Monday, January 28, 2008

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

People ask you what time it is all the time on the plane. I have never known what to say. Seems like you should just be able to say it's 2:30. But I discovered early on that it's more complicated than just adjusting for time zones. There is a very simple and eerily sci-fi truth to telling time on an aircraft: there is no time in the air. Think about it. If you're on the ground, you're in either one time zone or another. But off the ground, you're technically in neither; your old time doesn't apply, but you're not in your new time yet.
That's the cheap answer. The real grit lies, again, in quantum mechanics. Ever heard of Schrödinger's Cat? Well, it's an interesting but fundamentally silly model of what's called superposition in quantum kinematics. Superposition (as it relates to quantum mechanics) is all the states a subatomic particle can be in, all at once. This guy Erwin Schrödinger, in an effort to prove that the Copenhagen interpretation (which says that superposition stops being all the states and settles on an actual state only when it's observed) was kind of a wonky model, so he came up with his cat idea. There's a cat, an atom, and a Geiger counter wired to some poison, all sealed in a box. If the atom is not radioactive (one of its states), nothing happens, and that's good for the cat. But if the atom is radioactive (another state), it sets off the Geiger counter, which releases the poison and BOOP dead cat. What he's saying is that, according to the Copenhagen interpretation of superposition, the cat is simultaneously dead and alive, and will remain that way indefinitely until you open the box.
Schrödinger's Cat is a perfect model for non-Greenwich time in an aircraft. Inside the sealed cabin, which is within the continental United States, time could be expressed in one of four time zones, the superposition of which tells us that if it's one in the afternoon in LA, it's one, two, three, and four in the afternoon in the cabin. And according to the Copenhagen interpretation, it will remain all four times continually until we land, open the door, and a passenger sees a clock on land. This is why I refuse to cross the international date line.
I could explain all this whenever a passenger asks me what time it is. Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg really want me to. But I never do. Instead, I lie like a cheap rug and say it's 2:30.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Little Diesel With Those Pretzels?

As I was cruising down the aisle with a senior FA during a service the other day, she asks me for an unleaded. Predictably, I say "?" with my face. She goes on to explain that Coke is 'leaded' and Diet Coke 'unleaded.' I learn something new about this job every day, and each thing is funny.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

That Thing That Lady Asked Me

Once while I was trying to keep the last row of passengers calm from that very conspicuous brace position, a lady mean-spiritedly laughed that "it was all right for the crew, because they have parachutes." I laughed back at that for a moment, and that moment ended when I realized she was serious. She seriously thought there were three parachutes on board for us. I never went to jump school in the army, but I wanted to, and I heard lots of stories about how rigorous and exacting the training is when they teach you to bail out of a plane. Knowing that, I cannot even imagine having to go through that training with some of the cotton balls I was in FA school with.
So no, Virginia, there are no parachutes on the plane. But between you and me (and if you've read this far, you already know this about me), I'd totally bail out of one of our jets. It would be the party plane, of course.

Yea Though I Taxi Through The Valley...

You all know about the brace position. That whole thing where you "put your head between your knees and kiss..." Yeah, I really stopped thinking that saying was funny around seventh grade, and now that I'm in this job, I've stopped even harder. But anyway, the brace position is real, and it works. Basically prepositions you as far forward as you're going to get, so that you suffer minimal deceleration damage during a sudden stop. There are several stories of people emerging from airplane crashes with only a few scratches having done the brace position (of course, 'only a few scratches' in terms of airplane crashes usually means 'both legs broken and liver missing'). You, as a passenger, only do the brace position when that proverbial thing is about to hit that other proverbial thing. And same for you if you're the forward FA, because you're facing backwards, and are already all the way forward. But if you're the aft FA, things are a little different. Since you don't have a seat in front of you to bounce off of, your brace position is head down as far as possible so you don't get whiplash when a captain stops suddenly at a runway-side fruit stand.
I enjoy being aft, because more often than not, I didn't get as much sleep as I needed, and with your head down, you can get thirty seconds of field shut-eye. But sometimes it can spook passengers. Being an FA is often theater in that you have to watch what you say and sometimes pretend that things are not as they are. For example, I never say "bomb," "terrorist," "explosion," "crash," "9/11," or "hijack," although there really are those things. In the same vein, I sometimes see superstitious people pat the hull as they get on board, and I'm quick to tell them that Canadair's built them a good plane. Understanding, then, that a passenger's feeling of safety is sometimes fragile, you can see why someone's confidence might take a hit when they see me in the jumpseat next to them all crunched over like something bad is about to happen. Several people have asked me if I'm praying. Even if I was praying, I'd never tell a passenger that. One lady even asked me this.* The more secular wits bag on me because of the four point seatbelt I've got on in the jumpseat. "How come you got that whole rig on, and all we got is this regular seatbelt?" I explain to them that part about bouncing off the seat in front of them, and that I don't have one in front of me, and that if I had a regular seatbelt on, chances are I'd go tumbling up the aisle in a sudden stop. That's usually a funny enough image to them to make them forget what they were talking about, and more than funny enough to me to make me forget them if they don't forget.

