent flyers - it’s great to have you back with us! The captain will shortly make an announcement advising you of the weather outlook for our flight and upon arrival, as well as confirm the estimated flight time. In the meantime, please make yourself at home as we prepare for take-off. Please ensure that your seatbelt is firmly fastened, and your belongings are either stowed in the overhead compartment above, or underneath the seat in front of you. All window shades must be up for our departure, and all seats in the upright position, with table trays stowed. Please also switch off all electronic devices for take-off, with bigger items like laptops stowed away, although you may continue to use small hand-held devices with flight-mode activated.”
I took a breath, before continuing.
“Below your armrest, you will see two buttons - one turns on the reading light, and the other does not turn on the flight attendant. We look forward to serving you today and wish you a pleasant flight!”
I returned the handset onto the base and turned to the girls in the galley. They were giggling at my attempt at a joke, because you see, the flight attendant call-button was the bane of our existence.
“Good one!” Madison laughed.
“Thank you!” I laughed with her, preparing to strap myself in for take-off.
“I hope that the captain wasn’t listening to the announcement, though,” Lisa said with a raised eyebrow, and my eyes widened.
And just then, the handset buzzed, with the flashing red light indicating that it was someone in the flight deck calling.
My eyes widened immediately. Shit - was this captain so stuck up that he didn’t even have a sense of humor? Was he really going to pull me up over a lame joke?
“I’ll get it!” Lisa’s face suddenly lit up like a serial gambler’s upon driving into Vegas, and she turned on a mega-watt smile as she snatched the handset before anyone else could go near it.
“Hello, Captain Johnson?” She greeted him sweetly, and I was starting to feel slightly nervous right then.
Her face fell slightly before she spoke into the handset again. “Sure, just one second, please.”
Her eyes met mine. “Captain Johnson wants to speak with you, Adrienne.”
‘What the fuck?’
My heart hammered inside my chest as I took the handset from her. I steeled myself for being reprimanded. I braced myself for the backlash. But nothing - and I mean nothing - could’ve prepared me for my first meeting with the legendary Captain Magnus Johnson...