Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Discordant Flight Attendant

Forgive me for my lack of inspiration today. This was my first day back in the office after spending four nights in Virginia, about eightly miles outside of Washington, DC. I was there for training. This was only my second trip this year, and on Dec. 31, my "Preferred Traveler" status with Northwest Airlines evaporates and my tush will probably never feel the comfort of a first class airline seat ever again.

Last year, while working for Microsoft, I logged nearly 50,000 miles of airline travel, although several of my colleagues logged twice that. Frequent travel was one of the reasons I left the world's largest software company earlier this year and embarked on my new career as a financial advisor.

Even though I love traveling, I've never thought the transportation experience was much fun. In the year that I have not traveled, I see that the government and the airlines have actually managed to make flying more tortuous. The lines at security are longer than they were a year ago. The searches are more tedious and invasive. Northwest Airlines now requires me to check myself in, all the while airline employees gossip and giggle behind the counter (did you know that Marcy at the Northwest airlines desk in Dulles is having an affair with a co-pilot?). The flight attendents are rude, the flights not on time, and the luggage handlers even managed to destroy a present that I had stored in my luggage. I thank God I no longer must travel on airlines for a living. Although I love traveling, I hate flying. Actually hate is such a strong word -- but its the right word. I really despise flying.

Upon boarding my return flight from Dulles to Minneapolis, I waddled to my seat on the plane only to come across a Northwest Airlines flight attendent severly scolding an elderly passenger about the weight of her carry-on bag. The woman, who was a short and could hardly speak a word of English, couldn't lift the bag into the plane's luggage rack. She had apparently tried to get help from the discordant flight attendent. He had set firm limits on the assistance he would provide, and was only offering to help her lift the bag. He failed to grasp the root of the problem, which was she was just too short to lift the bag into the bin. His scolding really made me angry, and the aisle of the aircraft was blocked while this jerk was making his big fuss. The woman was upset and apparently not understanding what the problem was.

I had to do something. "I'll be happy to help this lady," I said. The flight attendant shot me his best who-the-hell-are-you stare. "That's not the point," he said condescendingly. "Her bag is too heavy!"

Since the lady and the bag were between me and the flight attendent, I quickly picked up her bag and stuffed it into the luggage compartment. I expected the bag to weigh half a ton, but it was hardly an effort to pick it up. "Not heavy at all. I'm glad to help" I said, closing the overhead door.

The Flight Attendant about flipped out. His jaw dropped and he started sputtering nonsense as I sat down in my seat and fastened by belt. I thought for a moment that he might have me arrested. I spent the next two hours enduring his stares. If you can believe it, he tossed a bag of pretzles at me to show me how upset he was. Secretly, I took a little pleasure in his anger.

At the end of the flight I helped the woman get her luggage down. I smiled and said to her, "Your bag is not heavy at all." She returned the smile, clearly grateful. She made in known to me in her best English that she had presents in the bag and so didn't want her bag to be checked.

When I got home, my kids greeted me like a returning hero. My daughter had drawn me pictures, and even bestowed upon me her ultimate expression of love: a birthday party. No it's not my birthday, but whenever she wants someone to know that she loves them, she pretends to give them a birthday party. My wife played along, so I arrived home to blown up balloons and colorful streamers. Returning home for me has always been the best part of traveling.

Today's cliches: There's no place like home, and, No good deed goes unpunished.
Today's advice: Rather than fly, consider driving, calling or video conferencing. If you must fly, avoid Northwest Airlines like the airborn virus that it has become.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Well done!

And as an aside, my daughter was conceived in Paris as well ... on the left bank in a cheap hotel near the Champ du Mars.