*This one is so stupid that it demands its own entry.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

White Christmas

You know, you hear a lot of mess about pilots. That they're womanizers, that they've got god complexes, that they're jerks. And every so often, I meet one that fits one or more of those descriptions. But more often than that, I see things about pilots that remind me that they're good guys. Saw one the other day, and it wasn't the first time I'd seen it. I'd gone up into the flight deck for something, and the captain's hat was hanging off the edge of the chair. Taped inside the hat was a picture of the captain's family. To me, that's kind of a snapshot of what life on the road is like, with a little sepia WWII thrown in. Bleach this job all you want... there's still romance in there somewhere.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Short History Of The Flight Attendant

Been doing a little research, and of course you know I'm going to pass the misery on to you, the reader. Here's everything you already knew you didn't want to know about the crazy history of flight attendants:

The first flight attendant happened in 1911, and back then he was a 'steward' aboard the German zeppelin Schwaben, a civilian transport. That zeppelin was destroyed a year later on an airfield in Düsseldorf. It was probably his fault.
Airlines in the US and UK began hiring stewards soon after that, but none of them were female until Ellen Church came along in 1930. She was a pilot and a registered nurse from Iowa, and originally wanted to fly planes. Boeing wasn't interested in a female jet jockey, but they did listen to her suggestion that a nurse would be a good thing to have on board, and so she became the first 'stewardess.' For a while, airlines only hired nurses as stewardesses, but when WWII broke out, they ditched the requirement so nurses would enlist. She died in 1965, and now if you land in Cresco, IA, you land at Ellen Church Field.


Steward uniforms started out military, because most things on a plane are based on maritime tradition. The first United Airlines uniforms, as seen above, included berets and capes. By the forties, however, airlines picked up on the fact that girls look hotter when you put them in girl clothes, and that male passengers liked hotter girls, and so they started having department stores design their uniforms. During this phase of the research, I discovered that there is such a thing as a 'milliner.' That's someone who makes hats, and the name stems from the word 'milaner,' meaning someone who sold stuff from Milan. You see, I told you you didn't want to know this stuff.


By the seventies, things were a little out of control. Professionally designed uniforms had given way to go-go boots, and airlines were subjecting their stewardesses to advertising campaigns like "Fly Me To Chicago." Braniff actually had a thing called the 'Air Strip,' and you can just about imagine what that entailed (if not, look up 'naked'). Even though unions had been formed in the forties to prevent just this sort of stuff, major airline policy frequently called for all stewardesses to be under 30, single, not pregnant, and not wear glasses. Not only did you have to get weighed in and tape-measured every time you went to work, it was your pilot who did the weighing and taping. In fact, it actually took part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to get people to realize that stewardesses were there to haul your ass off a burning plane and not just look pretty. Still, it was the mid-eighties before stewardesses could be married.
Ironically, sometime during all that mess in the seventies, we became 'flight attendants.'
During our 97-year run, FAs have defeated hijackers, assisted in search and rescue, pulled pilots back through broken cockpit windows in flight, stopped bombers, and in some cases given their lives to protect passengers. And this one lady... Vesna Vulović, a Yugoslavian flight attendant, survived a 33,3oo foot fall after her plane was destroyed by a bomb. 33,300. Let's put that in perspective. Find a ten foot ladder, climb to the top of it, and then jump off and fall on your head. Now do that nine more times. Now do that ten times. Now do that thirty-three times. Amazingly, Vesna recovered enough to walk and talk, and now holds a Guinness record for highest fall without a parachute (and randomly, was given the award by Paul McCartney).
You know, as I look over that long and interesting history, I realize one thing: as an FA, it's going to be really hard to do something that stands out now. But then again, I think I'm quite comfortable standing in the shadow of that last one.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Thanks For Reading!

