“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a general boarding announcement for Americair flight 762 to Rome. We now invite all passengers to please make their way to gate C14.”
I must have walked through this airport a thousand times, yet it feels like I’m hearing this announcement for the very first time. It’s a strange feeling. I guess I have gotten used to the sounds. It’s as if they have morphed into a soft, barely noticeable hum. Today, though, is slightly different; I hear everything. From the soft-spoken whispers to the high-pitched screams.
In less than half an hour, I’ll be on my way to Rome. And I am nervous, too nervous.
When I’m working, I don’t notice the announcements. I’m already on board, waiting for the passengers to arrive, and I’m definitely not sitting on one of these uncomfortable seats in the waiting area.
By the way, I’m a flight attendant. But I prefer saying that I’m a stewardess. It’s a lot sexier. A flight attendant could be a man or a woman. It sounds a little too masculine to me. The word stewardess is just so much prettier.
Back in the day, being a stewardess was all about not getting pregnant, never gaining weight, and serving cans of Pepsi with a smile. It used to be about being the “perfect” hostess, but good news! Things have changed. Nowadays, a stewardess, aka a flight attendant, can have babies, gain weight, and will definitely turn you down if you request a free upgrade to first class. Because now, she’s the boss! Obviously.
Our job has definitely changed over time, but its mysteries surely remain. I suppose it is intriguing to passengers. Our office is about 36,000 feet up in the air, it flies at over 500 miles per hour, and is driven by two men in black who sport yellow stripes on their sleeves. Usually strangers. They talk about women and speak in technical terms that I don’t understand. But the yellow stripes command respect.
On the other side of their armored cockpit door live a crew of busy bees. There are junior, senior, and veteran little bees in every crew. Depending on their seniority, they gossip, they sometimes argue, sometimes confide in one another, or they might even despise each other. Some are pretty, some not so much. Among them are licensed massage therapists, athletes, part-time businesswomen, and great cooks too. Together, they fly around in a gigantic metal tube accompanied by all kinds of people: men, women, children, seniors, deportees, prisoners, thieves. Some of them are kind and polite, while others can be grumpy, ill, nervous, or even drunk. And then there are those who seem to have checked their brain in along with their bags back at the check-in counter.
There are passengers who like to chat, among themselves of course, but with us as well. I get peppered with questions about my job. They ask, “So what’s your favorite country?” and “What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you in the air?” Or they wonder, “What are the pilots like?” Then, they add an inevitable comment such as, “It must be complicated to start a family.” Fascinating, isn’t it?
I entertain them with tales about my work. I fill their heads with dreams. I answer their numerous questions with a smile and, sometimes, with inexplicable enthusiasm. I’ll even surprise myself by lying and replying, “Wow, nobody’s ever asked me this question before!” But to be honest, I rarely feel like participating in their exhaustive interviews. I already have a lot on my plate.
People seem to observe my every move as I walk up and down the aisle, which sometimes makes me feel like a circus animal. I have to hide to eat a sandwich in peace between services and I always feel like I’m under a microscope at takeoff. Some passengers pull on my skirt to get my attention, others steal the magazines from my unattended seat. So, I could certainly do without their endless questions about my work! It’s about time I get a few days off and away from it all.
Tonight, I get to be a passenger. I’m accompanying John, the man I love, on a three-day layover in Italy. While I sit here waiting, he’s already on board. John is a pilot. Strangely, when I accepted his invitation, I was convinced that the upcoming seventy-two hours would be the most amazing days of my life. Now, I’m not so sure anymore. Instead, I’m lost in thought; I don’t want to move. Once I set foot on the aircraft, will my whole universe change?
I’d rather wait a little longer before boarding. I still have time anyway. Passengers are still lining up with their passports and boarding passes.
Working as a stewardess is so much more than what it seems. We save lives! Well, I guess I haven’t saved a life yet. But that’s what I’m trained for, so it would be my first task if we ended up in a plane crash, right?
Of course, I wouldn’t want this to happen but, in a way, I like the idea of being the one who could make a difference between life and death. I would open the door and scream at the top of my lungs, “Jump! Slide! Move away!”
