5 min read
Things haven’t gone so well for air travelers lately. These days you can’t open Facebook without seeing a video of a passenger being beaten with their own stroller, dragged down the aisle by their feet or subjected to waterboarding in the rear lavatory. (“ALL RIGHT! I’ll take the next flight!”) I recently got a taste of this new economy-class terrorism. By the time we touched down in L.A. I had been involved in a scrap that included my fellow passengers, my ex-mother-in-law, Mr. Frank Stallone and the FAA. But at least no one lost any teeth.
It all started out peacefully at Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. I was booked on a Virgin America non-stop to L.A. It was close to boarding time and when I looked up from my iPad toward the gate, I saw a nice-looking elderly lady parked there in a wheelchair. There was something about her...
It’s funny… sometimes when a familiar element of our lives is out of context we can be a little slow to connect the dots. I knew that lady… she’s my ex-mother-in-law! We’ve known each other over thirty years and have always gotten along swimmingly, defying stereotypes.
I went up to her with a big smile and now it was her turn to figure out who this stranger was sticking his goofy face up to hers shouting, “Hi Barbara!”. She was quicker than I had been and gave a big hug. How funny, we had known each other for so long and had never flown together. This will be fun!
The first fun part was when we were ushered on to the plane before anyone else, even though my seat was way in the rear. I wheeled Barbara right up to her seat, 4D. Before heading to my own, she wasted no time and handed me her Kindle, asking me how to turn on its voice reader function. Barbara is legally blind and can no longer read her Kindle. Hence it now functions like a book on tape.
As I fiddled with the device, she said I should sit in the empty seat across the aisle from her. I promised to come back later to see if I could. But she was determined.
It was just a few minutes later, after I had settled in my seat at the back, when a stranger approached me and asked if I was Jon. This woman went on to say that Barbara had secured permission from a flight attendant to allow me to sit next to her up at the front.
Ok, I grabbed all my stuff and headed back to the front. I was just settling into 4C across the aisle from Barbara when a short, dark-haired, furious person looked at me seated there and raised her voice for all to hear.
“WHY IS NOBODY LISTENING TO ME?! YOU CAN’T JUST CHANGE SEATS!”
Uh-oh. I think she means me. The flight attendant was just raking me over with her eyeballs. I think I might have seen thin curls of white smoke wafting from her nostrils. So I jumped to my feet and grabbed my stuff. Barbara interjected, noting the other flight attendant had just OK’d the move. No dice – the other flight attendant, only a few rows down, went deaf and looked away.
But no problem – I promised Barbara I’d come visit her during the flight. And I scrambled back to 25C. This time I really settled in, unpacking all my favorite flying gear – my pillows, my headphones, my water, some snacks. I had just fired up my music when a young man walked up and asked if I was Jon.
Seems that Barbara had sent him back to switch seats with me. He, of course, was the assigned occupant of the infamous and musical chair-like 4C. However, he was happy to trade places with me so I could sit next to my “mother”.
I thanked him, packed up and headed back again to the seat for which I seemed to be destined. Settling back into 4C, I made sure Barbara was good with her Kindle. She gave me thumbs up and a big smile. All was finally good with the world. Almost…
Over the PA came a directive to close our windows so passengers could better view their TV/movie screens. No problem. But a few rows behind me there was a problem.
Because seated there was none other than singer, performer, Grammy nominee and Sly’s kid brother, Mr. Frank Stallone. Mr. Stallone didn’t want to look at his TV screen. He had a book he wanted to read. The problem? His overhead light was out. Now with all the shades drawn he couldn’t read his book so he buzzed for assistance.
Well… it was Mr. Stallone’s bad luck that of the three flight attendants on board, he drew the same one that had previously sent me running. He explained to her the problem. What she said next clearly indicated she didn’t know she was speaking with a Grammy and Golden Globe nominee. This erstwhile service professional told Mr. Frank Stallone that he would have to pay to have the light fixed.
In disbelief, he replied, “What, you’re going to charge me!?”
Challenged, she backed down but instead laid out the following scenario. It would take about two hours to get someone to fix the light, meaning the flight would be delayed two hours.
“Is that what you want? To delay everyone’s flight by two hours?”