Wow... the new WTHYA Map is taking off! Looks like I've almost completely contaminated the U.S., and established a foothold in Brazil. I've infected someone in Switzerland, and even taken someone down in Australia! I'll tell you what cool is... it's having an amusingly bad day at work, and then knowing that people on four continents are laughing with/at you. So thanks both to the loyal readers, and to the subset of them who have passed me along.
More to come. Stay tuned.

Blaze Of Glory

No, I didn't die. Rather than that, I bought the company blazer.

This thing rocks. I can't exactly explain why. But it's just better than showing up to work in a pansy blue shirt with some wings pinned on it. When I put it on in the mirror, it makes me feel like Agent Smith. And when other people see me in it, they mention how sharp it is. I mean everyone. Again, this is only a suit jacket, and only a one a few shades lighter than Pansy Blue. But it, apparently, does the trick.
Plus, after having worked just about every minumum wage job in Louisiana, it's neat to wear a suit to work.

Airplane And Airplaner

There's a part in Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey tries to get on an airplane that isn't there and falls off the jetbridge. Just found out the other day that they filmed that right here at SLC International, and the particular jetbridge is Bravo 2, one of the ones I go out of frequently.
I haven't fallen off the jetbridge yet, but one of these days I might, just for kicks.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Over there on the right, just under the WTHIB Map, is the newest feature here at WTHIP. Referred to me by my first South American reader who was not trying to sell me a camisole, it's the Where The Hell YOU Are Map. If you click on it, it'll give you the details, but basically, whenever someone logs in at WTHIP, it puts a red dot on the map where they logged in from. This is the coolest thing ever. Apparently it posts the dots in waves, because for a while I had nothing... I was beginning to think I had gone too long without posting and everyone had assumed I crashed (all knowing exactly what face I was making). But now I have like six or seven blips on the radar. I can identify some of them... for example, that's Bup up there in Minnesota, L.M. down along the gulf, Indigeaux in New England, and Akutyger in the middle of Brazil. But I got someone way down on the Mexican border, and over in Europe, and another one in Brazil? This is too cool. It's kinda like the old Why We Fight videos in WWII, where the Nazis spill ink all over the globe, except it's me, benignly chucking red M&Ms.
Until I get a foothold, myoo-ha-ha-ha.
Here's an idea. Start calling your dots. See if you can figure out which of you is which. I'm pretty sure I know who you all are. But surprise me.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Drink They Do Get Down With

One of the things that I (and thus you) have learned about Mormons so far is that they don't drink caffeine. That will, of course, put you in a serious bind when it comes to being a Mormon on a plane (wasn't Samuel L. in that?), because there's hardly anything there in the galley what don't have caffeine in it. So once about six months ago, during one of those times when you guys are inside delayed and we're camping out in the no-AC plane, I blundered into the galley and there was the FO (who I knew was Mormon) busily concocting some concoction. I asked him what the deal was... you know you can't drink anything in here, I said. Au contraire, Tom said merrily, and backed up to reveal this:

Exhibit A, he said: the Mormon Mixer. While I made faces trying to come up with something to say, he explained that, to make this beast, you start with a base of OJ, sling in an unspecified amount of cranberry juice, and lace it with a healthy dash of Ginger Ale/Sprite/What-Have-You, and bingo, you have something that is aethetically appealing and consumable by the devout.
I tried one. It's hard to get the mix right. I wouldn't say you have to be a Mormon to get it right, but it probably contributed to my getting it wrong a few times that I wasn't one.
I imagine this drink could substitute a caffeine safe haven for other religions as well. A Christian Cocktail, for example. Perhaps a Catholic Cool One, or maybe a Scientology Slammer. I'd like to serve up a Hindu Wallbanger one day. But probably not a Phil-Draws-Down-A-Fatwa-If-He-Even-Tries-A-Joke-About-This-One Elixir.
Anyway... the reason I waited six months to tell you this is that initially, I thought the FO was just making stuff up. Mormon Mixer? Yeah right. But the other day, I mixed one up because I'm on the wagon again vs. carbonated stuff, and the other FA saw me finish it and said, "Oh, are you Mormon?"
Showed me.

