Archive for the lavatory Category

Vuelo Loco: Tennyson, Dead Fish and Mexico City.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, faith, fart, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, food, jet, lavatory, layover, life, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2011 by Chris Manno

Listen, I’m a fan of Mexico. Really, I am.

What’s not to like about Mexico City? Always looked forward to those downtown layovers–it was part of my job–but they’re scary dangerous. Probably not for the reason you think though.

I mean, sure, there’s plenty of drug violence. And yes, I did have to dodge through four lanes of traffic to evade a scroungy-looking cop trying to shake me down once, but he was either too lazy or too smart to chase me through the insane downtown traffic.

And yes, plenty of people with questionable intent in a city of 20 million, where you could simply disappear, kind of like the city itself  is doing, slowly sinking into its own aquifer. And okay, maybe I did roll the dice in a sense, as an instructor-evaluator taking pilots down to Mexico City every month, showing them the safe way to fly in and out of the mountain bowl.

Well, it’s not even really this “thread-the-needle-through-mountains” approach and usually, through thunderstorm alley that was like playing craps weekly. And it’s not really that I minded the always slick (memo to Mexico City Airport: the rest of the world cleans the reverted rubber off of their runways every year or two, so get a clue) runway with the puddle in the middle that you hit doing about 150 and exit two thousand feet later at about 149.

More, actually, was requiring the qualifying pilot have a beverage and a Cuban at an outdoor cafe on the traffic circle outside the Presidente Hotel. The bar–Karishma–is where a whole crew got mugged one night. They noticed that suddenly the place was empty save the two airline crews enjoying tapas and the generously poured (“Tell me when to stop pouring, Senor”) refreshments there. Then suddenly, watches, rings, wallets–buh-BYE, as we like to say.

So to be on the “safe” side, we sat outside on the traffic circle–maybe more witnesses?–and since it was my idea, I made sure my back was to the building, so the new guy got to sit with his back to the insane traffic, puffing a Cuban (relaxing–but mandatory) and enjoying a refreshment, maybe getting a shoeshine from the roving vendors who’d magically appear, ignoring the demolition derby mere feet away.

Hey, might as well get the full flavor: massive city (did I mention 20 MILLION people?), exotic neighborhoods of jumbled steel and glass elbowing in between with castellated stone architecture, snarled in the clogged highways like the arteries of a fat man. You watch the traffic and muse over your beverage, how the hell do they do this five way intersection without a traffic light?

And then on the side streets of The Polanco, maybe a quieter sidewalk cafe where I actually did much of my doctoral exam study: outside, books piled, good coffee, usually a thunderstorm in the afternoon that made me glad I wasn’t trying to fly a jet in or out at that moment. Out of nowhere, it seemed, in the afternoon towering big-shouldered thunderheads would roll through the mountain pass with raggedy sheets of torrential rain and thunder that echoed through canyons of concrete and steel, the reverberations so fitting to Tennyson’s “Ulysses” marching across the page before me toward the inexorable doom awaiting us all.

Harder to relax at dinner, though, when you were concentrating on the guard dog staring at your plate and whatever you were having for dinner. The armed guard restraining the dog had his eye on you and the plate alternately, and you had to wonder if either or both of them might figure that the dinner and your wallet might tip the scale in favor of mutiny. It was a stand-off in Mexico: the guard and dog making sure banditos didn’t mug you while you ate–but then the silently menacing pair themselves having to resist the hunger and temptation to rebid the transaction in more favorable terms.

And it’s not even the “one-eye-open” sleep in the airport high rise hotel with the un-level floors from the tipped buildings patiently waiting to tremble and topple in the next big quake they know is coming soon.

You wake up the next morning with the feeling of relief: ahh, The Big One they’ve been expecting didn’t happen while you slept, crushing you in tons of rubble that will take about ten years–if ever–to remove.

No, I’m talking about this:

That’ll eat you alive. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was heading down to Mexico City for the umpteenth time and my favorite cousin was there with her husband who worked for the U.S. Department of State. “Hey, want to meet for dinner?”

Okay, I already know why not–I’ve been in the airline crew biz a looooong time: relatives don’t get it, you’re not on vacation; time does matter, sleep too.

“Sure, why not?” Because I’m an idiot–and here’s why. We’re going out for Mexican, traditional, right? I mean, we’re in Mexico-friggin-City, right? Enchiladas? Queso? Fajitas?

No.

We’re doing Mexican-Asian fusion, which means I’m eating raw fish in Mexico: salmon carpaccio, pictured above. Delicious. Amazing! Immodium, amen. That didn’t take long.

