Flying Freak show
Dreams really DO come true, I thought to myself after a male flight attendant walked on board and announced that the agent had told him Brad Pitt would be on our flight. (This was pre- Angelina.) I snuck into the lav to fluff my hair and refresh my makeup, just in case we made eye contact, not that I actually thought it would go anywhere from there. Then again, I had met a flight attendant who went on a date with Billy Idol and another who went out with Rod Stewart after becoming acquainted in flight. When I came out of the bathroom I noticed I wasnt alone, as all the other flight attendants looked ten times better than they did five minutes ago. The flight attendant who had made the exciting announcement now sat in a first- class seat cracking up and pointing at us, Oh my God, look at you guys! I cant believe you fell for it!
I wish I had fallen for it on another flight. During boarding I handed a grungy-looking guy in first class a glass of water. Are you in a band? I asked. There was no other way to explain the homeless attire. Turns out he was in a rock band, but not just any band: he was in my favorite band!
I looked at him funny. Id never seen this guy before. You must be new to the band.
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shawn nichollsTypewritten TextAvailable Wherever Books Are Sold March 6thPre-Order Now!AmazonBarnes and NobleIndiebound
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Im the lead singer.What he was, was a liar! Because the lead singer of the band I
loved was hot. This guy with his scarecrow arms was not. At five- feet- seven I towered over the man. On television the lead singer looked tall and buff, always taking the stage shirtless, showing off a sexy six- pack. I highly doubted this guy on the plane had a two- pack under his thin hole- y T-shirt.
Back in the galley I decided to check the paperwork for his name. In a way I wish I hadnt. Because there it was, his name, printed on the thin paper that had been clipped to a compart-ment door housing all our glassware. I couldnt believe that was him! My rock n roll fantasy.
Before I became a flight attendant, I didnt actually believe that dreams came true. Growing up in Dallas, a pretty big city with plenty of opportunities for a girl like me, never inspired me to think I could do anything extraordinary with my life. But once I moved to New York all that changed. I was living in one of the most exciting cities in the world and seeing things with my very own eyes that before only existed on television. Places like the Plaza Hotel, Central Park, the Empire State Building, Wall Street, Chinatown, Little Italy, which had always just seemed like movie backdrops. The world was at my fingertips and I had no idea what to do with it. I couldnt believe this was my life.
The celebrities were just the beginning of this realization. They were sitting in the same seat I had just sat in to eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich Id brought from home while waiting for the flight to board. My regular butt had touched the same fabric as many celebrity butts. Ill never forget the time I was deadheading on a flight home and the first- class flight atten-dant told me one of my favorite actresses had sat in my very seat after she won the Oscar last night. For whatever reason, thats the moment I believed I really could do anything with my life. Like, for example, become a photographer. So when I found out
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what the cute guy in the last row of business did for a living, I no longer wanted to date him. I wanted to work for him!
The guy was a well- known photographer, and there was clearly more to be had here than a night out on a town. On a whim, I of-fered to work for him for free for one day just so I could see what his life was really like, and surprisingly he agreed. This would have never happened to me working a regular job on the ground! Spending the day at his SoHo studio was one of the most exciting days of my life. All I did was water plants on his rooftop deck, order lunch for a group of grungy people Im pretty sure were in a band, and file some papers, but the point is, I was there me! Living a life so unattainable that I hadnt even bothered to dream about the possibility.
Just when I thought it couldnt get any better, we jumped on his motorcycle and took to the streets of Manhattan. He wanted to pick something up at his other studio. With my arms wrapped around him, we swerved in and out of traffic. With the wind whipping through my hair, I leaned back and looked up, taking in the magnificent buildings above. Along the way we stopped to give the grunge bands leftover gourmet lunch to a homeless lady the photographer knew by name. The experience was surreal. The best part may even be that I never heard from the photogra-pher again. Sometimes its best to leave a good thing alone. That day I had the time of my life, and I got to experience something Ill never forget. And if theres one thing flight attendants have its a ton of these amazing moments.
My roommate Grace had her moment of a lifetime when Howard Stern called the house. Grace had an obsession with Howard that only got worse after she had him on a flight. Each morning shed attempt to call his radio show, tying up the house phone for hours listening to a busy tone only to dial again. Then one day she finally got through and told him about the time she had him on a flight. They went on to dish about celebrities on the
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airplane. Grace wouldnt tell Howard her name, so he dubbed her Loose- Lipped Meg, and soon there was an airplane buzzing in the background.
The following morning, the phone rang and when I picked up I heard the airplane buzz and then a very familiar voice asked if Loose- Lipped Meg was home. I told Howard to hold on and ran upstairs to wake up Grace. Oh my God, its Howard!
Who? she asked, all groggy.Howard Stern!She bolted out of bed, ran to the phone, and after a quick in-
troduction to his listeners, Howard asked, So did you see the New York Times this morning?
No. Why? squeaked Grace who must have known deep down in her heart this couldnt be good.
They contacted Oprah. Shes denying the story you told us about her yesterday.
What! Grace shrieked. Howard Stern. The New York Times. Oprah! Loose- Lipped Meg almost hit the linoleum kitchen floor. Yesterday she was just a lowly new hire and today she was the subject of a story running in the New York Times. Millions of people now knew who she was. Including Oprah. Who kinda- sorta was calling her a liar! This was bad, really bad.
Grace herself had not witnessed the incident (nor did I or anyone I know personally). But it was a pretty well-circulated rumor in flight attendant circles. The story is that Oprah boarded a flight and asked for an all- female cockpit crew, and then upon seeing an African- American flight attendant, asked to be served by her. The New York Times reporter felt Grace might be tell-ing the truth since she had mentioned having Howard on board and discussed the conversation they had had. What sealed the deal for the reporter was when Howard Stern guessed the airline Loose- Lipped Meg worked for, the airline Meg denied working for with a nervous giggle, which was now printed in the New
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York Times airline name, giggle, and all. Oprahs people called the story ridiculous.
