Hello, and welcome aboard. Summer travel season is here and we recommend you buckle your seat belt. Possibly the only scarier thought than the summer travel season is the Christmas travel season – but no, on second thoughts, that comes a distant second. Scantily-clad graduates, unruly families, infrequent travellers, boiling weather, and overworked crews. What could possibly go wrong?
As always, a disclaimer. I love my job, I love my colleagues (for the most part), and I even love my passengers. Having said that, there are a few very special breeds of traveller who seem to lose all sense of decency when the temperature rises and the smell of jet fuel permeates the senses. Add to that jam-packed planes on an already stretched air travel infrastructure, and you’re ripe for a meltdown at any moment. I see it all, and often wish I never saw it at all.
As someone who maxes out my hours and then adds as much as I legally can, I take air travel for granted. But for those mentioned above, flying on holiday is an extraordinary act. With air travel regulations changing daily, it’s stressful to take a short-haul hop – let alone a flight that connects through a massive and confusing hub on airlines that might change with every segment.
There are several breeds of summer traveller who truly vex the mind and break your soul, and the holidaying family is one of them. You typically have your father: a business traveller taking his family on their hols by using his points. Daddy dearest is in business class; his brood and (usually much more pleasant) wife in economy. On one of my very first trips this summer, I encountered such a group. They boarded early with much fanfare and arguing over the window seat. Dad kissed wife and two horrible brats goodbye and promptly beckoned me to order a gin and tonic and to send champagne to the back for his wife, “Because you know how women get”. As a gay man, I assured him, I do not.
Dad continued to get tanked on Tanqueray, and as we were preparing to land, came up to use the toilet and ask if us flight crew would be laying over in Fort Myers. Thankfully, I wasn’t – but undeterred, Dad proceeded to hand me his number, suggesting I text if I got bored in my hotel room. While I do not normally mind the attention of a daddy, I promptly tossed the number into the bin for catering to take out.
Coming a very close second to dysfunctional families are the hordes of high school and university-aged students travelling for service work, church group, holiday or any other reason under the sun. My personal favourites are the church groups who always seem to try to clasp hands and form a prayer circle in the cabin at the worst possible time, or have their leader tell his flock that the way flying works is that God lifts the plane into the sky and sets it carefully back down.
Dude bros and their travelling coterie are also always enjoyable. I’m used to watching muscular meatheads and their arm candy board and immediately try to drink their own booze onboard, or worse – try to play beer pong across several rows of seats. (I’ve marked the pages about violating FAA and company regulations on my inflight manual for future reference.)
But I’d take those any day over the middle school groups. Watching them – wherever they’re off to – the crew suffers from mortifying secondhand embarrassment as we watch the popular kids to try avoid sitting with the less popular, and remember our own school days. This is a Boeing 737, not the Mean Girls cafeteria, ladies and gentleman.
While there are a huge variety of summer passengers who make me weep inwardly, I have a terrible soft spot for unaccompanied minors (UM for short). Some more vintage flight attendants also refer to them as unsuccessful marriages (also UM for short) as we get to see one parent dropping them off to fly across the country to visit another. I spent my childhood doing that very commute, often flying across the country for a weekend to spend time with one or the other – I had 600,000 miles before I turned 17.
So whenever I have a UM on my flight, I roll out the red carpet. They get meals, snacks, any (soft) drink they want, and refill after refill. I always make a point to let them know I once too had to go back and forth between parents, and to sit back, relax and let us take care of them before they have to pretend to like the next step-parent.
The summer of hate list could go on and on but for the sake of our sanity, let’s leave it at that. Just remember the next time you step on a plane to jet off on your summer hols that your flight attendants are people too – and we’re looking forward to September even more than you.
*Names have been changed
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