The fever lasted about a week. The shower nozzle effect (any chance of scheduling a colonoscopy? I’m prepped, just for the hell of it) lasted a couple weeks. Thanks cuz.

Forget banditos. Who cares about high altitude aircraft performance, up-sloping mountainous terrain and treacherous rolling thunderstorms. The real danger’s on the plate.

Yes, I love Mexico City. Just don’t go there unarmed, okay?

Dummy Air: Stupid Is As Stupid Does.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, lavatory, pilot with tags , , , , , , on January 13, 2011 by Chris Manno

The DC-10 flight engineer was the first to reach the aircraft for pre-flight on a cold, damp Boston morning. Yeah, must be nice to be the captain and First Officer, still in Flight Ops, warm, drinking coffee, chatting with the flight attendants. “Hey, we sent the engineer out to warm up the jet,” they’d say, “he’s supposed to have coffee ready when we get on.”

Same gate, every week, right? Up the steep stairs from the ramp to the jetbridge. Inside, power up the jet. Start the auxiliary power unit for conditioned air to take the chill off of the cabin. Set up the Flight Engineer’s panel, pre-flight the cockpit. Then back outside, flashlight in hand, for the walk-around inspection of the aircraft exterior.

A pause under the tail, slightly aft and to the starboard side–there. No matter what the ramp temperature, in that one spot the air is a balmy seventy-five degrees: that’s where the APU exhaust reaches the ground. Warm jet engine air which strangely, always had the slightest smell of pastries. Wintertime in Chicago or Boston, you’d always see DC-10 engineers spending a significant part of their exterior walk-around in that one spot.

Schlep back up the stairs, punch in the door cipher code; inside to the mid-cabin door. Hmmmmm, waiting till the last minute, I guess the crew is. They’re the ones who will be frantic as 250 people pile aboard and they’re not ready.

Back in the cockpit, set up the nest: pubs out and ready, audio hookup; final cockpit prep. Done.

Waiting.

Where is everyone?

Oh NO: wrong airplane!!! It’s been on this gate every morning all month–but not today!

Frantically re-pack all the engineer pubs and tools. Power the airplane down, beat a hasty exit. Try not to tumble down the steep jetbridge stairs hauling the forty pound flight bag and an equally heavy suitcase. Scurry over to the correct jet–duh, they’re loading cargo on this one, stupid–park the two bags under the nose where you and they can’t be seen from the cockpit.

Quick exterior walk-around, then bound up the inclined steps, into the jetbridge. Squeeze by the boarding passengers, slip into the cockpit. Stow bags ever so quietly. Unpack engineer stuff casually, even though your heart’s still pounding from the Chinese fire drill between jets.

Up front, no one says a word. First Officer is staring off into space. The captain, a very distinguished gentleman of few words, taps his fingers idly on the control yoke.

I breathe a sigh of relief. Pulled it off. All’s well that ends well.

Not so fast.

“Well,” says Bob in the left seat, casting a sly grin my way. “Are there any other jets on the ramp you’d like to pre-flight?”

Busted. Never did make that mistake again. Well, thankfully I was only a flight engineer for a year.

*****

But fast forward now to my early days as captain, flying with one of my favorite First Officers who had earned the nickname “Deuce,” and now I’ll explain for the not-so-faint-of-heart how he earned that sobriquet. If you’re easily grossed out, consider ourselves done here–onto to more erudite reading; see you next post.

This means "stop," in pilot world.

Okay, you still here? Good.

Well anyway, as with flight attendants and felons, there are no “ex-Marines.” Once Semper Fi, always Semper Fi. That’s why in the ex-military frat I come from, Marines are great to fly with. They just never stop being hard-charging and fearless, which is a quality to be admired on the flight deck.

If we’re picking teams for flights or fights, I’ll go with a Marine pilot first choice any day.

“Deuce” won his nickname from a particular talent he had–are you following yet? Stay with me: “deuce” is the number “2.” Is this beginning to make sense?

Anyway, as is the Marine way, Deuce liked to establish his virility and prowess through what George Costanza referred to as “feats of manly strength.” In Deuce’s case that had to do with a certain bodily function.

The MD80 lav is like a barely sophisticated outhouse. The one item that differentiates it from your average porta-potty is the “splash pan.” That is, a flimsy metal plate on the bottom that opens like a trap door under any, uh, weight of any kind, depositing stuff into the swirling blue pool of degerm.

I know, “eww.” Anyway, my ex-Marine compadre claimed as his feat of strength that he could propel his nastiness hard enough to audibly knock the metal splash plate against the housing. The distinct metallic “whack” was his signature, and from the cockpit, there was no mistaking it.

