In my five years as a flight attendant, I have learned a few things.
About myself, and about people in general. About how hilarious people are when thrown into a metal tube that moves. About the fact that my friends will never get tired of pushing an imaginary call button at social gatherings.
About countries, and about how much a land I never had an inkling to visit can surprise me and become my favourite.
About food. How adding salt and pepper can make almost every in-flight-meal taste edible. And how I can eat eight apple pie desserts from the leftover economy class tray in a row without feeling sick.
About how much I love people.
Naturally, the fun begins with putting on my uniform. Now, the uniform is the boon and bane of my existence as a flight attendant, especially on my way from and towards work. One the one hand, it makes me incredibly approachable in certain situations. As if it says: Please entertain me with all sorts of small talk. The uniform breaks down human barriers. On the other hand, it makes me extremely non-approachable in different contexts. Like, when I am the one needing help. When that’s the case, the tables have turned. Suddenly, people around me think: I am sure she got it. I mean, she wears a uniform. Surely she knows what she is doing. Let me tell you, when I am spilling the much needed coffee that I am clinging on to whilst balancing my suitcase in the other hand, having my cabin luggage flung over me, are in danger to strangle myself because my headphones have a life of their own and my heels are audibly screeching across the pavement – then I have not ‘got it‘. Don’t simply stare at me wide-eyed when I just slipped and blocked the door of the lift that you and I wanted to use. When you see me like that, it clearly means that the superpowers that come with my uniform have just left me.
Now, when we get us uniformed people in a plane and start to let passengers roam free in the process of boarding, that is when it gets really fascinating.
As I said, the thing I really learned from my work as a flight attendant is how much love I have for people. For every one of you. Yes, sometimes you annoy me. But honestly, most of the time I am just in awe. I am convinced that Joe and Jane Lunchbucket, your average traveller, leave half their brains at the door when boarding. There simply cannot be any other explanation. That’s ok though, it makes my job worthwhile. I can only imagine how hard it is going to be for you to find the exit in case of emergency when you already struggle with the most basic things. Like, finding your tray table. (It is either right in front of you or in the armrest that the probably overweight person sitting next to you just leaned on, breathing heavily.) Or putting on the ear pads for the headphones. (Admittedly, those ear pads can be annoying little louts.) I don’t mean this to sound condescending. It’s just a fact we all have to embrace. The majority of people on planes have trouble finding the restrooms.
Have you ever seen a grown man in a suit brilliantly helpless? I have. This look of sheer panic when the overhead bin above your seat is already full haunts me in my dreams. Or when you enter or disembark smaller planes and you hit your head? Yes, yes that is absolutely my fault and acknowledging the scolding look you are giving me, I apologise. Generally speaking, I have experienced the best dialogues that human communication can offer on my flights.
Naturally, this unbeatable classic is high up amongst my favourites:
“Would you like some tea or coffee?“
“Ok, then. Tea or coffee?“
“YES.“(passenger starts to look at me slightly annoyed.)
“Is that tea you have there?“
“Yes!“(excited and relieved I am making progress)
“Ah, no, I would like coffee.“
“Well, I got coffee right here too.“
“Oh, you have coffee there?“
“Yep.“(My arms start to hurt from furiously indicating towards either the coffee or the tea pot)
“Coffee, please. Black.“
“Here you go.“(impressed we covered the sugar and milk-dance without me asking.)
(I go on. I am two rows further down. Then I hear it.)
“EXCUSE ME? MA’AAAM?!“
I go back. “Yes?“
“I need three sugar and two creams.“
People travelling are just outright adorable. Once I had a lady asking me for mango juice. I explained to her that unfortunately we don’t ever have mango juice, so I offered her our alternatives. All was well. When I came by an hour later, again fully equipped with my beverage trolley, she asked me if I maybe have it NOW then? And I just opened my mouth and closed it again, because I didn’t know if she, in that moment, understood the concept of being in the air and the correlated lack of supermarkets.
Sometimes, I really just meet the odd balls. I had a lady stealing a freshly bought lip balm from a backpack that wasn’t hers and using it deliberately in front of the man she stole it from. A man bringing some fresh and jolly alive lobsters on board, which then went on a spree and bit a woman in the toe. A lady being inseparable from her torch light, that she turned on and off in an unstoppable manner throughout the whole flight, creating spontaneous interviews with the people around her due to the spotlight the torch created. A man throwing a fit because I “overburdened him with the task of making himself familiar with the safety features“. A woman ordering her drinks and food solely through her teddy bear, that sat comfortably on her lap. Ok, torch, teddy and lip balm lady is the same person.
You know what though? You are not the only ones who are a tad weird. Flight attendants might be the only professional group that seems to be overly excited about being handed some good, solid, plastic rubbish. Also you’d probably think I have a good sense of geography. No. No, I really don’t. I still google half of the places I am flying to. Adding to that I tend to overestimate my ability to navigate through unknown terrain whilst sleep deprived. I once cried at 8am in Nagoya, Japan, because I thought it was a good idea to rent a bike at 3am and go cycling for an hour. I forgot that I cannot read nor speak Japanese. The place that I finally threw my bike down and collapsed into sobs was around the corner from my hotel. A colleague found me on her way to get coffee. Bless her.
But, overall? People make me happy. I have shared food with strangers in Iran, I have been out all night with crew and locals in Ghana, I have been taken by the hand on my way to see the Hermitage by an old Russian man so I wouldn’t slip on the icy streets of St. Petersburg. I listened to your love stories because you were travelling on your honeymoon, I have heard stories of lost loves from people travelling to funerals. And some of the best conversations I have had were with people who didn’t speak a word of a language that I spoke. But when that grandma pinches me in the cheek at the end of the flight, or that little boy comes running to hug my legs and that man gives me a crooked, thankful smile: I know that I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Cover photo: C Foulger (Flickr) Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0