28 November 2007

Have I Joined the Circus??

Sometimes after seeing the cast of characters on the plane, I wonder if I have indeed joined the circus. All the people watching is certainly the greatest show on earth . A colleague contacted us and told us that we were working a trip that a 'very unusual' friend of theirs was on. We scanned the gate room and found the tattooed man, the smallest man on earth ( a midget) , and the bearded lady ( a transvestite). The bearded lady was indeed the friend. One of our pilots also played the harmonica to passengers while they boarded and had a rubber chicken attached to his suitcase, which makes him the worlds kookiest man.

27 November 2007

Was I Ever This New??

Probably. But thankfully I had better hair. I love working new crew members and absorbing some of their enthusiasm,it really can be contagious!

24 November 2007

Fight Club

Okay, I know the first rule of Fight Club is don't talk about Fight Club, but I am going to anyway! Today we had a pack of the "Hollywood Foreign Press" onboard, the ones that decide who wins the Golden Globes and all write for glossy mags in faraway lands. They were travelling to London to see the premieres of Golden Compass, the controversial new Nicole Kidman film and also Sweeney Todd. To me Sweeney Todd, with its themes of murder and cannibalism would seemingly be more controversial, but the religious right finds it less troublesome than a Phillip Pullman novel put onscreen.

The press were largely in business class, my cabin du jour. They were all precious in that LAX way but mostly very polite which compensated for that. (Courtesy will make me overlook an awful lot). One of the gals was to far too precious for me , or any of the crew to forgive. She was a princess who misplaced her tiara. Far into the flight, we learned that she was merely the girlfriend of one of the aforementioned press, he donated his business class seat to her and he sat in the back. Ahhh love.

Most gals would give their paramours mucho appreciation for the gesture, but it was lost on her. They somehow ended up in the economy galley where a discussion escalated into a fight. Soon a loud SLAP sounded out. it was her hitting him.....

Anytime there is a physical fight on the plane, it is always a tense and awkward situation breaking it up. It is just plain embarrassing to have to restrain a woman from assaulting a man. I find it really interesting how if it were a man hitting a woman we would have acted very aggressively towards the man, probably separating them and threatening to call the police when we land. Totally different dynamic for the reverse situation, although really it should be the same. men being abused by women is sort of the last taboo...

The cool gossipy lady of the press, she of the Chanel coat, shared with us that they all recently attended a party thrown by the lovely George Clooney. The abusing girlfriend got plastered at the party and tried to make time with George. I can only imagine him trying to tactfully pull the Slavic slapper off him. Jeesh, I hope she didn't try to take a piece out of George too.

23 November 2007

Overheard on a Layover

The scene is several crew members drinking by the hotel pool before going out for dinner. The drinks were flowing and one crew member got a little frisky towards another.
She: Hey! You are not my fun tonight!!

Layover Thanksgiving

I am not having dinner with family today,I am on a layover in Los Angeles. (This is by choice, not a boo hoo story). The hotel has AMAZINGLY provided us with either a turkey or prime rib dinner tonight!!
Drinks with a great crew by the pool, followed by a great free meal, who can ask for anything more?? I do get to attend a Thanksgiving in London meal on Sunday so this is just icing on the cake. I am off to place my order for a cold drink....Happy Thanksgiving to all!!!!

21 November 2007

Talk About a Bad Day At Work!!

According to aircrew buzz, a fantastic website on aviation goings on, this lovely new A340-600 which was days away from delivery to Etihad, is a total write off. The aircraft went through the blast barrier at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse. I imagine the 9 onboard soiled themselves just a little.....

