Wednesday, 3 December 2008

To Fly Or Not To Fly

We were coming in to land in Rio. The cabin was secure, the passengers gazing expectantly out the window waiting for the first glimpse of Sugar Loaf Mountain.

I returned to the galley and was putting on my lippy when I suddenly found myself flat on my back. Through turbulence. I laughed, picked myself up and strapped myself into the crew seat with only my pride slightly dented. Thankfully the 747 had a separate galley to the rear so I hadn’t taken a dive in full view of the passengers.

Other times I hadn’t been so lucky, but more often than not my naivety saved my blushes.

Like the time I was standing in the front galley of a 737 adjusting my stocking tops when I looked over to see the man in 1a following my every move with a big grin on his face. He shook my hand when he disembarked saying it was the best flight he’d ever been on.

Or helping a father attach the extension seatbelt for his baby, totally unaware of the sniggers and lewd comments coming from the rest of the group as my hands hovered dangerously close to his private parts.

Or leaning over to the window seat to serve a drink and accidentally giving the guy in the aisle seat a boob massage.

Need I go on?

Life was fun, if hard work. I walked for miles during an average flight and was fitter than most of my friends, even with their gym memberships. The night flights were the hardest. Sitting in the galley at 3am with a hot water bottle stuffed down the inside of your pinny, trying to stay awake until it was time to serve breakfast. Yes we had bunk beds in the tail of the 747. But invariably on the flights long enough to allow you the luxury of some time off, the minute you hit the bunk and strapped yourself in, the turbulence would start. Here’s a tip – if you don’t like turbulence, don’t sit at the back of the plane. It’s always worse there. And of course, there was the frequent indignity of the airport security insisting that you open your case, surely just to give the surrounding passengers a boost as they caught a glimpse into the life of the air hostess... or at least of their dirty underwear. Having survived all that, I used to lose the last shred of dignity that remained as I fell into a deep sleep on the shuttle back to Edinburgh, drooling down the shoulder of the unfortunate businessman in the seat next to me.

Oh yes, I was glamorous, me!

Fortunately, my friends didn’t think so. In fact, their brains couldn’t compute my life, and so they ignored it. Completely. I would come home from Buenos Aires, buzzing at the things I had seen and done, and my friends would listen politely and say “That’s nice” and in the same breath, “Did you see we got our new curtains?”

They didn’t keep in touch with me. I had to keep in touch with them. They couldn’t keep up with my busy schedule. But it didn’t bother me. That was just how it was. I slotted back into their lives as and when I could.

But after four years, I started to yearn for something more. And that something was normality. Perhaps it was the constant rounds of “Chicken or Beef? Tea or coffee?” Perhaps it was forever going on trips with crews I didn’t know and having to start all over again. At that time there were 10,000 BA crew members so the chances of flying with someone you knew were slim. For every trip on a 747, there was a crew of 14 between cabin and flight crew. Friendships were made quickly and just as quickly dissolved. You told people things you wouldn’t tell your best friend, knowing it was likely you would never see them again. You tended to drift towards likeminded people. Personally I preferred shopping and sightseeing over partying. Although, when we did party, we partied hard.

I longed for the chance to sleep in a bed, all night ever night.

So, when the Gulf War started and business took a nose dive (figuratively, not literally), BA offered us blocks of unpaid leave. Seizing my opportunity, I asked for a year off to go back to university to take a postgraduate business course with languages. BA said yes.

I was a student again and I loved it. I hadn’t particularly applied myself the first time around but this time I couldn’t get enough of studying. And of course I had the best of both worlds. Technically I was still employed by BA and had my staff travel perks. When most fellow students were heading home for Christmas to sponge off their parents, I was on the first flight out to Bangkok with my friends.

As the end of my sabbatical drew near, I was having nightmares of having to get back on a plane again and go back to my old life. I had changed too much. I had discovered a new life out there with a comfy bed thrown in for good measure. The bed won.

I look back on my time as an air hostess with affection. I have seen more places in the world than most people could ever imagine. I learned about life, I learned about people, I learned about myself. And as for the things I wouldn’t tell my best friend? As the saying goes, “What goes on tour stays on tour!”

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