P.S. A funny nickname for Mormons around here is a 'Mo.' That makes me laugh every time, and it's because, every time, I picture a missionary in his white shirt and black tie slapping himself in a circle and going, "WOOBWOOBwoobwoobwoob!"

P.P.S. For those of you who are not L.M., the FO's name in this story was not Tom. In an uncharacteristic moment of subtlety and an all too characteristic moment of obscurity, I threw in a Swifty. Ask your grandparents about those.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


You might infer from the title of this entry that there's been a lot of snow here lately. Or if you don't trust your power of inference, just look at this picture:

That may not look like much snow. But that's before I invoke the principle of foreshortening, something my seventh grade art teacher taught me, which is the technique of drawing things badly to convey depth. There's actually three feet in this picture; two are mine, and the third is the foot of snow I'm standing in.
To me there's still something a little magical about blundering out of bed at noon and opening the blinds and seeing, instead of the winter-free Louisiana sky you're expecting, a fluffy snowdrift. So after staring at that for a while a few days ago, I decided to get out in it. There's a cemetery across the street, and across the street is outside, so there I went.

It was like walking around in an Edgar Allen Poe greeting card. Beautiful and morbid all at the same time. I realized while I was out in it that you don't really want to be out in snow. It stings. So I went back inside. But I did leave some footprints, enough of them to justify the purchase of snowboots.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's Only A Jungle Inside

Welcome To The Jungle

My sister's always been the one with the green thumb. I've never even looked sideways at a plant, even when I was lying down behind them in the army while trying to get shot with fake lasers. But for some reason, the I-want-to-grow-stuff-in-a-pot gene switched on since I've been here, and well... this.

You'll recognize the far one in the brown pot. That's the one I toasted on the balcony last summer. It survived because it's a pothos, which is apparently Latin for indestructible. The three in the middle are ones I've cloned from said pothos. The one in the tall blue vase is in the bacta tank, undergoing the cloning process: sooner or later it'll sprout creepy white roots, and then when I stick it in a pot full of dirt, the roots will get all up in the dirt and it'll be a plant. The feathery thing just off the right side is some kind of fern that looked cool at the store. No clue what it is. Ideas are welcome. But it sheds, I know that. In front there in the tiny green pot are some African violets, the resident divas. I killed all the flowers, but the leaves are holding, so there's still hope. And the newest addition is a miniature palm, way in the back behind the middle pothos.
I must be serious about this, because I actually bought some plant food the other day. Still not sure what to do with it. It's kinda fun, exploring my botanical limits. I think as long as I stay this side of bonsais and chrysanthemums, I'll be OK.

Hangin' Two

Now this is something I want to try.
Heard a story from an FA about some hijinks an FA friend of hers got into. Seems this friend was working a ferry flight, which is one where there are no passengers, and as they were taking off, she grabbed one of the laminated safety cards and sat on it, so that when the plane tilted up, she slid all the way down the aisle and into the lav. I've tried to imagine a way to imagine that scenario that isn't hilarious, and I just can't do it.
Rest assured that you will get video of that if I ever get to do it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

We In The Same World Here, Sir?

We've already established that a great portion of the reason passengers exist is to ask me for strange things. Most of these things are just silly (Vaseline for buttocks, say), but sometimes they ask for stuff that make you wonder if they're on the same planet as you. For example, a few days ago I pass by this fellow that gestures at me with an apple and asks me if he can have a knife. A knife. You know, the kind of implement that can cause death if you stick it in, say, a pilot. The reason I still have this job is my ability to say one thing and think another. What I said was, "Nope, no sir. No knives on board. Sorry!"
What I thought was, "Sure, sir, lemme go get you one. They're right next to the rocket launchers."


