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I Didn’t Sign up for This: Things I Never Thought I’d Deal With on the Job

When flight attendants like me wake up and put our uniforms on to go to work, we, like you, want things to go the way they do in the advertisements. We want to smile at you as we hand you coffee from our flawlessly manicured hands, and you, dressed neatly with a look of sheer bliss upon your face, smile back as the plane glides without so much as a bump through what must be heaven itself. But in our world, things don’t go that way. We break up fights. We regularly have to track down the owners of forgotten undergarments. We watch people leave wet footprints as they exit the lavatories barefoot. Here are some things I’ve had to deal with that I never imagined I’d see in this line of work, but have.


I’ve had two fistfights break out at work. One was during deplaning: A man was apparently so offended that another passenger seemed to cut in front of him as he was trying to leave that he caught him by the front door and gave him a right hook to the back of the head, right in front of me. The gentleman, who’d had about 20 years on his attacker, swung around and began to give it back to him. They were so close to the exit and I was furious that, by having this brawl five feet inside the aircraft door, they made it into my problem as well as theirs. They finally stormed out a minute later.

The other was between adult sisters mid-flight from New York to Los Angeles. The crew in economy kept having to pull them apart, but tempers would flare up repeatedly as one would pummel the other. Because they were acting like children, I’d decided to take the “mom” tactic. I clomped my black heels down the aisle out of first class to their row as people craned their necks to see what I would do. When my coworker and I reached them, I loudly told them that the nonsense stops now, and if it doesn’t, we will be leaving them in a flyover farm town rather than continuing to Los Angeles. “Yeah, but she has mental problems!” one sister protested. “I DON’T CARE,” I’d said firmly, thinking that these problems clearly run in the family. As we walked away, she swung again at her quiet sister, and my coworker and I turned tail and ran back over. We again yelled at them to sit down, and to start apologizing to their fellow passengers for our imminent diversion, which thankfully did not need to take place, as they sat sheepishly and motionless until their arrest in Los Angeles.

Coffee, Pee or Me

I work on airplanes, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that I’m not a nurse, as I’ve seen every possible bodily fluid onboard and am sadly no longer fazed by them. A woman who’d seemed both horrified and amused approached me in the galley once to tell me that she noticed a man urinating into a coffee cup. I stopped what I was doing and found the man at his seat, and indeed he was. Apparently he was more intimidated by the seat belt sign and mild turbulence than exposing himself publicly, and as I laid eyes on him I’ll never, after at least a decade, forget what I saw. He finished up nonchalantly and handed the cup to me as I protested. “No! You don’t pee anywhere but in the lavatories! I’m not touching that! Go flush it in the toilet!” How do you begin to react to that situation? At least it gave me practice for the second time it happened, years later.


A gate agent who is a friend of mine handed me the passenger manifest for a flight I was working, and as we reviewed it she said she had something to tell me. The pity-filled smirk she was giving me did not seem to indicate good news. “A gentleman asked if he can walk around during the flight because he has a medical issue.” “Of course,” I’d replied. But, naturally, there was more. He’d wanted us to be aware of his very personal medical problem – a problem that no sane person would describe to a stranger or even admit to close friends. But he was more than happy to unnecessarily volunteer to every nuance of the unusual issue he was having with his man parts. She amused herself awaiting my reaction.

After I re-swallowed my dinner and regained color to my face, I prepared the aircraft for boarding. I hoped to never learn who this fellow was, but he denied me that pleasure as he waddled onto the plane and immediately described to me what ailed him. I tried in vain to interrupt him, and when he was finished I told him he was welcome to walk the cabin as long as the seatbelt sign was off.

He did just that through the flight but then sat in my jumpseat when I’d left my galley to collect trash. I found him shifting his troubled trousers all over my poor, defenseless seat, and when I told him he could not sit there, he replied, “Sorry, it’s just because -” (I won’t share the rest of this sentence with you, dear readers, because you’d never forgive me if I did.) I’d had enough and decided that if he told me about his personal problems again I would consider it sexual harassment, because it seemed to be something he rather enjoyed sharing. Afterward, my very amused captain wrote the airline an incredibly graphic compliment letter about the job I’d done that day. It’s hilarious to see my name on company letterhead with such colorful anatomical terms alongside it. Receiving that award and thinking of the poor soul who had to type it up almost made going through the situation worthwhile.

[Photo: Shutterstock]
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