Hasta Luego Valencia

Without further ado, the end of our travels to Valencia. The city had been really scrubbed in anticipation of Americas Cup, which breezed through the city a few months before we did. You could really see the effort they had taken and it was appreciated. The downtown was so tidy you could almost eat off the sidewalk. You certainly could eat on the sidewalk at all the outdoor cafes!! The sidewalks in the commercial center were made of marble, really lovely but cruel on slippery soled heels!! I can only imagine the horror that is a rain shower there.(Sturdy soled shoes essential next time....)
This amazing ceiling is located in the central post office, which is located on the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, right across the street from the building pictured above. This post office was filled with amazing lighting, carved wooden doors and beautiful marble floors. It would not seem strange to hold a wedding reception there...really! I cannot imagine a post office worker there 'going postal', it is such a serene atmosphere.
Thses crayon colored buildings were just across from the Mercado Central. They housed toy shops, restaurants and cafes. As you can see many of the buildings have lovely wrought iron balconies. What you cannot see is the intricate tilework below the balconies, very old and decrepit but amazing. Things are so spartan now that no one takes the time to decorate what is seen, mich less what is not usually seen. After gazing up Cindy and I entered the Mercado.
(Vegetarians, please turn away!!) This is a shot of one of the many butchers in the market. This covered market was constructed in 1928 and, if empty of shopkeepers, would resemble an old train station, the ceiling arched and ornate. Row upon row of butcher, fruiterer, cheeseseller, etc. We ate lunch with the food we purchased here, it was amazing. It does close at 1430 so make sure you hit it early enough in the day!!!

We loaded up on fruit, cheese and bread for our evening train journey to Granada. The grapes were the size of your thumb and burst with flavor ( and seeds).

We contemplated buying a paella pan, as the local specialty was so amazing, If anyone knows, why can you order it in increments of 2?? The pans lines up made us want to buy one until we remembered our small Euro stove tops could not accomodate these pans. our paella eating would be confined to reataurants.

The hotel kindly let us check out late ( gracias!!) but we still had an evening to kill before our train at 2am... Luckily for us there was a music festival being held in the Plaza de la Virgen that night, and it was free! Our 'seats' were the sidewalk, so the Lonely Planet book made a dandy buffer between the white of my pants and the ground. Music and dancing from Cuba, Senegal, Argentina, France and many other countries was amazing. it is always a treat to stumble upon things like this. It filled the time and entertained us until out train was due to leave.

We made our way to the train station and boarded our train. Cindy was unable to print the tickets but had a reservation number and seat numbers. The train operator, RENFE assured us that was no problem. When we got on we could not locate our bunks. That is because our tickets were for the night before........Seriously. I envisoned a night sitting on our bags ( at least I had a good paperback). Luckily they found us a berth for 2 , after we bought more tickets. It is not a coincidence Cindy and I call our travels 'Stupid Girl Tour'. This was her stupid but I certainly have had my share!! After the back and forth of buying new tickets, we were on our way to Granada...

18 November 2007

As Overdue As My Library Books....Valencia

I am aware that this trip was taken in late August and it is now mid November. ( I am also aware that my 2006 taxes have not been sent in , but I digress.) These are some photos from our trip to attend la Tomatina 2007, as well as try to soak in a little culture from Valencia and Granada, Spain. Above is a shot of the Valencia's cathedral, it was actually well worth the admission fee as was a 'microcosm of the city's architectural history' . Those are Lonely Planets clever words, not mine. Lord knows the guys we travelled with were not into culture, it is just as well they were eating ice cream outside as they would have started crying as we put on the tour headsets. They were also scared of eating fartons, why did we bring them along??
This statue of the Virgin Mary is one that pregnant women make offerings to in order to have a safe pregnancy. There were loads of posies and notes at her feet. If I remember correctly the pregnant woman had to walk around the statue 9 times (one for each month??)
This was a funky costume shop off the Plaza de la Virgen. Man would they love Halloween! It is not often you get the opportunity to see an outdoor disco ball.
This gorgeous window was for a fabric shop in the center of town. The window was really the only thing of beauty, the store was drab and filled with bolts of dark cloth. At least the window designer had a little fun.
This fountain was in the center of the Plaza de la Virgen, which is surrounded by churches, restaurants and cafes. It is a great place to eat dinner as the area is a hive of activity. (The Restaurant el Generalife, which overlooks this square, does a great dinner and gets crowded, go early!!)

