When I was a flight attendant, I used my flight passes. A lot. New restaurant in Chicago? Let’s go. Play I was dying to see in New York? I’m there. Sale at my favorite boutique in Seattle? Sign me up. Need a haircut/ highlight in San Diego? Yes, please.
You get the idea.
A drawback of free travel is that it is always “space available” or stand-by. Now, I got very very good at “checking the loads” which means seeing in advance on the computer how many people are booked for a flight and what my chances are of getting on or getting upgraded to Business or First Class.
I became somewhat of a First Class snob. I loved the extra attention and helpful service.
I remember saying more than once to The Husband, “Sweetie! Let’s go to Wichita on Tuesday!” and when he’d ask why on Earth I wanted to go to Wichita, I’d reply, “The flight’s wide open—we’ll get First Class!”
The first time The Husband and I ever traveled internationally together and he got upgraded, he was like a 6-year-old at Christmas: “Yes, now that you ask, I would like more champagne and sugared pretzels!” He marveled at the complimentary First Class kit at every seat, loaded with anything the United Airlines marketing department deemed necessary: moisturizer, eye mask, hybrid sock-slippers, headphones, nail file, earplugs, toothpaste, mini-toothbrush, notepad, and, inexplicably, airplane stickers and crayons (maybe his kit was accidentally mixed with a true 6-year-old’s kit?). He laid out the items on his tray table, like he might sell them.
“Put your things away,” I cautioned, “They’re going to think it’s your first time in First Class.”
“But it is my first time in international First Class!” he replied as he fluffed his down pillow, and pressed the buttons on the side of his seat converting his chair into a sleeper bed and back again, “And I can tell you, it won’t be the last.”
The flight attendant came by to check on us. “Magazine?” she offered, displaying a cart full of glossy European selections and newspapers in five languages.
“How much do they cost?” said The Husband as he reached for his wallet.
I could feel my face glow red. “They’re free,” I whispered.
The flight attendant laughed. “They’re free!” she confirmed, “But you can’t take them into coach and try to sell them,” she was nodding toward the contents of his complimentary in-flight kit still lined up in neat row on his tray table.
“Just seeing what’s in there,” laughed The Husband without the slightest trace of self-consciousness. I could be self-conscious enough for both of us.
A few minutes later, the purser came by to take our dinner order.
“Good evening! Welcome to United!” he said in a thick German accent. “For dinner this evening, would you like steak—”
“Yes, steak! Okay, great!” interrupted The Husband.
“—lobster, chicken cordon bleu, pork chops, roast duck, poached salmon, or pasta primavera?” he continued as if he hadn’t been cut off by the First Class novice.
The Husband turned to me in a slight panic. I could tell his brain was overloading with information and champagne. He wanted to be the easygoing passenger, the one that caused no problems.
“Oh, sorry,” The Husband corrected, not understanding the German accent and looking at me for proper flight attendant cues, “yes, I’ll have one of each.”
“Steak for both of us,” I overruled him, “that will be just fine.”
During the flight, the captain came out to use the restroom. The Husband acted as if he just saw Mick Jagger.
“The captain! The captain!” he exclaimed excitedly. He was tugging on my sleeve and pointing; I could tell that his two glassed of French Cabernet, chocolate soufflé with blueberry sauce, and double cappuccino were kicking in simultaneously. I saw he was reaching for his camera.
“Sweetie, stop,” I said firmly. “No pictures.”
“I just wanted to make sure my camera was fully charged for Germany,” he said innocently.
When we got to London, it was time to change planes. I was taking no chances with his star-struck attitude this time. I would handle everything. While he carried our tote bags, I took our passports and chatted politely with the customs official. At our next gate, I instructed The Husband to have a seat while I got us checked in for our connection. The only seat in the waiting area was right next to the gate agent’s desk and by a family with four small children running in circles and playing tag. The mother was trying to calm them down and get them to read some picture books.
I approached the gate agent and handed her our tickets and my airline ID when it was my turn.
“You understand I will need his ticket as well?” she motioned in the general direction of The Husband.
“You’ve already got it in your hands,” I offered helpfully, “it’s all right there.”
“And his passport?” she asked with British authority.
“Right there,” I replied, pointing at the stack of documents.
“Do you know if he’d prefer a window or a—”
“He’ll take a window seat, please. A window will be just fine.”
I could tell the agent was not used to such an efficient passenger as myself. She kept glancing toward The Husband and back to me.
I turned around to look. It had been such a long flight, he had started to doze. His hair was matted in some places and sticking up in others. He was drooling. I now noticed for the first time that he had spilled some of the blueberry sauce down the front of his shirt during turbulence. There was a nasty smeared stain, and he had nothing to change into as all his clothes were in his checked bag.
“Sure, okay, let me get him for you.” I walked over to him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Sweetie? The gate agent has some questions for you.”
Apparently, I had startled him. Couple that with the disturbing fact that one of the small children had tied his shoelaces together, and you have one 6’4” man jumping up and tipping over. In the shuffle, he managed to knock over the small stack of books the mother had next to her. He went to pick them up. He was clutching Dr. Seuss’s universal classic, “Hop on Pop.”
“Yesh?” he said, wiping the sleep drool off his chin, “You need me?”
The gate agent stared at him for a very long time, then turned back to me. Her voice was full of sympathy and compassion when she asked me in a soft whisper, “Miss, when you both arrive in Frankfurt, are you his trained helper companion or will he need special assistance?”
("Mockery Of Vacation")