Once upon a time, I was a flight attendant, and I hated it. Let me clarify; I was good at my job, and at doing what I was supposed to do, I just didn’t care for what the job entailed. Namely, working with the general public, and putting up with company bullshit.
The airline I worked for was notorious for mistreating employees, breaking contracts, and abusing those who didn’t know the rules and couldn’t fight for themselves. Apathy was rampant among us, and so was turnover. After just a couple years I was considered “senior” and could hold a pretty good line. And while there were many good things about being a flight attendant (flight benefits! Sightseeing! Meeting new people!) there were also many negatives (horrible pay! Sharing an apartment with 3 people! Insane passengers!).
Sometimes I miss the crews, the places we used to travel to, and the adventures. There is truly nothing as breathtaking as watching a sunset from the flight deck, or seeing a glowing full moon and glittering stars from above the clouds. But then I remember how miserable I felt, how lonely it was staying in hotel after hotel alone, and the toll that traveling to 3 different time zones in less than a week took on my body.
I did, however, come away with some pretty epic stories. If anything, they made the whole thing worth it. After more than 2,000 flights and 3 different countries, I present to you the list of stories that were memorable enough to make the cut.
Warning: these stories range from the highly amusing to the downright disgusting, read at your own risk.
The Cat Lady
We were getting ready to take off from Santa Barbara, a small airport that doesn’t even have jetways. Passengers exit the terminal and walk out to the planes, where they then climb stairs to board. I was in the flight deck, talking with the pilots about weight and balance and how many passengers we were expecting, when all of a sudden, I saw her. Arms outstretched, and pretending to zoom around like an airplane, this woman looked off her damn rocker. She was wearing head-to-toe leopard print and fur embellished everything, except for the white cowboy hat that adorned her fire-red hair.
She had set her bags down in order to complete her majestic airplane dance, and by the time she had picked up her bags again, I had managed to mutter, “Well this should be interesting” while both pilots wished me luck.
As she boarded the plane, I noticed she had an animal carrier with her – a white cat was inside. There were certain policies the airline had about pets in carriers, one of them being that the pet had to stay in the carrier at all times (allergies and other risks were cited, like the fact that you can’t have a freaking animal LOOSE on an aircraft). More on this later.
Boarding was quick, there weren’t many passengers on the flight, and while everyone was seated the other flight attendant and I performed our announcements and safety demos. While walking past the Cat Lady (as she was now known), I looked over and realized the cat was literally out of the bag – I informed her that if she wanted to stay on board and continue her trip she needed to put her cat back in its carrier for the duration of the flight. She complied, and all was well. For the time being, anyway.
I returned to my jump seat and got ready for takeoff. We lifted off, and not 3 seconds later, a furry white head peeked out from a row of seats, from the same level that a regular head would be. At first I didn’t realize what I was seeing, and then it clicked.
Oh, here we go, I thought.
The other flight attendant looked at me with a mixture of shock and confusion on her face. (She was at the back of the plane and we faced each other during takeoff and landing.) We picked up our PA phones at the same time, and tersely whispered to each other. No sooner had we hung up than she was at it again, this time carrying the damn cat (who was not enjoying this one bit, by the way) to different rows, pretending she was invisible.
Because obviously you can’t be seen when you are carrying a cat shield.
She was carrying the cat like it was Simba from the Lion King, and the poor thing was just hanging there and trying desperately to claw every seatback that came its way.
Keep in mind we are still in a very steep takeoff, not anywhere close to leveling off at 10,000 feet. The other FA got on the loudspeaker reminding passengers they need to stay seated while I made my way to Crazy Cat Lady and sternly informed her she needed to get back to her seat and put the cat away unless she wanted to turn around and be dropped back off at the airport we had just left.
She never said a word the entire time. Finally the cat was put back, and Crazy Cat Lady slumped over and fell asleep for the rest of the flight.
The Mandolin Man
We were boarding a flight to Vancouver, Canada, and as passengers walked on board, I noticed a peculiar-looking man approaching. He was wearing a pinstriped suit, complete with a handkerchief in his front pocket. He was also carrying a mandolin, with no case for it in sight.
Oh, and he was barefoot.