My ideal scenario? In the blink of an eye, I’d save everyone. But the truth is, nobody can predict how they would react if faced with such a stressful situation. I’d just hope for the best in myself.
There could possibly be another scenario: I’d open the door, verify that the slide has inflated, look outside, look inside the cabin, then look outside again. With a slight hesitation—one last time—I’d look at the commotion through the flames and the smoke inside. Then I’d yell: “This way! Follow me!” The perfect hero, right?
You have to admit that you’ve probably wanted to save the world at some point. To help the helpless or stop the bad guys. Little boys want to become firemen or police officers. Little girls dream of becoming veterinarians or teachers. I’m no exception. I want to contribute to the well-being of my fellow men and women.
In the event of an emergency, I hope with all my heart that I’d be able to participate in an evacuation. I’d love to save the day, of course. But there’s another reason too. During an emergency, if a passenger doesn’t quickly jump on the slide, we must push them. This is the one and only time cabin crew is authorized to push a passenger . . . how convenient!
Being a flight attendant is about caring for the passengers’ safety (police officer). Then, we must make them want to come back (seductress). We serve coffee and tea (server), but also provide first-aid care (nurse) and let passengers confide in us (psychologist). And then, we might as well add to the list the containment of infectious diseases (bacteriologist). Why not!
We keep the peace (babysitter), force a smile or two (actress), and reply, “Yes sir, I understand; you are absolutely right,” even if he is not. All of this to prevent incidents that could potentially put us in danger. So, just like I was saying earlier: We save lives!
Other than that?
In the winter, I fly to exotic destinations such as Jamaica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic, and I serve Pepsi or 7UP to people named Susan, Linda, and Donald. But I spend most of my time on board the aircraft, far away from the picturesque beaches. I call those the “teaser flights.” We fly three hours to Cancun, Mexico, deplane passengers, and then stay on board. I don’t get to disembark with them and go work on my tan. Nope. The next step is bringing home all the burn victims who have just spent a week under the hot Mexican sun.
For a short break, while the cleaning crew gives the aircraft a quick makeover, I step outside to soak up the sun. Then it’s hasta luego, Cancun!
Of course, some lucky ones do get to stay in the sun. The lucky ones are those with seniority. They disembark to enjoy the warmth and are immediately replaced by the other lucky ones from the week before. Just adding to the tease!
In summertime though, I can finally treat myself. I work transatlantic flights to Paris, Madrid, London, and the likes, and I always stay the night. I buy my duck confit in France and my shoes in Spain. I return from Italy with tons of Parmesan cheese, pasta, and truffle oil, and I serve red wine and fruit juice to passengers named Arnaud, Fabrizio, and Agatha.
On a side note, I must mention the universal phenomenon I have noticed when it comes to juice consumption. Every time—anytime—across the world and in every culture, the said phenomenon lives on. It drives me crazy. I’m not talking about orange or apple juice (I don’t really mind serving those). In fact, I actually enjoy serving apple juice. But pouring a glass of tomato juice? Now, that’s the worst. I hate serving tomato juice. Actually, I loathe tomato juice. And here is why:
Who drinks tomato juice at home? It’s not a particularly thirst-quenching drink. We drink tomato juice when we’re hungry or we order it when we don’t like the soup selection in the table d’hôte. Tomato juice is not the ideal drink. It just isn’t. Yet, it somehow becomes the drink of choice for air travelers. Tomato juice is like the plague. When someone orders a glass, every other passenger suddenly wants one.
I’ll give you an example. If Mr. A dares to order one from his window seat, inevitably, Mr. B and Mr. C will also request one. Then, their fellow Mrs. D and Mrs. E in the next row will also want one. The ladies behind all the tomato juice drinkers will order one, just because they heard we had it on board. The word spreads like wildfire and we’ll run out of tomato juice for the return flight! Thanks a lot, Mr. A.
