I spent the last 15 years of my working life as a clinical consultant, for several companies. An average year would see me flying 150,000 to 180,000 miles. One can't help but accumulate a few stories along the way. So on occasional Friday's I'll post one. Today's is:
The Pretend Flight Attendant
One year, a week or so before Christmas, I was trying to wrap up a couple projects before the holidays began. I had spent a day in Medford Oregon, and was taking an early evening flight to Phoenix. American Airlines had a regional carrier that had direct flights, a duration around 2 hours.
I boarded the 50 seat CRJ, nodded to the late middle age blondish flight attendant and took my seat. The passengers were a mix of the usual blue-shirted business travelers and a smattering of the holiday crowd, a couple families.
Normally, when one flies as much as I was doing, the routine things like putting away bags, finding your seat, the comments over the speaker system about moving out of the isle and safety instructions, fly over your head without noticing. As I settled in my seat I vaguely heard the flight attendant start the pre-flight safety talk. Then she stopped for a moment and started again. Then she stopped and started again. This I noticed.
I looked down the isle and saw her, the lone attendant, standing at the front with the microphone in hand. She was rummaging through a overhead bin at the front where the attendants store stuff, clearly looking for something. Then she turned toward us and started the talk again, stopped again after a few sentences. Then, she said "Oh well." and put the microphone back on the wall.
This I noticed. "Oh well"? I seemed clear that she didn't know the short talk that most attendants can probably recite in their sleep. "Huh." I thought. I noticed a couple other blue shirts looking puzzled also.
The small jet took off normally and climbed to cruising altitude. I saw the attendant working her way down the isle with a pad and paper. She got to my row and asked what we wanted to drink and if we wanted pretzels or whatever snack they were serving. Iced tea was usually my choice. A bit later I saw her with a tray working her way back again, serving the drinks. It did seem to be taking a bit longer than usual.
At my isle she handed my seatmate something, and me a diet coke. Both of us said "Um, this isn't what I wanted." She looked at us, gave us a rather helpless smile and said "Oh well", and moved on. 'Oh well'? My seatmate and I frowned at each other. It was clear we had wandered into a unusual flight experience.
The rest of the flight continued in the same vein. When she would attempt something that most flight attendants do without being noticed, like make announcements, she would verbally stumble, stop, and say 'Oh well'.
Soon, an undercurrent started going around the cabin. I could hear people talking in low voices. 'This isn't a real flight attendant'. This was bad enough, but then someone wondered 'Are those real pilots up front?'. I heard this, and told them that the flight had taken off fine, was cruising normally, so it was just the flight attendant. Let's not wish for bad luck.
Our approach to Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix was normal, except that as we were on final approach, less than a mile from touchdown, this woman was still walking around the cabin. As we touched down she was in the isle and almost fell. Someone said "For godssake, sit down!" Her response was "I'm fine, it's all fine." with the same odd smile.
As I was de-boarding she was standing near the door, smiling at the departing passengers. I said "You're not a real flight attendant, are you?" She looked at me, her smile fading. "Was it that bad?" I nodded. "Yep."
In weeks afterwards I asked a couple flight attendants about this instance, then all had the same explanation: "She's a flight attendant instructor." they said, probably bumped the regular flight attendant to get a ride to Phoenix.
Next Travel Story: My luggage takes a vacation in Italy.