The gent reclining in the fountain above represents the Rio Turia, and the eight 'maidens' with their gushing pots represent the main irrigation canals flowing from it. I guess the 'gushing' stopped about the same time we stopped describing girls as maidens......

Chapter 2 of this tale will include riding on a train for which we had tickets for the day before,what shoes not to wear, and how the lonely planet guidebook can protect white pants from dirt, stay tuned!!

16 November 2007

Overheard in Economy

She: This service was abdominal!!!
(No that is not a typo. There is no response as the crew member fled into the galley in hysterics.)

11 November 2007

The Worst Sort of Flights

I recently saw the film In the Valley of Elah which reminded me of many flights I have flown since the 'Conflict in Iraq' began. Many US carriers participate in the CRAF program, which stands for civilian reserve air fleet. Basically we scale back operations and fly soldiers to points of conflict, and back again. We are not permitted to give details of where or when so that will not be mentioned.

Starting in 2003 we flew soldiers to the area of conflict. I was completely confounded when crew scheduling called me with a trip to xxx, as I knew we did not fly there. We are all volunteers that fly these flights, and in the spirit of adventure, I agreed. Little did I know the highs and lows that accompany flying soldiers in and out of war zones puts you through.

I flew our first flight there that was staffed by flight attendants . We had NO IDEA who would be our passengers, or what would happen. These people were so young they broke my heart. It was scary seeing teenagers being sent to an area that they could not place on a map. Some were clutching teddy bears. All had machine guns.

I cannot even begin to relate the mood on the plane, most were certain they were going to die ( and obviously some did). They were writing letters we promised to mail to family members,none could sleep in spite of the long days ahead. We tried to keep them occupied as best as we could, I never talked so much as on that flight. No one wanted to get off that plane, they were all leaving their innocence behind and they knew it.

One woman had a 5 week old baby she had to leave behind with her mother. Even her COs were upset over that, they could not get her paperwork processed fast enough to delay her report. I really hope she was reunited with her little one sooner rather than later.

After they filed off and unloaded the bags themselves, they were off . We would hit duty free and leave. In spite of the strange circumstances we never lost our need to shop. Weird, huh?? We leave you to go off to fight and we rush to buy cheap caviar and cigarettes. That was a dichotomy of these trips, we loved the unusual layovers but sure hated what we had to see.

We even were trained in donning chemical suits in case Saddam launched something our way. Luckily his attempts fell short as the soldiers said we were given old equipment and did not know how to put the stuff on properly.

Over time ( these missions took place over about 2 years) we began to learn which bases had Marines ( we liked them best) and which were Army. I tasted more meals ready to eat (MREs) than I should have, once I learned the calorie content. They all came with a mini Tabasco sauce and toilet paper.

Sadly to me, I only had a chance to fly 3 groups home from the area. One was a small group going home that were contractors, nothing too memorable there, they slept the whole flight. The next was a bunch going home to California. They were going home early on, and spent the entire flight laughing and joking. We all discussed with them what their first meal home would be. Some wanted steak, some bacon sandwiches, one guy wanted a bowl of cereal with his son. I thought that was one of the most fun flights I had ever worked, we had sprung for some liquor so they could have a taste after being in a dry area.The crew pooled our monies and we were basically able to purchase a shot each for them, with their COs approval. (We did not serve liquor on these flights). Boy did those men and women love that small taste of home!

This flight turned from a favorite to a sad one when I learned that 4 of the younger boys were killed by a drunk driver the night they got home. They had hopped in a car and went off to get some fast food. They survive a war and get killed when they get home. That nearly made me stop flying these trips, it really tore our crew up when we learned of this.

My other flight home was the one that reminded me of the film I referenced earlier. This flight was filled with men from a small town in a small (population) state. They had all grown up together and knew each other inside and out. They had lost one fifth of their group there. These poor men were shells,unable to process anything. It was like a flight of ghosts, they did not even want to talk. Having seen these men made me realize how the plot of the Valley of Elah would be so very possible. That was the last flight flying soldiers I did.

