Please Press The Flight Attendant Call Button

January 27, 2013

Essays for Giggles

Back in the Dark Ages, when I smoked cigarettes, and it was allowed LITERALLY EVERYWHERE – you used to be able to smoke right out in the middle of the airport – and I don’t mean in one of those glass monkey cages, where the circle of life is being played out like a Broadway production of “The Lion King”.

I distinctly remember the time I foresaw my own demise like Professor Trelawney in Harry Potter – I was in my mid-thirties, sitting in one of those air tight gas chambers and as I sucked toxic chemicals into my lungs, huffing and puffing like the saddest marathon runner on earth, in order to get the maximum nicotine load before my next flight, I noticed the teens and twenty-somethings to my left – smoking away, all hand gestures and tossed hair… cool beneath their affectations –

Then there was me, 15 years further down the road to a certain and unpleasant death, occasionally spewing forth an uncontrollable and grating cough.

And then to my right were the travelers twenty years older than me, trying desperately to hold something that resembled a conversation with total strangers, when the only thing they had in common was their penance in the see-through zoo enclosure, and every few seconds, they were interrupting their conversations to bend over and hack up a lung onto the floor, then they would calmly resume their conversation with another inhalation of smoke and without ever acknowledging that one of their vital organs was now laying at their feet.  Likewise, their puffing companions never seemed to notice that they were also knee-deep in internal organs, and they all just hacked their way along, blithely engaged in idle chitchat.

The coughing was so jarring and loud that it should have brought conversations to a halt, but not in this room, where the sound was so ubiquitous, no one seemed to notice.

Watching the 50-year-olds doubled over at the waist trying to catch enough breath to inhale again, caused me to watch the younger ones, swinging my head back and forth between them like watching a slow-motion tennis match… did they see their future?  The one right there in the room with them?

No, they were separated not only by age and the distance across the room, but that special brand of narcissism that affects the young –  as if the nonchalant, hipster teens thought they were immune to whatever was afflicting the wrinkled, barking old cronies on the other side.

When I say we were allowed to smoke anywhere, I mean literally ANYWHERE… You know a person is old when they tell you that they smoked a cigarette on an actual commercial airplane IN FLIGHT – and was not arrested with a felony conviction for tampering with the on-board smoke detectors…  Yes, children, tis true.

So one ancient day, long, long ago, I was flying from Nashville, TN back to Daytona Beach Florida (where I lived for a festive and drunken 9 months of my life that I will never get back).

So my friend Stephanie (that’s her real name) and I were waiting in the seats in front of our gate to board.  She decided to go to the bathroom and I decided to move two sections down to a smoking area.

Now, for those of you too young to remember, they didn’t scan bar codes on boarding passes back then because bar codes hadn’t been invented yet.  They just collected, counted and read them the old-fashioned way.

Hell, this was back when your family could go through security and wait with you AT THE GATE until you boarded your flight. They could wave at you as you taxied down the runway. It seems quaint now doesn’t it?

Twenty minutes later, the flight attendants began boarding the plane.  Stephanie was not back from her potty break, but they were boarding the plane – what was I supposed to do?

I stood up and shuffled my way forward along with everyone else toward the gate that was directly in front of me, completely forgetting that I had moved down two gates to a smoking area.

They tear the stub from my boarding pass; I board and take my seat, belting in next to a stranger.  I watch the passengers as they come down the aisle scanning their faces for my friend.  No Stephanie.

Well, what could I do?  Looks like she missed the flight.  She was chronically late to everything and had always had a delicate digestive system.  I didn’t know what was going on with her in the bathroom that had taken this long, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to find out.

The flight attendants make their safety announcements and the plane pushes back from the jet way.  At that point, the little “ping” that announces an announcement is heard over the speaker system, “Ladies and Gentleman, this flight is going to Dallas, if there is someone on the plane who is going to Daytona Beach, FL, would they please press the flight attendant call button.”

At the words “going to Dallas”, I whipsawed my head towards my neighbor and whisper-screamed “this plane is going to DALLAS?”  As she nodded yes, I was grappling to unfasten my seat belt.