“Sir, where are your shoes?” I asked, completely out of curiosity. “Oh, they’re in Vancouver!” he answered, as if it were the most normal thing in the world to be traveling with no shoes while wearing a suit and carrying a mandolin.
I just shrugged.
The Boob Lady
While boarding another flight, I was greeting passengers as usual, when a woman walked by with a tote bag that had a ton of prescription bottles visible at the top. I didn’t think anything of it, and everyone took their seats.
We took off, and I got my signal from the flight deck that we had reached 10,000 feet and I could start service. I started taking drink orders when all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her.
She had fallen asleep, mouth wide open, and her prescription bottles were scattered all over the floor at her feet because her tote bag had fallen over. The passenger next to her was pretending to be completely engrossed in his newspaper, and then I saw why.
Her shirt (a tank top, no bra) had fallen to the side, and her breast was completely out, exposed in all its glory. It wasn’t even a good-looking boob. It was just a sad, giant blob of nakedness out for everyone to see. Or to try and un-see I should say. Her neighbor was growing redder by the minute, still pretending he couldn’t see that giant, fleshy eye that was staring him in the face.
Well, this is just great. I seriously don’t get paid enough for this. Whyyyyyyy???
I walked back to the galley and set my tray down, thinking. What exactly does one do about a boob? In all of our training, nothing had been mentioned about handling the stray boob – or two, for that matter. I was starting to get mad – this was not in my job description. I decided to wing it; I had no other choice.
Determined, I made my way back to the boob. I leaned over, and gave Boob Lady a vigorous shake.
I shook her again. “Ma’am? Ma’am!” I said firmly. Finally, by the third shake, she snorted awake and looked around her, confused. “Ma’am”, I said, getting her attention this time, “you need to cover yourself.” And I gestured to the boob that now glared at me menacingly. Even more passengers were starting to notice at this point. She shrugged and pulled up her shirt, turned over and started snoring again.
Crisis averted. Her neighbor thanked me with relief in his eyes. You could say we were boob buddies now. I don’t think either of us could forget about what happened, as hard as we tried. I shudder just remembering it.
The Missing Wife
During the middle of a night flight, while the cabin was totally dark save for the random overhead reading light turned on every few rows, I was sitting in the back reading a magazine. Service was completed, and most passengers were sleeping or watching iPads.
A gentleman came to the back and looked like he had a question. I lowered my magazine and asked what I could help him with.
He looked a little sheepish, and then asked, “Umm, have you by chance seen my wife?”
The first thought that crossed my mind was, Is this guy for real?
A couple things ran through my mind at this question. First, our planes held over 85 people. I do not (or cannot, I should say) keep track of who is with whom, or what spouses look like. For the most part, unless people do something memorable (like wave cats around or flash their breasts), you’re not going to remember what they look like. With up to 5 flights per day, mostly at 2 hours or less, it’s just not possible. Second, there are less than a handful of places she could be. She’s either in the lavatory, the aisle, or maybe “visiting” another passenger. Or in that secret compartment that we’re not allowed to tell you about that’s used to store unruly children.
I said, “Well, I don’t know who your wife is, but I’m sure she’s probably in the bathroom and she’ll be back soon.”
He nodded and continued his search across the vast jungle of the airplane. I’m guessing he found her since he didn’t come back.
The Day I Said Not Today
As I mentioned before, employee morale was pretty low at our airline due to management breaking rules and abusing crew members. There were people being assigned trips out of seniority, or being “junior assigned” (basically, “you will fly this trip or get fired”). So we had to get creative in order to avoid being the next victim. You could not be junior assigned if you didn’t answer your phone or no one got ahold of you. They had to have you on the phone (recorded) or “serve you” papers in person. It was like a game of cat and mouse. And if you wanted to avoid abuse, you better outrun that damn cat. (I seriously have nothing against cats; it’s really coincidence that there are now 2 stories involving them. Cats are cool, I swear.)
It got so bad that crew tracking was doing illegal things to trap crew members into working flights that weren’t covered. (Um, hello?! Staff your planes right and this won’t be a problem. But lack of hiring and the high turnover rates made them desperate). They would send a crew tracker down the jetway to meet the crew at the plane and serve them papers (this was later a huge deal, since it was a TSA breach – but they did it until they were forced to quit).
