“Say What?”–The Passenger Chronicles.
It’s really not that hard to go unnoticed in flight. In fact, it’s probably more the rule than the exception: most of the time, the flight crew won’t remember you at all. Often, that’s a good thing.
But if we DO remember a passenger, often it’s because either alcohol or inexperience–or both–are involved. Here’s an example.
About halfway to Calgary, the interphone rings in the cockpit. Seems we have a slightly intoxicated passenger in the back. Never a good thing, something that we wish had been left at the gate but it’s not always possible to detect before flight.
Is he a problem, I ask? No, the flight attendant tells me. It’s not his behavior, it’s what he’s saying.
Huh? Is he being obnoxious? Abusive?
No. He’s kind of bragging.
Okay, I’m confused. What’s the problem? “Well,” she continues, “he’s bragging to the guy next to him–who happens to be an airline employee–that he managed to get through Customs in DFW with a load of cocaine from Amsterdam. And U.S. Customs didn’t find it.”
Hmmm; to think he almost made it to Calgary undetected. Almost.
It’s actually fun to have something to do on a long flight like that. I typed in the basic info on the data link control head. Our dispatcher called ahead to Calgary to coordinate the appropriate reception committee for our clever yet too chatty passenger.
Customs officials and the local police force were happy to pick up where U.S. Customs left off with Mr. Chatty. And while it’s always nice to have someone meet you after a long flight, I’m not sure this was the kind of attention he anticipated. But I guess passengers figure we’re really just ignorant and unconnected once we get in the air. In reality, we’re in constant communication with a full range of folks on the ground eager to help in any situation that might arise. Ah, well, live and learn.
People also distinguish themselves with some interesting ideas about aviation, too. After a long flight to the west coast, an elderly gentleman poked his head into the cockpit during deplaning and gave me his wise counsel.
“You know,” he said seriously, “you shouldn’t keep that beautiful sunset all to yourselves up here.”
Yes, going west, it was a beautiful sunset. Right in our face for about four hours, actually.
“And the full moon rising in the east,” he continued, “people should get to see that, too.”
Great idea. Right? Wait for it.
“Why don’t you make a series of turns in the air so passengers on both sides can see the sunset and the moon?”
Why didn’t I think of that? Besides the fact that we aren’t a sightseeing tour, I don’t want to waste an ounce of scarce fuel zig-zagging across the country and besides, the constant stream of jets smoking up on our tail won’t like the idea much either.
“Yeah, great idea,” I say, then add everyone behind you would like to get off the plane and in addition, you’re an idiot. Well, that last part was in my head. “Maybe next time.” My first officer rolls her eyes.
Finally, my favorite, except for the smell but that’s not an issue in a blog.
In flight, I shouldn’t be hearing male voices near the cockpit door under two circumstances. One is when I know I have an all-female cabin crew. That’s because in the Post-911 world, we don’t allow congregating in front of the cockpit door, except for our flight attendants going about their duties. Some are male.
But on this day, I had an all female crew. And we had the second condition that would prevent any male voices from being up near the cockpit:
The seatbelt sign was on. So no one other than crew should be anywhere but buckled into their seats. But I heard the male voice near the door. And a female voice, too. I called to the back.
“Everything all right back there?”
“It is now.” Hmmmm. “I’ll be up in a minute to explain and maybe vent a little.”
Okay, I’m good with that. And the male voice had vanished.
Later, we talked. She told me a “large,” hairy man had spent a lot of time in the lavatory, then ended up standing in her galley–doing some odd calisthenics. That made it difficult for her to do her job.
I had to ask. “What exactly was he doing?”
She nodded. “I asked him that.” She seemed a little annoyed. “He said he’d tried to fart in the lav but nothing came out and there wasn’t enough room to work it out.”
So he stood in the galley, hoping to coax out his gas. “Venting,” I guess. Nice.
Sigh. Maybe it’s just the decline of public civility, or the prevalence of affordable air travel. Either way, it seems like much of what you hear in the air paints a grim picture of both air travel and an ever-growing segment of the traveling public.
Ultimately, I’m just glad the flight deck door is locked from the inside.