Well what could poor Mr. Stallone do when backed into such a corner? “No, I guess not.”, came the deflated reply, sounding much the way I imagined Rocky would to Adrian after she asked him if he really wanted to hang with Apollo Creed when he had already promised her a nice dinner at a restaurant with tablecloths. Or something like that.
I felt bad for Mr. Stallone. He just wanted to read his book – not be hassled. Not be made to feel like he was the source of trouble because he wanted to read instead of watch TV like everyone else. But that flight attendant just didn’t care.
Can We Pause For Just A Moment?
You might get the wrong idea about my relationship with flight crews. I’ve probably flown about a million times and have always been treated very well by all the flight crews I’ve encountered. They’ve always been courteous and helpful, whether I was on some adventure flying through the Andes or changing one of my kids’ diapers, while flying to Grandma’s. I’ve always been treated well and that goes for 99.9 to infinity percent of flight attendants.
So maybe this was just a tough day for this crew. However, this particular flight attendant did mention that there were only two of them in coach against 150 passengers.
That is a surprising ratio but, more surprising still, was her use of the word “against”, as if she was engaged in some Machiavellian duel with economy class. Wouldn’t the more appropriate word have been “for”, as in “there are only two of us for [to serve] 150 passengers”?
We were aloft…we were flying… watching TV… trying to read… heading to L.A. Across the aisle, Barbara had made friends with her seatmate, Patricia. She had enlisted Patricia’s help in ordering lunch on the touchscreen. Everything seemed to be working out.
Within just minutes my favorite flight attendant came stomping down the aisle with the snack box Barbara ordered. I was looking down at my iPad so I missed her set up for the three point throw – I only saw something flying through the air out the corner of my eye. With a smack it landed on Barbara’s tray. The three of us jumped… at least as much as our seat belts would allow.
OK. Whatever. Let’s just get through this flight. Unfortunately, things were a bit more complicated. When Barbara opened her snack box, it was not the cheese plate she had expected. Uh, oh. Patricia signaled for the flight attendant. I slumped in my seat. The flight attendant came back stroking her pet scowl.
Barbara and Patricia explained the situation and asked for an exchange. No way. Not gonna happen.
“You opened the box!”, Virgin America’s best shouted.
But dear Patricia, our new friend said she would buy the box, snack, lunch, whatever it was… from Barbara. And help Barbara order something else. It was the compassionate thing to do. Her words stirred something deep within this flight attendant and she was visibly moved. Sort of.
“ARE YOU SAYING I’M NOT COMPASSIONATE?!”, she hollered at us.
At this point, Patricia clearly had enough and said she and Barbara were owed an apology over this cheese plate incident and I was owed an apology for the way she had yelled at me earlier.
I liked the sound of that as I had already forgotten about that initial craziness. But surprise! No apology. Instead she argued back in a nonsensical gibberish that sounded like a parakeet on steroids.
Barbara and Patricia couldn’t make sense of what she was saying, so they turned their attention back to the screen, ordering a new lunch for Barbara. This only made the parakeet woman crazier and her head began to twitch this way and that.
I Was Getting A Headache
You know when you see something really stupid and pointless and wonder why it’s even happening. It’s just the epitome of waste – air, energy, decency and time. I’d had it. I had to jump in.
“Could you please stop pushing against everyone? Me, these ladies, other passengers (Mr. Stallone!). Ever since this flight began you’ve been in constant combat with everybody. Can you just get her lunch without a fight? Can you do that? She’s 87 years old and legally blind and she just wants her lunch!”
Well… I suppose I was the first person on this flight to throw up the ramparts. Her eyes widened, she took a breath as if to scream or combust. But I knew where that would go and I wasn’t having any more of it.
I may not be Mr. Frank Stallone. I may not be a Golden Globe nominee appearing on TV talk shows and have lots of fancy Hollywood friends. But I can stick up for myself. And I can fire off multi-syllable compound sentences like a Sten gun if I need to. And I did.
I must have soaked up all the oxygen in that section ‘cause she just silently moved her jaw up and down. For the first time on this flight… nothing. She just stood there stunned, blocking the aisle and staring at me. From the look in her eyes, I thought she was about to leap for my throat. But I held her stare.
“She needs her lunch!”
She turned and stomped off. Barbara leaned across the aisle to me.
“Thank you, Jon. And you know, I’m still 86, not 87.” I apologized.