There were rumors of rogue pilots changing into Hawaiian shirts and jumping out the side service door to avoid such gross violation, but they were only rumors.
I was getting ready to fly back the last leg of my long 4 day trip, when I noticed a voicemail before we started boarding. Crew tracking wanted me to call them back. Immediately.
Oh hell no, I thought. I’m not that stupid.
I knew they were trying to assign me more flying, even though I was supposed to go home and finally have some days off. I turned off my phone, and we started boarding.
I had the whole flight back to think. I knew they would keep calling, and when they didn’t get an answer, they’d probably be waiting for me in the jetway, where they would pounce and I would have no choice but to do it.
So, what to do? I thought back to that rumor about the pilot changing his shirt, and it hit me. I started to prepare.
First, I brought my suitcase to the back of the plane (thankfully I was working in the back, which I decided was to my advantage) and stored it in an empty overhead bin. We finished the flight, and after we landed and as soon as we started to taxi, I got to work.
I grabbed an outfit from my suitcase and jumped in the lav. I took off my uniform and badge, and quickly put my clothes on. I got out, put my uniform back into my suitcase, and sat back in my jump seat.
The other flight attendant knew exactly what I was doing, in fact, she was happy about it. If I got away she had a better chance of getting out of it, too.
I knew I had to stay calm. If I got caught, I could get in huge trouble. But I didn’t care. Like I said, apathy had set in among crew members a long time ago. If I pulled this off, it would be epic.
We got to the gate, and started to deplane. Since I was in the back, I was one of the last ones off.
And there she was, clipboard in hand. Waiting. The taste of blood on her lips. I didn’t make eye contact, just walked, painfully slow to look like a passenger. I didn’t look back.
I made it to the walkway, still holding my breath. And then I was outside.
Holy shit, I did it.
My phone started ringing off the hook. I turned it off again. I got to my car, and drove to my apartment. I cracked open a beer, and listened to my voicemails. “Uhh, this is crew tracking, could you please call us back?” Yeah, I’m gonna go with “no” on that one.
I was free.
And it was glorious. I never heard a word about it, either. Served them right.
Not today, crew tracking. Not. Today.
The Oblivious Mom (aka Worst Mom Ever)
Sometimes we would have things break on the plane, just like every airline. And sometimes if it wasn’t that bad, we would fly with it broken because it wasn’t a big deal. These were things that made the MEL list (Minimum Equipment List) that were approved to be written off and fixed later.
Things such as broken coffee pots, passenger lights that weren’t working, or broken seats. Items that aren’t critical to flight are on the list. (Of course they are inconveniences, but nothing that is going to cancel a flight.)
On this particular flight, we had a broken passenger seat. The seat cushion was removed, and bright green tape fastened a sign to the headrest that read “Inoperable”. The neon green tape was also crisscrossed over the armrests, a clear deterrent to anyone who saw the seat. It basically looked like a bare metal seat with tape all over it. If it could have screamed DON’T SIT ON ME, that’s exactly what it would have done.
So boarding starts, and I greet passengers as they come aboard. I make some announcements (trust me, they annoyed me as much as they annoy you) and start to do a passenger count. And then I see it.
No way. No effing way.
You have got to be shitting me. There is a little kid (and I mean little, like 2 or younger) sitting in the seat.
With the tape put back over the armrests, so about face level for this kid, who luckily has no clue how oblivious his mother is.
So you’re telling me, lady, that you actually removed the tape to place your child in a seat with no cushion, and then oh-so-gingerly put the tape back over the armrests in front of your kid?! And he’s supposed to sit there for a couple hours with tape in his face and on bare metal?!?!
These were the moments I lost faith in humanity and wanted to just walk off.
But instead I walked back and informed Ms. Oblivious that no, her child could not sit in a broken, taped up seat, and helped her to an open row.
The Barefoot Wanderer
On a very full flight, I was in the rear jump seat after we had finished service. A woman made her way back to the lavatory, and I noticed she was barefoot. “Oh, ma’am, you need to have shoes on to go to the bathroom.”
“Oh, why is that?” she asked.
I spared her the details of the baby shit and drunken puke and other bodily fluids I had seen so many times and just told her to trust me.