For him, it was like a carnival game, with his own unique sledge hammer ringing the bell every time.

What can I say? Flying is a serious business, so it’s cool to have a little comic relief between crises. Again, Marines are the best for that. Duece “saved up” daily so he could whack the splash pan audibly, for me in the cockpit and of course, for everyone in First Class. Who da’ man? Deuce.

And yeah, after a month of flying with the Deuce, I did consider challenging him–but only for an instant.

Gawd--this is disgusting.

Gave up that idea real fast. Anyway, fast-forward to the 737, my new, twenty-first century jet. New lav, with a Teflon base and suction that if you were a fat guy sitting on the can in First Class and flushed, you’d get sucked into coach in an instant. No more swirling cesspool stinking up the forward end of the jet. But no more carnival-game splash pan.

I flew with Deuce on the 737. Great reunion–glad you’re on the fleet! Good to fly with you again. But what about that lav? No splash pan.

Deuce shrugged, older and wiser. “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “I had to stop doing the deal on the MD-80 anyway.”

What? Why?

He shrugged and looked away. “Gave myself roids.” Pause. “Huge roids.”

Nuff said. Semper Fi. And like the goofy engineer story, stupid is as stupid does.

See you next week.

Holiday Travel Weirdness: The Jethead Chronicles.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, cartoon, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, food, jet, lavatory, layover, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2010 by Chris Manno

What is it about holiday season travel that brings out such weirdness? I’m not just talking about the vagrant standing out in front of our favorite Seattle crew hangout with the helpful sign:

He also offered to be my “bodyguard” for $5, but I was with Ben The Dependable Copilot, and Ben’s about 6′ 2″ and weighs in about 220, so I passed. But still.

And even Pike’s Market Place was a little off the game today as well:

So just getting away from the airport doesn’t seem to limit the weirdness this time of year.

Now, at the airport, odd stuff is a given. That’s because odd people still have very little time and so must go by air, I suppose, to share their weirdness with family and friends.

Some folks just don’t get out much, but this being the holiday season, they’re of necessity heading to “somewhere else” and you know what the fastest way is from point “A” to point “B,” right?

Maybe there’s too much of a good thing on either end–eating, drinking, whatever. Problem is, airline crews are kind of stuck in the middle: between wherever “here” and “there” is for the traveling public, our workplace is the waiting room.

I guess folks just make themselves at home, or forget they’re not at home. Either way, our “workplace” is more bizarre than ever during the holidays as a result. The trick is to not only act like you don’t notice (step around the seemingly dead body for whom apparently stretching out on the floor is fine), but to try to act nonchalant when you do–which sometimes is difficult.

The on-board weirdness is predictable, with holiday travelers who are often infrequent flyers. Go ahead, mop the lavatory floor with your socks, Mr. Seldom Travels By Air. I don’t want to even think about it, but I am grateful that at least somebody’s cleaning that outhouse floor, even if the flight attendants are gagging when you do.

Or, go ahead and ask if there’s food on this flight. Has a nice, nostalgic ring to it, especially since there hasn’t been a meal served in coach this century.

I don’t mind for two reasons. One is because no matter how many times airlines, air travel organizations or even travel agents tell you that you need to bring your own food (and water if you want real convenience), you’d rather be surprised.

And second, the cockpit door is locked from the inside, so you can’t see what I’m eating anyway

Whoo-hoo: hot fudge brownies for the crew!

and really, you wouldn’t want to know anyway.  It’s pretty scary up front. Right?

No, honestly, what it is is peaceful. Darling Bride used to come up to the cockpit when we were flying at night and say how it was a cozy cocoon. It is, and I appreciate that–especially compared to what goes on in the back of the plane.

Phoenix glides by 7 miles below.

Gives you time and silence to put things into perspective. When you do, you realize that holiday travel is the best: it’s more than just business or even vacations. It’s families; it’s reunions and gatherings and children. It’s not just air travel, it’s yearlong anticipation of children and adults alike.

Our Chief Pilot–a true leader who voluntarily flies  on every holiday–uses this example to explain: The CEO of Revlon once said, “We don’t sell cosmetics–we sell hope.” Truly, what we do in these holiday travel weeks is just as magic: it’s hope for many, joy for the kids and for the adults who love them.

Come to think of it, weirdness and all, this is a great time of year to be an airline pilot, to fly families and friends to reunions and holiday gatherings.