A few weeks ago, I asked a passenger what she wanted for a snack, and she asked me what we had. I've been repeating 'cheese crackers, cookies, and peanuts' for so long that it doesn't even bother me anymore when someone isn't paying attention, so I spouted the litany off to her again. And then she said, "Oh. I had heard you before. I just thought you were kidding."
I've had a few weeks to think about that, and I still come up with the same thing: what the hell does that mean?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Did You Just Call Me Breakfast?

I was discussing varying states of cold with a Canadian customs lady on my last trip to Edmonton. I mentioned how I was from the South in America (when you leave the U.S., you realize that saying you're from South America doesn't do it right), and how I tend to put on a jacket when it gets down to maybe fifty degrees. She shook her head with a smile and said, "Jam tart." I have never laughed so much being insulted.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

More Passengers Not To Be

Standers: These guys board the plane, toss their bags into the overhead bin, and then just stand there in the aisle with their hands on their hips as if they're thinking about buying the place. They are completely oblivious to the fifty people behind them who are impatiently waiting for their chance to do the same damn thing.
The 'Excuse Me' Freezer: This person makes his way down the aisle as you are making your way up the aisle, and then when you eventually meet and you say, "Excuse me," in an effort to get them to let you slide past them, they freeze in place with a dippy smile on their face. You have rebooted them. Nothing you do will get them to do anything other than stand there.
Non-verbalers: It's an FAA regulation that the people on the exit row must communicate to you, the FA, that they are willing to assist in an emergency with a verbal yes or no. We say so in the announcement prior to asking for this verbal yes or no, and then again when we actually ask for the verbal yes or no. Why, then, do people think it's OK to nod slightly as if the twice-stated conditions for answering the question I'm asking suddenly don't exist? I've tried several ways of cajoling this single syllable out of these vocally-challenged folk, and the quickest one seems to be to just hold a hand to my ear and say, "What was that, sir?" In this case, they always seem to be offended that I've managed to trick them into speaking. "Yeeees," they say, shrugging, like I've forced them to break a vow of silence. Funny, though, that this is the same juliet alpha I hear talking while I'm making the announcement about what to pay attention to when the plane is on fire.
Buffet Tablers: If someone asked you to do an impression of a flight attendant, you'd probably throw on a lisp and say, "Put on your seat belts and put up your tray tables." That's how ingrained the knowledge is that your tray table has to be up when we take off and land. And yet, there are always folk who, in the ten minutes before take off, manage to lay down an entire eight course repast on their tray table. I mean checkered tablecloth, salt shakers, several fine China dishes, flatware, and candles. I think I saw a lady making crème brûlée once. And I think you can infer what happens when I tell them they have to put their table up for takeoff.
Aisle Spreaders: A long time ago, the spirit of expansion led explorers like Vasco de Gama and Hernando Cortez to say goodbye to everyone and everything they knew in order to board a ship bound for a new life and conquer vast new lands in the name of tyranny and greed. That spirit is alive today, in passengers who, not being content with the seat they're in, spread out into their neighbor's seat and the aisle. I don't so much mind the folk who see me coming and move their feet, but most of them see me on my way somewhere and expect me to tap dance around them. This is where passive-aggressive behavior becomes an art form. Having the range to tackle someone's leg with the force of a linebacker and then a scant instant later apologize with the grace of a geisha is something I'm quite proud of. And if we're coming with the drink cart, you're not getting out of it without a broken bone.
Last Row Whiners: When I'm the aft FA, I get to see what happens when the last row of people sit, because I'm right there between them and the lav. I call it my office when they ask if that's really the lav I'm standing in front of. Most of these people just sit down and shut up. But a lot of the time they're unhappy because they're sitting in the back row. "Wow, we're all the way in the back!" they say, disgruntled. Now when you're the forward FA, you hear these same people say, "Gee, this plane is way too small!" and then when they get to the back, it's been way too far to walk. "Wow," they say when they see where their seat is. "Waow," they continue, when I don't take the bait and ask, "Gee sir, is there something wrong with your seat?" And when it becomes apparent after several 'waows' that I'm just not interested, they launch into a tirade about how the gate agents always sit them in the back row always. I know this is not true because the gate agents are way too busy separating families and sitting foreigners and infants in the exit row to engage in a conspiracy like that. There are only three things about the back row that I can think of that would be grounds for complaint: a) the seats don't recline, b) you have to wait longer to deplane, and c) it's next to the lav, which smells like blue juice when you open the door. I said I can think of these things... I didn't say they were grounds for complaint. Non-reclining seats? The ones that do recline only recline an inch and a half. Wait to deplane? I've actually counted this, and barring any Standers, you have an average wait time of two minutes to deplane, and if you scheduled a ten minute connection, that's not gonna stop you from missing your flight. Next to the lav? Guess what... the entire plane smells like blue juice. That's what planes smell like. When you smell something and think, "That reminds me of an airplane," you're smelling blue juice. And the reason you get more of that smell next to the lav is not because you're sitting in the back row... it's because of the Stablehands.
Stablehands: When you go into a room where the door is closed and then you come back out of it, you close the door, right? Especially a room that smells like blue juice on the inside and features several people right on the outside, right? Well, Stablehands plow right into the lav and then plow right out again, leaving the door wide open, allowing the blue juice to escape and set off more Whiners. I can kinda see this one... when the bathroom door is closed, it's usually occupied, and so you'd leave the door open to signify that it's available. But since I'm in rare form and I've got a lot of momentum going here, I'm not taking it back (side note: I always enjoy watching passengers try to get into the lav. Even though the back one has a doorknob, unlike the phonebooth-type configuration the front one has, it's like watching the raptors in Jurassic Park discover how to open doors every time. It's like a small evolutionary leap every time someone gets into the lav).
Birth Controllers: If you're standing to the right of someone sitting in a chair, and they pick up their right elbow and slam it backwards with all their might, where does that elbow end up? That's right, it does end up there. And unless I take evasive action, I have an elbow end up there almost every flight. The timing is uncanny; it always happens because they're messing with something in the seatback pocket, and you can stand behind them for five minutes, and they'll keep seat-back-pocket-messing, but the moment you try to pass them, BAP in the reset button. And no, it doesn't matter how much you apologize. The trick is to lead with your femurs when you walk down the aisle, so that when they hit you, it breaks their elbow instead of your will to live. Of course, that makes you look like a dressage horse, and only reinforces everyone's suspicion that you like dudes.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Gate Agents Part 2, Or Why Don't You Watch Where I'm Going?