Lunch Part II
It took a while but Barbara’s second lunch finally arrived, courtesy of the first flight attendant who had originally given permission for me to change seats. She seemed to be the lead attendant. We thanked her; we were very grateful to get this second cardboard, boxed lunch. Such is the state of American air travel.
Things were finally better and rumor had it that even the crazy one was again being civil to Mr. Frank Stallone, chatting with him near the rear lavatory. Although personally, I would have advised caution – she could still snap if he asked for more pretzels.
Meanwhile, the lead flight attendant returned and kneeled before Patricia, Barbara and me, “Can I speak with you?”
Barbara and I were happy to have a calm, civil person address us and we both jumped in first, thanking the woman for being so helpful. We also added it must have been difficult with such a crowded flight and we appreciated all her efforts.
Well… we might as well have been speaking Aztec. Zero reaction. Instead, her eyes narrowed, as she launched into her prepared rant. In short, she didn’t like the way we had been behaving and speaking to the other flight attendant.
Whoa! She hadn’t come to apologize for the way we had been treated. She was looking for an apology from us!
As the leader of the Mean Girls, she had left her squad at the other side of the cafeteria and approached us, ready to throw shade. We weren’t her customers or passengers, we were trouble – a rival clique that sat where we wanted and ordered multiple lunches.
“Hold on.”, I told her. “I thought you had come here to defuse the situation and maybe to apologize to us. How sad. All you want to do is start it up all over again.”
“Well I know that other flight attendant and she would never be abusive.”, came the nonsensical and huffy reply.
I leaned in, “Listen. We paid our fares and just wanted to be treated decently. Your friend should be ashamed and so should you.”
Her eyes widened with a look I instantly recognized. It was the same death stare her bestie had bored into my skull. She then stood, put her hands on her hips and took aim. This lead flight attendant told me if I kept this up she would go to the principal… I mean, the pilot. I welcomed the opportunity.
“Please do that. And I would like to talk to the pilot as well and tell him how horrible you’ve been to these women. This is how you treat an 87 year-old lady?”
But this leader of the pack wasn’t in a reflective mood. Clearly she had missed the memo about passengers’ rights. She turned on her heel and stomped off to class.
The three of us took a breath and Barbara leaned over to me, “It’s not a big deal but I’m still 86, not 87.” Again I apologized.
Peace At Last?
Can we finally enjoy what’s left of this flight? Barbara’s had her lunch; she’s listening to her Kindle. In just an hour we’ll be in L.A. I’m listening to my music, trying to relax. We’re all adults – can we just move on?
I’m finally enjoying a moment of peace, even getting a little dreamy when I first see it. Oh God – the clipboard. She’s back and she’s holding her clipboard. Her pinched-up look says she’s going to be very official now.
“I want to verify your names…” We are so bored and tired of this person and her ongoing needs. With a tight little smile she hands Patricia and me some printed pieces of paper. The saga continues. The paper reads:
“NOTICE TO CEASE OBJECTIONABLE AND/OR ILLEGAL BEHAVIOR”
“Your behavior is violating federal law. Your immediate cooperation is required if you wish to avoid prosecution and your removal from this aircraft at the next point of arrival.”
Her handout listed the possible offences for which we could be prosecuted, such as interfering with a crewmember or creating an alcohol-related disturbance, smoking, carrying dangerous goods… I’m wondering which one we did. Nothing there about trying to get lunch for an 87… 86 year old woman. Patricia actually asks what we’re being charged with. But the lead attendant turns and marches away. Her work here is done.
I continue reading the form, “An incident report will be filed with the Federal Aviation Administration”.
Great. They’re calling out the Feds. It’s war on seniors day. I close my eyes as we begin our initial descent.
Our journey is mercifully over. I help Barbara and Patricia to the aisle and follow close behind. There, stationed at the door is the lead attendant, looking suitably sour and with her, the Pilot. He’s been briefed so he gives me his best glare. But I don’t give them the satisfaction of joining their silly drama.
Instead, they get my biggest smile and a sunny, “Goodbye!”. Then I hear just behind me, Mr. Frank Stallone doing the same. See, I’m like the celebrities - rising above the static to a kinder, more peaceful place in the friendly skies.
I deplane, catching up with Barbara in her wheelchair.
“So this is what’s it’s like to fly with you. Fun.” She smiles up at me.
And believe it or not, I can’t wait to fly again… if the FAA will let me.
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