I’ll be in the air this week–next week too, looking to make somebody’s travel as quick and easy as possible so they to can be with family and friends for the holiday. Really, it’s the least I can do considering they’ll mop up the lav floor without even knowing it.

The TRUTH About Flight Attendants.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airliner, airlines, airport, cartoon, fart, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight training, jet, lavatory, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2010 by Chris Manno

You sure you’re ready for the truth?

Still watching “Happy Days” reruns? Or maybe even “Leave it to Beaver” (okay I do, but I already have seen behind the curtain when it comes to Flight Attendants) where June Cleaver vacuums in pearls and heels? If this is you, please click here. Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

First, let’s start with the basics: who IS this person we call Flight Attendant? Where do they come from? Actually, they’re parents and spouses and significant others and sons and daughters. And they come from, well, everywhere.

My friend Melissa and her crew.

The common denominator seems to be the ability to get along with nearly anyone. That, plus the ability to handle children. No, it’s not that they handle children on board in their role as Flight Attendant. Rather, they must deal with a lot of childishness in flight on both sides of the cockpit door. So anyway, many, it seems, have a background in Education: either  as a college degree or as a teacher–or both.

My friend Nanci dealing with one of the children on board.

But that’s just what constitutes a significant number, but by no means, the majority. I once dated a Flight Attendant who had previously been a USDA meat inspector (I got rejected as “Not Prime,” although I’d like to consider myself at least “Average Chuck”), I know several with PhDs, I know one guy who flies for my airline who is an M.D.; the bass player in my band (shoutout to Angela!) is a flight attendant; My Darling Bride (MDB) before she became a “stewardess” was an engineer.

Okay, WARNING: don’t EVER call them “stew;” they hate it–even though my own mother, even after 25 years of non-rev travel on my passes still calls me to say, “The stews were so nice.”

Thanks, Mom.

But I can use the term myself because MDB doesn’t listen to me any more and in fact, with Flight Attendants you could say anything you want on the aircraft P.A. and they’ll NEVER KNOW. Seriously–the P.A. is a frequency that they can’t hear–kind of like a reverse dog hearing–so I could announce “I slept with your sister!” on the P.A. and she would simply ask, “what time are we landing?” Because she didn’t hear that P.A. either. But I digress.

Let’s just cut to the chase: here’s what you really want to know. In fact, let’s just go over important facts you NEED to know if you’re going to deal with flight attendants (of course you are, in flight), or date a flight attendant (you THINK you are, but that’s in YOUR dream, not theirs and they don’t get much sleep these days anyway), or maybe even you want to BE one (What, you’re finally off suicide watch, now this? Break the Prozac in half). Anyway, learn THIS:

1. Flight attendants will kick your ass. Seriously, they can and they will if they have to–and trust me, I’ll explain later–you want them to.

Okay, Carolyn's actually one of my Facebook friends and she's very nice. Mostly.

I’m not kidding. If you piss them off, you will pay. It might be be something simple like overfilling your coffee cup purposely so you’ll have to spill it (that was one of MDB’s specialties) or even the patented Flight Attendant “eff you” that is given so subtly and sweetly that you don’t even realize till the cart and flight attendant are three rows back before you think it through and realize, “Hmmmm . . . I think I just got told to go eff myself.”

Not that you don’t deserve it: they’ve asked one hundred people before you the same simple question–“What would you like to drink?” And they’ve answered the what do you have question at least as many times, plus they made a P.A. giving you the answers ahead of time. So, when you in row 32 ask again anyway, they have a soothing, pleasant proximate answer that after a few minutes your brain finally deciphers correctly as, you stupid idiot, YOU SHALL HAVE NOTHING. To which I would add, “you douchebag” but Flight Attendants are more skilled and less vulgar than I am. Bottom line: don’t be an idiot.

2. Flight attendants will share their ass–and they are crafty. We’re all crammed into a long, sealed tube, right?

Let’s face it–you’re in a sardine can for hours on end. In the cockpit, I actually have separate zone-controlled (by me) air conditioning and recirculation. Yes, it is good to be captain. And sure, you have some weird ideas about what goes on beyond that cockpit door, don’t you?

Suffice it to say that we pilots get “the royal treatment.” Now let’s move on.

Back to the long metal tube you’re paying a few bucks to be trapped in rather than face the freeway for days on end getting to whatever destination you’ve coughed up your vacation savings for.

The air in the jet is fine, it’s just the people like you who muck it up with your coughing, sneezing and personal exhaust if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Well, the cabin is their workplace, too.  As long as they’re trapped and required to endure assorted emissions from both of your ends (sometimes you’d have to think that the ones from your south end are more tolerable than the “what do you have?” stuff coming out topside), they deserve a chance to defend themselves. And when you travel, especially as much as we do on a flightcrew, diet is at best a catch as catch can thing. That end result is bad, eventually.