While I am against war, I support our soldiers 100% and am proud of every soldier I happened to be lucky enough to fly with. I only wish they were all home safe and sound.

10 November 2007

View From the Top

It is eerie how they captured my life. Except for the taxi, doorman, huge apartment,beautiful uniform,shiny blonde hair...I am going to go cry now....

08 November 2007

The Ladies From Belfast

Today I thought of the ladies from Belfast. These ladies were a group of about 7 or 8 women I had on the plane about a decade ago. They ranged in age from mid 30s to 70 and all lived on the same street.

None of this is what makes them stick in my memory. They were delightful passengers, the sort you want on every flight. Even that is not what makes them still travel with me.

What keep them with me is the fact that they nonchalantly said that they had saved 7 years for this trip by scrimping on grocery money.

For many of us in our 30s or younger, we have not grown up with delayed gratification in any real sense. Heck, even layaway plans have largely disappeared. It made me feel so very damn lucky to be able to travel the world without having to do without little extras for 7 years to do so. And that was only for one trip.

That they were so nonchalant about it stopped me in my tracks. These ladies were thrilled to bits to be on that plane and I was thrilled to have made their acquaintance. The memory of them gives me a continual reality check when I gripe about my job or plan a trip that I can take on a moments notice.

I gave the ladies a bag full of airplane minis to take with them (shhh....do not tell !) It was the very least I could do to help them on their way. I hope to have you gals on the plane again, with the exchange rate, another trip to the states should require less scrimping!!

06 November 2007

Congratulations, You Are Now A Foreigner

This post is a small explanation of the immigration paperwork process for those that are leaving their home country. Apparently no matter how many onboard announcements are made, this is not sinking in.
If you are visiting a foreign country, congratulations, this makes you a foreigner!! Part of the heady responsibilities accompanying such a lofty title is the paperwork that many nations require.
"But I'm an American!" you tell me. Yes, but we are landing in England. Not America. England. Do you see where this is going?
"How will they know I am not European?" Hmmm..... I have difficulty answering that one (with a straight face), why not ask the immigration official you need to get past before entering the country.
"We are going on a cruise". Does the ship dock at Heathrow??? If you are LEAVING the airport, you are entering the UK.
"I am only here for 2 days." See above.
Please do not be startled when you return to America and you are also asked to fill out paperwork, we love bureaucracy!! Most importantly, please bring a pen. I do have one, but have seen to many disappear into your purse, backpack or mouth to be confident of its return. Most important of all, if it says 'for official use only' that is NOT you. Do not 'help' them out by filling in that part. Job security and all.

02 November 2007

Red Poppies Are The New Must Have Accessory

As you can see by my prior posts I primarily blog about my travels and my job. Today I make an exception to promote the annual Poppy Appeal.
Each year the Royal British Legion unfailingly supports its current and former soldiers welfares. I think we can all agree that ,politics aside, veterans generally get the shaft by their governments. This foundation makes an effort to step in and assist where the government fails.
Over 36 million poppies are produced at a factory in Richmond, Surrey. Each year around the end of October, stands pop up all over the country with poppies and a collection box. This is probably the one charity that has universal appeal, you see people of all ages and walks of life wearing poppies on all variety of outfits.
The appeal ends on Remembrance Sunday, 11th November. At the 11th hour at the 11 th minute the country truly stops for a 2 minute silence. As an American, where our Veterans Day had degenerated into a large shopping day at the mall, it is something to behold. Although not British, I support anyone who serves his country and proudly remember my grandfather who lied about his age to serve during WWI at the age of 15. I am proud of his bravery and think of him each time I put on my poppy. Pop-pop, this poppy is for you!!

01 November 2007

10 Celebrities I Have Spent the Night With

Before you get excited, I will remind you that I work all-nighter flights so my definition of spending the night with someone is different than most. Some are more famous than others, and some are definitely more memorable than others. In no particular order, I offer you my random 10 celebrities.

1. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen- This was long before the days of anorexia, they were still teens. Teens that wore Chanel and Marc Jacobs to be sure. They were dream passengers, polite,quiet and with exceedingly well behaved hangers on. Their lawyer (who resembled Kramer from Seinfeld ) got the names of any crew members that had children and sent them incredibly large boxes of the girls videos, dolls and clothes. Large, appliance sized boxes.

2.Newt Gingrich- As a rabid Democrat I really wanted to dislike him, I swear I did. He had actually aged so much it was only the paperwork that made me match the name to his celebrity status. it was his lovely ( and much younger ) wife Calista that won me over. She was so friendly I felt like maybe we would be doing lunch or catching a flick together next time I was in Dc. Well, not really but you know what I mean.

3.George Michael- In case you think I am fawning over each celeb, let me introduce the passenger who needed a seat for his ego. Mr.Michael ( who has a long, tongue twisting Greek surname) feels he is above speaking to a member of the crew. His associate would repeat everything I said to George, who would whisper his reply which was relayed to me. Talk about a time waster. No one sitting in first class gave a hoot who he was and I think that disturbed him. His rudeness caused me to inform the people waiting outside customs that George Michael was entering soon, and filled them in on what he was wearing. Being that this was Brazil, he surely had a shrieky mob on his hands as he left customs.

4.Patricia Neal-What a class act. This lady was classy from head to toe. She exuded elegance in a way that people today do not. Her stroke did not diminish her classiness at all. Beauty knows all ages and anyone would be lucky to look like her in their golden years. Sophie Dahl, you have a cool granny!!

5.Michael Hutchence- He was on his way to Australia for the final time. He looked so very kooky,scruffy,dirty that I asked for his boarding card, he did not look like a typical business class passenger. Once I realized who he was I will freely admit I asked the gate agents to upgrade him,which they did. He had trouble making eye contact with anyone and seemed really sad.

6.Sarah Ferguson ( aka Princess Fergie)- Funny and down to earth. We seem to get all the 'lesser' royals, I suppose British Airways has a lock on all the big royals. Fergie got on the plane looking like a million bucks (500,000 pounds with the current exchange rate). She took off her makeup, changed out of her designer suit and then became so every day plain Jane that she could have been anyone. She told us to call her whatever we wanted ( no official titles for her, too snobby!) and mentioned whatever we called her would certainly be kinder than names the press had thought up. Before landing she reversed the process and became the glamour girl again.

7.Jane Seymour- Her sister works as a customer service agent for my carrier at Heathrow. She sits in first or business class while the children sit in the back with the nannies. She is lovely but seems to have no handle on the kids. Never went back to check on them. Ever. During an 11 hour flight.

8.Marilyn Mansons band- Not outright celebs by name themselves, but they move in that world. They looked so creepy that one passenger asked to be moved from sitting next to the drummer, offering some crap excuse as to why. We had to sit an employees daughter next to him. He ended up chatting with this young lady the whole flight ( not in a creepy perv way) and when he found out that her friend was a fan- he had the whole band autograph something for this girl. You would presume the band would drink whiskey and try to smoke, but they has vegetarian meals and drank herbal tea the whole flight. Don't tell anyone, I am sure it would damage their credibility!!

9.Renee Zellweger -This was several years ago when she was at the height of her celebrity. Small and skinny. And shy. And skinny,it needs to be said again. 'Nuff said.

10.Muhammed Ali- The most gracious of passengers. His impairment was painfully obvious yet he never let it slow him down. He had collected his Sportsman of the Century Award in London, who could think of someone more worthy? His assistant told us he would happily sign autographs for any crew member or passenger that wanted one. His smile was contagious. When we landed, the cheers he got from the crowd truly strengthened him and he gained energy from the adulation. A real hero.

This list does not include all or the worst celebrity offenders, but is a pretty good start. The next 10 will include 2 presidents,2 celebutants and 2 caught in the act!! If anyone has had celebrity passengers, or sat near one, please dish the dirt!!