What year did this happen? asked Howard.Oh . . . umm . . . Im not sure. 1995?She could be telling the truth, his news anchor, Robin, chimed
in. Oprahs people stated she quit flying commercial in 1995.Graces world shrank that day. Luckily, she never did get in trou-
ble for dishing the dirt on Americas favorite daytime talk show host, but she did learn a very important lesson: keep your mouth shut. Flight attendants arent allowed to talk about celebrities.
On the other hand, if we dont mention them by name, were not really talking about them, right? So heres the galley gossip. He was one of the biggest pop stars of our time, and while he wouldnt breathe the air at 35,000 feet without wearing a face mask, he had no problem scarfing down two first- class meals. She has an A- list celebrity daughter and she once did three sets of sit- ups on the floor in the first row of first class. This actor known for having a thing for supermodels fell asleep with his hand down his pants in first class. A member of one of the most successful boy bands of the 1990s refused to buckle his belt while taxiing to the runway until the flight attendant threat-ened to have him removed from the flight. The comedian who got kicked off one of daytime TVs hottest talk shows asked the pilot not to make any more announcements in flight because her baby was sleeping. A beautiful A- list actress bit her toenails in business class. This same actress had once been married to the actor who cut his omelet into bite- size pieces with a knife and fork and then proceeded to eat it with his hands. Lets not forget the soulful singer who ordered the flight attendant not to talk to her man when all the flight attendant wanted to know was what he would like to drink. This long- haired singer of one of the most popular rock bands of the 1990s was way too old to be flirting with the captains sixteen- year- old daughter, who was
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non- reving in first class. Two has- been R&B singers who are now divorced once exited the lavatory together looking extremely di-sheveled. Known as the sexiest woman in the world, shes also one of the nicest and most generous women in the world and tipped a gate agent $50 for letting her borrow a cell phone. The greatest R&B singer who ever lived was so afraid of flying he would only sit in the first row of first class. If that wasnt avail-able hed go on standby for another flight. This talk show icon left such a mess in first class that both passengers and flight atten-dants were shocked. A solo artist who once belonged to one of the most famous girl groups in the world lectured a flight attendant on the importance of being nice to his mother. A rapper who has changed his name several times over the years got caught check-ing out the flight attendants you- know- what as she walked down the aisle. This young star sat in coach even though his movie was number one at the box office. A Canadian who shot to the top of the music charts with her scathing lyrics wouldnt allow a passenger in the window seat to pass by her in order to use the lavatory until quietly meditating with her first.
Once I had a cabin full of Victorias Secret models and had no idea they were on my flight until one of my coworkers asked me how they were. Except for the fact that they ate lettuce without dressing and were super skinny and had smiles that practically wrapped around their face, they were just like anyone else trav-eling in first class on a red- eye flight. Many celebrities book full- fare business- class seats and then upgrade to first class, just like regular old passengers do. They, too, like a bargain. And when they dont get an upgrade, they freak out just like normal passengers. Although normal passengers dont often complain about being mobbed in coach when their upgrade doesnt go through.
On one flight to Los Angeles, my roommate Jane found herself non- reving in first class with an entire cabin full of Holly wood
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bigwigs. Jennifer Lopez, then a Fly Girl, sat in front of her with her first husband, the waiter, who sat directly across from Harvey Keitel. Harvey kept standing up in front of the cabin and stretch-ing his legs. From time to time hed stare intently at Jane. Im not sure if he was trying to figure out if I was someone important or if he wanted to ask me out! We quickly came to the conclu-sion he wanted to ask her out. Between renting movies starring Janes future boyfriend, we spent the next week trying to figure out how to contact him. Dont laugh. These things happen. And we werent about to let a moment like this get away. Jane never did score a date with Harvey Keitel, but we sure had fun talk-ing about it. This is why the job is so exciting. The possibili-ties are limitless. And just when you think youve experienced it all, something else wondrously amazing or far-out weird will happen.
Case in point, my mother started flying.Large companies in any industry often engage in corporate
upbeat talk about being a family, when in reality they couldnt be any further from the kind. Then there are the rare corpora-tions like Southwest Airlines that not only treat employees like family but actually employ married couples, parents, children, and even siblings. In 1989, Herb Kelleher, cofounder and CEO of Southwest Airlines, was quoted in Texas Monthly saying, Some employees have been married to one employee, divorced, and then married to two, maybe three others. In 2006, Southwest was home to 763 married couples. My airline, on the other hand, traditionally had very strict antinepotism rules, but by the time I entered the flight academy in 1995, all that had changed. Even so, it was a pretty big deal when our instructors found out that a classmates father had been a pilot for the same airline for more than twenty years. Two years later, in 1997, it was still a big deal when I pinned my mothers silver wings to her blue lapel at her graduation ceremony not just because we were related but be-
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cause I had the most seniority, which was pretty much unheard of at the time. That year we became one of two mother- daughter duos to be based in New York.
My mother had spent her entire life dreaming about becoming a flight attendant. I remember watching her over a bowl of Froot Loops at the kitchen table filling out applications to all the major carriers American, Continental, Delta, Pan Am, TWA, United, Southwest always tossing them out when they were complete. She realized she couldnt follow through if she had to transfer to another base and leave me and my sister behind. Eventually she gave up the dream and became a hairdresser. But when a few of her clients who happened to be flight attendants found out that my mother had always dreamed of flying, they each brought her an application from their airline. While flattered, my mother in-s...