Wet cleanup on aisle six.

And the best defense in this case as in most others is a good offense.

Hence, “crop dusting.” That’s the diabolical plan by which they spray front to back on board so that by the time you get smacked in the face

"My god--air, please . . . !

. . . they’re already halfway to the aft galley and out of sight. You all will blame each other, but there was, you should know, a secret plan:

From the Flight Attendant Manual: "Always cropdust front to back."

There’s nothing you can do about this, by the way, except take small breaths. Deal with it.

Finally, here’s the last and probably most important thing you should know:

3. Flight attendants will save your ass. And that’s what they’re on board for–not just to tell you what beverages are available, not to entertain you, but actually to save your ass in the worst possible moment of your life.

Notice who isn’t walking away from this crashed aircraft alive and well? It’s the Flight Attendants who helped them off and are still on board helping others. That’s what they do. And that’s why you want them to be able to do item #1 above: they need to be able to throw your ass down an escape slide if you can get out of a burning passenger cabin yourself.

They can handle the 90 pound emergency exit door or the even heavier cabin doors. They know the route by feel and by heart to the nearest emergency exit in a smoke-filled cabin–and they’ll take you there. They are ready with first aid and CPR and a defibrillator and a fire extinguisher and oxygen and anything else you or I might need in flight. Not what we “want” in flight, although they take care of all they can–but most importantly, what you need to make it off the plane alive in any circumstance.

That’s the challenge they’ve undertaken on your behalf. That’s what they’ve trained to do, what they’re tested on and certified annually and rigorously through drills, classes and study.

They’re not leaving without you, even if they have to haul your ass out of a burning plane themselves. To me, that’s amazing.

This they do for minimal pay over long hours with little time for food or sleep and with complete disregard for time zones or body clock, because that’s just the nature of the job. I’ve never known a more selfless group, and there isn’t a more versatile group of professionals on the planet. They can hang with anyone, talk to anyone, and they’ll save the life of anyone, in the air or on the ground.

Do I have to spell this out for you? You should respect and appreciate the unique and giving individuals who are the flight attendants on your flight. Or in my case, I appreciate the one who is my partner for life. Or there’ll be an ass-whuppin’ in short order for you and me alike.

Got it? Good–remember it. Think about the big three flight attendant truths I just shared with you the next time you fly.

And be sure, if nothing else, that you know what you’d like to drink BEFORE the cart gets to you. When it does, “please” and “thank you” are mandatory–especially to the professionals who can both kick your ass and save it, and who will do both as necessary.

And THAT is the truth about Flight Attendants.

Epilogue:

Actually never met the guy, but you gotta like the way he thinks.

Coming next:

You hear the name, you see the pilot, but who is this person, “the airline captain” in whom you place your trust?

The exclusive, only here. Subscribe.

Steven Slater, Dental Hell and the Death of Civility in Air Travel.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, elderly traveller, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, lavatory, life, passenger, pilot, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2010 by Chris Manno

The outrageous JetBlue incident last week brings back memories. And they’re not necessarily good.

Used to be when the last squadron jet of the day’s flying reported in on the tower frequency, a very surly Bad Jimmy Williams would step out of his Operations Officer cubicle and without a word, he’d open the padlock on a large refrigerator in the back corner of the Flight Ops lounge, glare at us waiting Lieutenants, then stalk off.

That signaled  that the “Beer Box” (presumably derived from “ice box”) was officially open, which also opened the lounge for an impromptu happy hour and flying story session. After beers all around, we’d discuss the day’s flying and eventually the conversation would meander into all manner of B.S. stories.

Although he wasn’t a pilot, Dr. Love (yes, that was his real name) often would wander over from the Dental Clinic, knowing he could poach a beer or two before heading home. Which was fair, because he lived near us and we drank plenty of his beer whenever possible.

For whatever reason, he felt like he had to add a dental war story to the absurd flying tales being spun and although that was largely irrelevant, one thing he said I’ve never forgotten.

“Well,” he drawled, contemplating his half empty beer can, “I used to be so careful when I was doing dental work on a patient.”

The room fell silent. What the hell could he possibly say next? Please make him say and I’ve only gotten more careful and caring as time goes on, because we all have to go to the Dental Clinic sometime.

“But you know what I learned?” he asked, studying the Budweiser label (there were only a few brands of beer available there on The Rock in the South China Sea). He paused for effect. “I learned, people heal. You don’t have to be so careful.”

