Air Travel and Sundae Prayers.
There are things we expect, things we ask for, and things that drop in our lap. The hard part is knowing the difference and at the same time, appreciating our own good fortune without any further questions. But that’s just not human nature–gratitude and minimal expectations–is it?
Let me start with myself, for the sake of full disclosure–and don’t worry, I’ll get to you as well.
I’ve been flying jets long enough to be Category 3 qualified, which in my jet means I’m certified to hand-fly down to fifty feet above the runway in dense fog or obscured skies, day or night, to land if it looks to me to be prudent.
And yet, having done this for most of my life, that’s not where the extraordinary satisfaction of the workday comes from. Maybe it’s intangible, or more accurately, a tacit reward you get out of the blue (pun intended), and maybe even that itself seems pretty mundane compared to what you’d think would matter about driving eighty tons of pig iron around the sky. But here it is:
“Sundaes,” I was told by a very wise senior flight attendant when I was a very junior airline pilot, “are like a blowjob: if offered, you take it–but you never ask.” Maybe that’s why it’s special when that offer comes. But throughout the years, I never ask. Which is why this is more the norm:
Don’t get me wrong–I love flying one of the most advanced technology birds in the sky, I thrive on the challenges and the minute demands inherent in every flight. But I’m way beyond anyone’s stereotype of this job, and more like the stereotype of every job.
I have little or no patience for other than the essentials of flight. I’ll say up front that I’ll do anything to help the very young, the very old, those who don’t speak the language and those with special needs. But other than that, I do my best to remain invisible. Because overall, like you, I’m just trying to get through the workday without hassles or repercussions.
Now, shall we move on, and in fact, move back?
These are my colleagues on the far side of that armored and thank God, bolted shut flight deck door. They have to deal with hundreds–you read that right–hundreds of passengers a day. Yes, that’s their job, and they’re damn good at it, better than I’d ever dream of being (see above). But there’s more to it than meets your eye.
He or she has been working nonstop for several days by the time you board, in many cases. That includes the hassles of hotels and transportation, little sleep or food due to schedule constraints, and throw on the added stress of increased hours and decreased pay, the industry standard, and the end result is predictable if you put yourself into the situation. Flashback–here’s me meeting The Missuz after one of her 3-day death marches, particularly when she was on callout reserve:
Probably will be no “sundaes” in the near future in this typical scenario, not that I’d ask. Because she, like most flight attendants in the sky, has just spent several days being deliberately nice to many people who don’t know the meaning of the word. So, you get the point: for all of the good parts about a flexible schedule, travel privileges (a cruel hoax, I say, but that’s another subject) and escape from any kind of office-bound (ugh) or desk-bound (yikes) work day, there is as you have to expect the grind-aspect of any job.
Now, let’s get to “the traveling public,” or as we like to say, “the pax.” I believe that there may be a common preconception among a large portion of “the pax” that may be less than accurate:
And the major contrast between the visualization–actually, the idealization–of air travel like this is not all on the crew side of the daydream. Rather, some of the dreamers show up out of costume for their own daydream:
No sundaes for you, probably ever–not that you’d need one, but you probably would ask. But the point is this: we’re all big on aspirations, but how about the follow-through? We’re certainly all human, but where’s the balance between expectations and obligations? Is there any connection between the way we act and what we get in return?
I’d like to think too that some of the behavior we see in the travel arena is different than what you’d see at the homes of everyone on the plane, but I guess I shouldn’t assume that. Regardless, the point is this: we all have expectations that rely on others, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that others have expectations of us as well. Pilots, flight attendants, passengers–we all tend to forget that.
But if you forget, the results are predictable. Which is why, as the senior flight attendant explained to me, when it comes to sundaes or anything else of a special nature in the air travel realm: if it’s offered, take it; otherwise, just don’t ask.