All right. It is obvious that my hesitation about boarding this aircraft is totally stressing me out. I’ve been at the airport for more than an hour waiting for my flight to Rome, but I still can’t decide. Should I stay or should I go?
What’s wrong with me? I am a thirty-year-old woman going to Italy with the man I love. What’s the problem? I should be standing right now, lining up with the other passengers, impatiently waiting to board the plane, but I can’t make up my mind. I’m usually impulsive and a bit impatient, but now I’m just sitting here, waiting. I don’t get it.
For days now, the anticipation of leaving for Italy has been dictating my every move. Suddenly, that feeling of eagerness has evaporated. For once, I’m actually taking the time to make a well-thought-out decision. I do not feel my usual exasperation toward passengers who walk too slowly to their seats. I am still on the fence about boarding the airplane, knowing that they might close the door any minute now. Arms crossed, I look at the passengers boarding one by one. But I give myself time to clear my head and make the right decision.
I’m obviously lost in my own little world. I’ve been watching so many men and women handing over their boarding passes to the gate agent. I’ve even counted them! I need more time but the last thing I want to hear is my name called on the public announcement system: “Attention, please. Final call. Ms. Scarlett Lambert, please make your way to gate C14 immediately. Final call.” I wouldn’t want to be that indecisive and the line is getting shorter now, so I have to make up my mind: to board or not to board.
I may be impatient by nature, yet I still enjoy being the last one to board. The best way for me to calm my nerves is to stay put. Besides, I hate waiting in line, or what actually feels like we’re standing still. I know that people are moving ahead, but it’s never fast enough for me.
What is my ideal boarding speed? It’s hard to tell, but it rarely happens. Probably due to the many factors to be considered. For example, on a scale of one to ten, boarding speed will vary depending on the type of aircraft, the number of passengers, children and elderly, and, ultimately, on their nationality. The perfect score is always awarded to the Japanese. They consistently score a ten. If I were a passenger on that flight, I’d line up behind them without hesitation. However, replace the Japanese with Italians and the score plummets. Big time.
When I work on a flight to Italy, I have time to redo my makeup, enjoy a cup of coffee in the back galley with a colleague, and read the last chapter of a super thick New York Times bestseller, all during boarding.
A flight full of Italians would rarely score higher than five out of ten. Going faster is impossible. They’ve got the entire famiglia on board! They probably just ran into so-and-so’s padrino in the waiting area, or so-and-so’s mamma in the duty-free boutique. They just can’t help it; they need the gossip. Until the very last moment, they have to catch up. And that very last moment is when they finally reach their seat.
I could intervene to try and speed up the boarding process, but even if I tried my best, I’d risk an intervention from another member of the family, who would reply something completely incomprehensible while dramatically expressing themselves with their arms. All hell would break loose. I prefer working impatiently on my patience instead. One more reason to wait here on this bench and continue to think.
I won’t budge until the gate agent makes the final boarding call. That’s when I’ll have to make a decision, which I believe is pretty soon. When I was packing my bags this morning, I was so sure of myself. Now I feel the complete opposite.
One step at a time, I finally make my way to the boarding gate. “Thank you,” says the gate agent. “Have a nice flight!” for the hundredth time.
Wow, she’s in a good mood. She must be new to the job. I give her two months, tops. Maybe more like two weeks. Once November comes around and people start flocking to warmer destinations, she’ll hand out their boarding passes, flash her brightest smile, wish them a lovely vacation, and suddenly a paunchy man who’s clearly had too much to drink will say: “Hey, missy! I said I wanted a window seat and you gave me a middle seat! Me and my girlfriend aren’t even sitting together!” Smacking her bubble gum, his girlfriend will say, “Never again, Americair. Never again, man.” Little Miss Sunshine will lose that smile pretty quickly. I guarantee it.
Instead of stalling for time here in the waiting room, I should be thinking about the choice I’m about to make. Why am I hesitating? The man I love wants to spend a few days together in Rome. I should just go along with it, but I still have my doubts. If I board this plane, my life will never be the same. Haven’t I desired this man since the day I first laid eyes on him, though?
A day I’ll never forget . . .