Note to self: never see Dr. Love at the Dental Clinic. But beyond that, there’s a real point:

Dr. Love deliberately contributes to everyone’s lore of dental hell. Which only perpetuates the problem, reinforcing not only the fear of dentistry, but also escalating spiral of outrageous dental tales.

People only want to tell a story about a “horrible” dental experience. No one wants to tell–or hear–a story about a pain-free, simple dental procedure.

The same is true for air travel nowadays: everyone needs to tell a horror story now at happy hour. Ten hour tarmac delays with no food, crying babies, and overflowing toilets (not physically possible unless there’s actually over fifty gallons of human waste added during the delay) and passengers dying.

That’s the stuff of legends, and perhaps Steven Slater is the new “Dr. Love.”

On the day he snapped, cursing a passenger on the P.A., blowing an escape slide, grabbing a couple beers and sliding off the jet, Slater negated the day’s work of his peers–just like Dr. Love did for his dental clinic and fellow dentists.

Because on that same day, thousands of flight attendants were treated rudely by thoughtless, boorish passengers.

But they didn’t snap. They didn’t blow a slide. And though many likely wanted to, they didn’t curse their passengers, at least not out loud.

Instead, they did their jobs, under trying circumstances with unreasonable passengers and onerously long work days. You didn’t read about the flight attendants who that day–like every day of the year–perform CPR on a passenger in cardiac arrest at 30,000 feet. Nor the ones who helped the very young or very old with the extra attention that they need above and beyond the normal passenger services so that they can get where they need to go safely.

No, the headlines were only about the one flight attendant who blew up–and quit being a flight attendant. Which I say discounts and devalues all those who didn’t. Those remembering Dr. Love’s “healing” philosophy project it onto the thousands of dentists who do care about their patients.

And the thousands of passengers who were treated kindly by their cabin crew nonetheless have their radar scanning for a Steven Slater rogue to spin into a cocktail yarn or a “Good Morning America” interview.

That’s life and moreover, that’s popular culture. Don’t get me wrong; I know thousands of flight attendants nationwide cheered the actions of Slater. But in the fantasy sense of wow, what a great gesture. The public is too often rude, surly, inconsiderate and they get away with it.

Because  in air travel, this:

Has given way to this:

. . . and so this

Has devolved into this:

Funny stuff for tall tales, late night talk show monologues and silly YouTube tribute songs.

But a sad commentary on both popular culture and those who comprise its storytellers and listeners. And even worse, it’s an accurate commentary on both the traveling public and the norms of behavior en route.

Every profession has its Dr. Loves. Unfortunately, the rest of the profession suffers the derisive connotation of the rogue’s actions  regardless of the reality of their work, which pales against the backdrop of popular culture that rewards outrageous behavior.

Not sure what ever happened to Dr. Love or what will become of Flight Attendant Slater. But both are hard to forget, for all the wrong reasons.

Air Travel: How to Fly with Children

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, food, jet, lavatory, parenthood, passenger, pilot, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2010 by Chris Manno

Travel season’s here and it’s time to round up the kids and head for the airport. There are many things you need to know to make your trip with your kids smoother. Here are some important tips based on my 25 years as an airline pilot:

1. Educate beforehand: kids need to visualize what’s going to happen at security before they experience it firsthand. Like their first trip to the dentist, they need to be prepared for an unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable environment with a different set of rules from their normal life.

The fact that they can be separated from you by the TSA is scary enough unless they understand the process. Plus, whatever stuffed animal or toy they may carry for personal reassurance is going to have to be scanned separately. Talk it up ahead of time! Make it a game–“you’re going to walk through the arch between mommy and daddy.” There may be a magic wand involved (see above). Teddy’s going to ride the conveyor belt inside a duffle bag (please do–I’ve seen stuffed animals caught in the rollers and shredded to the horror of a little one).

Let your child know that you might be singled out for screening, which can be scary for a child.

If possible, tag team: one parent goes through and waits for the child or children on the secure side. Never send a child through first to wait–if you’re detained for further screening, you will be separated from your unsupervised child.

Hand carried items: this is a problem. You’ll have enough to carry just to support a child’s travel, so try to minimize loose items by making sure all hand-carried bags have some type of closing device to keep items inside. Open containers or bags will inevitably spill their toys, crayons, books and food when jostling through the security screening machine. Backpacks for elementary school aged kids make sense: they can carry them and still have hands free, and backpacks can be closed with drawstrings and zippers.