Thankfully for her she put on some shoes.
The Wasted Sisters
So every once in a while we would deal with drunk passengers. They would range from slightly intoxicated and happy to sloppy drunk and wasted. We were prohibited from letting any passenger board who appeared intoxicated, and I had never had to personally remove a passenger, but I had seen gate agents and other FAs refuse passengers before.
You are also not allowed to consume your own alcohol on any flight, so we had to watch for people bringing their own as well (it has to do with the type of liquor license the airline carries). Now, I’m sure you all know that various people handle alcohol differently.
I had some passengers that I had no problem serving 5 drinks to because they were polite and well-mannered. They could obviously hold their alcohol. Other passengers could be completely drunk after 2 drinks and we would cut them off.
So during one flight to Omaha, Nebraska, there were 2 sisters who were traveling together and were ordering drinks. They were laughing and having a good time, and seemed fine.
Until one of the sisters got up to use the restroom, and when she came to the back, her pants were completely wet down the front. She had only had 2 drinks, so it was odd that she was so drunk.
Uh-oh, I thought. Time to cut her off.
She opened the door to the lav (why she was still going to the bathroom at this point was beyond me, I didn’t think she had anything left), turned around and slurred, “I need annotherr driinnk, but itnnneeeds to be Christmus Treee.”
Well ok then. “Actually, I think you’ve had a lot of drinks so let’s take a little break, ok?”
She managed to make it back to her seat, and I went to check on her. That’s when her sister decided to drop the bomb: the other sister had taken a few Xanax before the flight. You know, just to relax.
Oh, good lord. If I had any clue that she had taken medication I never would have served her. But it was too late now.
They were pretty quiet the rest of the flight, and after we landed and taxied to the gate, we started to deplane the passengers. I was saying goodbye to a nice couple when all of a sudden there was a huge crash.
What the hell?!
There she was, face down on the floor, completely passed out.
“We need a medic!” shouted the captain.
She somehow woke up (I think her sister was shaking her) and stood up, blood at her mouth. The medics ran on board with a straight-back wheelchair and strapped her in. She was slurring all sorts of nonsense.
Then she asked, “Arre wwe in Dennnverr?” “No, we’re in Omaha, and you need to hold still!” barked the paramedic.
They wheeled her off to take care of her. I let the captain know what had happened, and he shook his head.
Drinking and pills don’t mix well. I hope that was the last time she tried it.
The Finger Fiend
I’m going to go ahead and warn you right now, this story is disgusting. Feel free to stop reading now.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
I was on an international flight, the kind that you have to fill out a Customs Declaration form for before you land. It was sometime in the middle of the afternoon, where the cabin is bright with sunlight.
The other FA and I had finished service and done a trash collection already, and there weren’t too many passengers since there were open rows in the back. We decided to get the forms out of the way so that everyone would have them ready by the time we landed. Plus, people usually need a little help filling them out, so why not give a little extra time?
A few rows in front of me in the back of the airplane there was a young couple sitting together. They looked like maybe they were taking a romantic trip together. He turned and asked if he could borrow a pen. I said of course, and reached out and handed it to him.
Then I walked back up to the front with the other FA and we helped other passengers fill out forms, then hung out and cleaned up in the galley.
I decided to go back and read a magazine that someone had left behind (score!) and made my way to the back.
And that’s when I happened to glance over at the young couple and saw the guy with his hand down her pants, I mean like elbow deep, going at it, and she’s writhing and moaning against the seat.
No blanket, no nothing. Just right there in the plain of day.
Obviously they hadn’t seen me coming, but they sure noticed after I walked by. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do. There were kids on this flight, and that made me angry. What if a kid had walked by and seen that?!
They stopped as soon as they realized what happened, thank goodness. Otherwise it would have been even more awkward than Boob Lady.
But the worst part, the absolute WORST part – was that he turned around and tried to give me back my pen. Yes, with the same hand that had previously been – er, occupying his lady friend’s undergarments and who knows what else.
I looked him straight in the eye with one eyebrow raised and said, “You keep it.” He turned back around and didn’t say another word.
And that my friends, is why we wear shoes to the bathroom.
The Flight Wife
Have any juicy flight attendant stories? I would love to hear them! Comment below with any of your own.