We've already established that there are some gate agents that should be cared for by the state. This last one was a doozy. She couldn't agree on a passenger count with us, even though the passengers were all right there on the plane, able to be counted. She brought several other gate agents out to disagree with us on the count, and insisted that they all crowd into the two-man galley with us to perform the disagreeing. I announce that we have 62 people, she disagrees, the other gate agents nod, she tells the pilot they all disagree, the pilot calls operations, operations says ask the flight attendant, and then the whole process repeats, and each time the gate agent gets more and more flustered. You know how you can actually see it when some people start to fragment under pressure? Well, that's what this lady did, until at the very end, she hopped back onto the plane from the jetway and ran right into the other FA. Like forehead-to-forehead. I actually heard their skulls connect. It wasn't an offensive maneuver... she just flipped out and, in that flipped out condition, just thought that someone standing in her way wouldn't be an obstacle at that point in her life. Wow. Waow. What a maroon.
I had suspected this before, but I can tell you authoritatively now that getting a passenger count is made more difficult by having two semi-conscious airline employees on the galley floor. Plus if you count the tweety birds going around their heads, the count goes up by about eight.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2008... Right?

I find it amusing how this job plays up the everyday while playing down the holiday. I can have a lot of fun on overnights on days named things like Thursday, while oftentimes missing things like Thanksgiving altogether. "What? Yesterday was Easter?" And so it was with this past New Year's Eve. Here at the end of this four day trip, I find I cannot remember what city I was in when it became 2008. I remember the shape of the hotel room, and that there were fireworks outside that woke me up (early showtime the next day is bad for staying up late), but where was I? No clue. Good thing I wasn't the one pulling the switch to bring in the new year. But they do say that any party you can't remember must have been a good one.
So happy 2008, everyone. Hope you remember where you were.