Make a total count of bags ahead of time–“we have three bags and a stroller”–and make it a game: “Mommy said 4 items.” Count and gather items on the secure side.  Tag everything and tie a colored ribbon or string on each item–kids will help find the color or label you choose, so make it distinctive. If you leave anything behind at the security checkpoint by mistake, chances are slim that you’ll ever see it again. In the chaos of gathering clothing, shoes, bags and kids, it’s important to inventory all for items before leaving the area for your gate.

2. At the gate: get a tag from the agent for your stroller. But before leaving home, get a protective bag for the stroller or car seat. Both Target and Baby’s-R-Us have them for around $20, and you do need one to keep the stroller or car seat clean.

Protect your stroller or car seat.

Also, the bag will keep loose or losable parts together, or at least in one bag–we find loose pieces of stroller trays and accesories all over the ramp and in the cargo compartment of the plane.  Cargo handling is an ungentle, dirty business–the cargo hold is not clean, nor are those other bags smashed in with yours or actually, the hands that handle the gazillion bags a day. Cover your stroller or car seat and keep the dirt and grime out of your infant or toddler’s food chain. Plus, on your return trip, you can stuff a world of used laundry into the bag as well as the seat or stroller.

Should your infant be gnawing on any of this?

Find yourself a spot at the gate that allows your little one(s) some space to expend a little energy. Consult the airport guide to find any kids’ playgrounds, a great idea that’s making its way into more and more airports. Usually, they are corralled off from the main traffic areas, allowing kids to run and play–something that presents a tripping hazard for kids and adults in the regular gate area.

Kid's Zone in the Detroit Airport

Check on-line to see if your airport has one, or just ask an agent or passenger service person. Just keep track of time, and be sure to listen carefully for gate change announcements while you’re there.

3. Food and water: here’s a more in-depth discussion of food while flying, but here are a few hints tailored to parents and kids. First, the MacDonald’s Kid’s meal in the airport?

Maybe–but only in the airport food court. Dragging this messy meal in flimsy containers on board–especially given everything else you have to carry–is a bad idea. There’s really no elbow room on board, which kid’s require to eat like kids do, plus there’s no way to contain the mess or clean it up afterward.

In the above-linked discussion, I make this important point: it’s not about eating on the plane–it’s about not being hungry. If you can’t feed your child right before the flight, be sure to have non-perishable, non-crushable or non-spillable snacks stashed in your hand-carried bag. Don’t count on any in-flight snacks which may not be kid-friendly (Does your toddler like beef jerky? Potted meat?) and are subject to the on-board service schedule and availability: once they’re sold out, that’s it.

Bring snacks and water for everyone. Again, don’t count on the inflight service which may be delayed or in case of turbulence, canceled altogether. Bring what you and your child will need!

4. Sanitation: the aircraft is known to many flight attendants as “The Flying Petrie Dish.” This is another good reason not to bring a meal on board: the aircraft isn’t really clean. Bring hand-sanitizer, plus wipes for your seat’s armrests, tray table and anywhere a small child is likely to touch.

$2.99 at Costco

Save yourself a cold or worse down the road: wipe down the common areas within your child’s reach.

5. Ears and pressurization: although modern jetliners have automatic cabin pressure controllers with very gradual rates of change during ascent and descent, little ears can be sensitive to the changes anyway. Be sure that your child is not congested due to a cold or such and if so, consider an over the counter children’s decongestant to ensure they can clear their ears. Some parents have had good luck with having their kids drink during descent, which requires swallowing, which helps equalize pressure between the inner and outer ear.

You’ll need to be prepared: bring something to drink in a container. Flight attendants are required to collect all service items in preparation for landing and so will not be offering or serving any beverages.

6. Deplaning: Inventory time! How many bags? Contents–particularly stuffed animals–returned to the bag (check the floor around your seat) and bags closed! Do this on descent–don’t wait till everyone behind you on the plane is trying to deplane! Be ready.

With my youngest on a trip, we once discovered the tragedy of a missing teddy bear after we got home. So now we actually have roll call of all traveling stuffed animals at the hotel and on the plane.

Much easier than having to call the hotel and prepay the shipping for a somewhat threadbare but much needed bear. Trust me. Check seatback pockets thoroughly too for things you or your children might have stashed and forgotten about.

7. Department of “Duh:” Shouldn’t have to say this, but some people don’t seem to even think about this nastiness, so here goes.

Don’t change a diaper at your seat. The aircraft lavs all have pull-down changing tables for that purpose.

And that’s the correct place to handle that matter. Literally, speaking of that “matter” or material, would you want my Uncle Fred to change his diaper on your row?

