Flightcrew Zoo: Stupid Layover Tricks

When you’re shipwrecked with fellow crewmembers, there forms a special bond. Over the years, I’ve shared a few exceptionally memorable times “shipwrecked” on layovers with pilots and flight attendants who have become lifelong friends. Here are a couple of the most memorable stories.

Mile High-Jinks

Dave was a fairly senior 777 captain when he took early retirement a few years back. Before he did, when we’d pass in the terminal, besides saying “hi,” one of us would grab the other and say to our first officer, if they were nearby, “He can verify that galley story I told you is true.”

And the story was from twenty-plus years ago when Dave was a DC-10 First Officer and I was the Flight Engineer. We flew all month with the same flight attendants, enjoying long layovers in downtown Chicago. The core group of us–me, Dave, Jennifer, Marianne, Lynne and sometimes Lonnie (whom Marianne admonished for “wearing too much make-up for daytime”) went out every night in Chicago to some club or other night place. Everyone became fast friends and hated to see the end of the month come which would mean no more weekly Chicago long layovers.

To make our last trip memorable, the inherently devilish Marianne dreamed up a plan. During our last leg from Detroit to DFW late one night, I got a call on the flight deck. “There’s something wrong with the P-Lift,” Lonnie said. “Can you come back and have a look?” The “P-Lift” was one of the elevators from the mid-cabin galley to the lower deck galley. Typical that there would be a problem and being the engineer, typical that I’d have to go back and see about fixing it.

“They’re having trouble with the P-Lift,” I told Bob, the leisure suit-wearing captain who ditched us in Chicago every layover to go out with his boyfriend, we suspected, and also to let Dave know I’d be gone. “Be right back.” I grabbed my flashlight, turned on all the fuel boost pumps and headed for the main galley.

“Downstairs,” Lonnie deadpanned, pointing to the P-Lift. Okay, I thought the P-Lift was the problem, but let’s go downstairs. I hopped in, closed the door and pressed the down arrow. The lift lowered me into the darkness below. Hmmm, good thing I brought my flashlight.

Every ORD layover included a stop here after midnight.

The door opened to candlelight in the lower lobe galley. Blankets and pillows covered the floor, and Marianne, Jennifer and Lynne were sprawled out in their nightgowns. “Want to join our slumber party?” Marianne asked, the three of them totally ignoring the 250+ passengers upstairs.

About twenty minutes later, I re-entered the darkened cockpit acting as nonchalant as possible. “Uh, Dave,” I said, “I think you’d better go have a look.” Maybe he knew what was up, but he wasted no time unstrapping and heading back. At least twenty minutes later, Dave returned, grinning. As soon as he did, Bob started to unstrap, maybe thinking it was his turn but Dave very pointedly said “No!” All’s well, he said–no need for you to leave the cockpit. The ladies would have killed us if he’d shown up.

Before Dave retired, our First officers would shake their heads in disbelief at the story but with verification, they could only think back on “the good old days”–such a thing would never happen today.

I still see Marianne now and again, Lonnie too. Lynne quit flying in the 1990s, and Jennifer worked on all of her flight ratings and is no longer a flight attendant but rather, a fairly senior First Officer with us now.

Man The Lifeboats!

Back in the 1990s, we used to have long layovers in Long Beach on the Queen Mary, which had been converted into a floating hotel. We used to convene in the forward lounge which was an art-deco masterpiece. The fun trick was to recruit flight attendants who’d never been to The Queen to have a beverage on the forward veranda of the bar, outside overlooking Long Beach harbor.  The trick in that was the magic hour of 7pm, when they blew the ship’s horn which was located just above the veranda.  More than a few spilled drinks and near heart attacks resulted from the uninitiated experiencing that heart-stopping blast.

My First Officer and I had a good laugh at our flight attendants’ expense on one such trip. One in particular, Rhonda (I still see her now and then) vowed to get even, but we figured it was all in good fun and so thought nothing of it.

That particular layover, The Queen was full and so both he and I had been given adjoining suites instead of the regular crew cabins. Of course, the flight attendants didn’t believe us when we told them. “Here,” my First Officer said to Rhonda, handing her his room key, “see for yourself. I’ll get another key at the desk.” They left us to tour the ship–including his suite–while we opted to stay and watch the NBA playoffs in the lounge.

A couple hours later, the game ended and we headed below decks, me to my suite and my F/O to the front desk to get another key. We had fifteen hours before we had to fly again and so I was looking forward to at least ten hours of good sleep.

As soon as I unlocked my door, I heard water running. Not a good sign, especially on a ship, I decided. At the same moment–maybe I was a little slow from a couple cold beverages–I noticed that I was standing in an inch of water that was beginning to slosh. Again, the beverage-effect: WE’RE SINKING! I grabbed the phone and called the front desk . . . to the lifeboats! She’s going down! “Uh,” I stammered, “I need a plumber pretty quick here.”

A few minutes later, I had both a plumber and hotel security in my cabin. The plumber removed the towels stuffed in the sink and tub and had turned off the water. Hotel Security began to grill me. “Why did you flood your room?” Rhonda. “What?” I tried to act indignant. “Why would I douche out my own room?” The F/O’s key, the adjoining room. She’d gotten her revenge.

Eventually, the Security Agent decided that he couldn’t prove that I’d flooded my cabin, but as punishment, I was given a virtual broom closet of a cabin–the ship was booked full and I believe it actually had been a broom closet at one point–and so I slept with one eye open looking for the ghost that legend has it prowls the old ship’s quarters.

Even now when I cross paths with Rhonda in the airport or even on a flight she smiles slyly; I smile, too. Thankfully, she stopped saying “you deserved it” about ten years back, although she never actually admitted to the deed nonetheless.



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