The only difference in the “matter” is in quantity, not content (well, Uncle Fred likes anchovies, but still). Yes, it’s your cute little one, but it still is what it is and everyone on the plane wants to not share the experience and scent.

Thanks, Uncle Fred.

And seriously: DON’T hand the used diaper to a flight attendant! Or DO NOT plan to have them dispose of it in the meal cart (I know, it’s incredible, but people do). Put the diaper in a barf bag and dispose of it in the lavatory waste bin. Again, no one on the plane–particularly the crew–wants to get involved with anyone else’s bodily waste. Would you?

You want me to take WHAT?

Actually, there are more helpful travel hints for parents traveling with children, but this will do for now. If you only master these items alone, your trip will be smoother and more enjoyable.

Have a great trip–and if you have any other helpful travel tips, send them to me and I’ll add them!

Inflight Survival: Foodishness at 30,000′

Posted in air travel, airline delays, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, food, jet, lavatory, passenger, travel, travel tips with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by Chris Manno

First off, let’s get one thing straight: inflight survival’s not about eating in flight–it’s about not being hungry.

If you’ve been off the planet since the mid 1980s, you may not know this, but unless you have been on another planet, you realize that no domestic airline serves food in Coach.

They’ll sell you something that is somewhat “foodish,” but remember what I said: the mission is to not be hungry in flight. If you are, you’ve failed the mission already: you didn’t eat before the flight, and/or you don’t have an efficient stash of caloric emergency input.

My stash emergency stash in my flight bag.

This is all pocket-sized, crush-proof, non-liquid stuff that will go through security without any problems. No, it’s not really “eating;” it’s doing what I remind you is the mission: not being hungry. Forget the idea of “eating” in flight. Well, unless you’re in the cockpit.

But even then, there’s still the same problem passengers have in back: you’re not getting anything to eat until a certain time in the schedule of the flight–not necessarily when you need it. Hence my stash.

And further, at least in the cabin, you’re going to wait also for the remains to be collected of whatever “foodish” thing you’ve paid for.

Here's a $7 United Airlines "buy on board" snack. How's the potted meat dinner working out?

Given that you’re already crammed into about 2.5 cubic feet, do you really want to sit with your trash and wait for the pick-up cart which is waaaaay after the “serving” cart selling the buy on board junk?

So plan to calorize before you board. Yes, this means you’ll have to spend some money in the airport. Reality check: you indicated through your demand for WalMart pricing on an expensive product (your airline seat is not cheap to produce) that you would not pay for the lunch on board that you know have to buy in the terminal–deal with it.

Even that, though, as I said is a hassle to drag on board along with your hand-carried stuff. The containers are flimsy, the food messy, especially when you’re crammed into you middle seat between one who’s coughing and sneezing all over your food, the other drooling over and eying it longingly.

Forget the messy on-board sky picnic in the filthy passenger seat (no, they seldom get more than a quick wipe off, if that, hence the flight attendant nickname for the passenger cabin, “The Flying Petri dish.)

Now, let’s think of the second survival need: water.

Buy it, bring it, drink it. Do we have to go over the serving cart lecture again? How you don’t want to wait while that trundling inchworm creeps up and down the aisle? In survival school, they teach you to drink your water and ration your sweat. That is–stay hydrated. Don’t wait. The aircraft atmosphere is at about 2% humidity which will dry you like a raisin insidiously: when you notice that you’re parched, it’s too late.

Buy the water in the terminal, schlep it on board, drink it pre-emptively. Yes, you may get to spend some quality time in the filthy on-board out house. But you’ll feel better in flight and at your destination.

Let’s recap:

1. Forget about eating on board. If you must, eat the high cal, uncrushable, minimum mess, compact snacks you were either efficient enough to buy ahead of time, or if not, at least you were smart enough to buy at any airport news stand. Don’t bother with the elaborate carryout.

It’ll be a huge mess, which will irritate those passengers crammed in next to you, breathing all over your food. Plus, you’ll have to sit with a pile of garbage till the inchworm cart creeps past your row.

Bring efficient caloric items that will stave off hunger until you get off the plane.

2. Bring water. And drink it pre-emptively. Sure they’ll eventually get to you with the serving cart so you can have your whopping 4 ounces of liquid. But you need more.

Drink it before and during the flight to stay ahead of dyhdration which causes fatigue and headaches, two things you don’t need when you’re traveling, right?

It’s a jungle up there, trust me. But you can make it survivevable if you think ahead, and think rationally: never mind eating in flight. Calorize, hydrate, and survive the trip so that you can enjoy your destination and maybe, find some real food.

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