By the time the flight attendant said, “Please Press the Flight Attendant Call Button”, I had grabbed my carry-on, crawled over my seatmate in a none too delicate manner, probably bruising her in the process and had teleported the length of the plane – breaking the speed of light and sound – appearing as if by magic next to the flight attendant as the last of her words were spoken into the microphone.  Those last words were still winging their way through the air, at the normal speed of sound and had yet to make their way to the back of the plane by the time I appeared at the cockpit door.

I was frantic for them to tell me that I had not heard what I had heard.  Somebody had to be wrong here and it couldn’t be me.  I said, AGAIN, “this plane is going to Dallas?” and they said, “yes” as believe it or not the plane pulled back up to the jet way to let me out.

I think today I would have just had to freak out all the way to Dallas and they would have dealt with me when I got to Texas and you can imagine how that would have gone over… I would probably have been executed.

As they are reattaching the plane to the jet way, I say, “Can I still catch my plane?”  The answer was they didn’t know.  At this point, I am so confused.  I still have no idea how this happened, but one thing I did know, Stephanie had not missed HER flight… I had missed mine!

The plane door opens and there are two airline employees standing there with a Walkie Talkie in each hand and one of them says “We’ve got her”, they both grab an arm and we sprint up the jet way.  I can hear the theme music to Mission Impossible inside my head.

We literally bust through the door into the airport where I am handed off to two other airline employees who each grab an arm from the others in this orchestrated relay that is occurring to get the stupidest person on earth onto the right plane.

This latest Navy Seal team shouts into their Walkie Talkies, “Got her.  Three minutes from Gate” as we sprint through the airport, leaping over chairs and pushing old ladies out of our way – not really – they thrust me off to two more employees who shove me down the jet way, the right one this time and through the airplane door onto my flight to Daytona Beach.

There was Stephanie… in tears.   She had been at the cockpit door telling them that they could not take off; her friend wasn’t on the plane.  They said they had to push back and she insisted they couldn’t leave without me.  Today, she would have been arrested for interfering with a flight crew, but they were not so trigger happy back then –

While Steph had been there pleading for my life and risking arrest, I had been blithely sitting on the wrong plane, going “stupid bitch missed her flight.”  And yes, I feel like a shithead to this day over that.

So only after settling down and going over what the hell had just happened – did I finally realize that my smoking habit had driven me onto the wrong plane.

If I had not been rescued, I would have wound up in Dallas without a nickel to my name – no credit cards either and no checkbook, which is just as well because the checks would have been worthless.

In those days, I did a lot of stupid shit and one of them was to travel without any money – at all – or maybe a couple bucks, because… well, I had no money.  And I had credit cards once, but they were all cut off from being over the limit and in arrears on payment… so I would have been a thousand miles from my destination with no money on the last flight of the day… I don’t know if the airline would have put me up in a hotel or I would have had to sleep in the airport.  I don’t know if someone would have taken pity on me and given me a sandwich or a bottle of water.  I don’t know if I would have been forced to panhandle or sell my body on the mean streets of Dallas to get a little supper money… but I do know I would have eventually gotten back to Florida, it would have just been a miserable 24 hours or so before I got there.

And we didn’t have cell phones back then.  We had something called PAY PHONES and LONG DISTANCE phone cards… yes, children, tis true, we used to pay for long distance calls.  I would not have been able to get in touch with anyone until I found a bank of phones in the Dallas airport and called home Collect – you see children, you used to get an OPERATOR on the phone, a real live human being.  Then when the person you were calling picked up on the other end, the OPERATOR asked if they would accept the charges for the call – it was called CALLING COLLECT – And poor Steph, who was already in a hysterical state would not have known what had happened to me until hours later and would have spent those hours weeping and imagining that I had been sold into white slavery,

The difference on the boarding pass was DAL for Dallas and DAB for Daytona Beach and I will forever be eternally grateful to the gate agent who counted the stubs, realized there was one too many, and noticed the small difference of a B instead of an L… I am also eternally grateful to Air Traffic Control who delayed two planes for ten minutes and probably subsequently had to adjust flights for hours so that one stupid girl could get home.

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About reneadijab

Renea Dijab

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2 Comments on “Please Press The Flight Attendant Call Button”

  1. thelastsongiheard Says:

    That’s fantastic! I mean, it’s not fantastic that you had that experience, but it’s still a great story… do you know what I’m even talking about? I think this is my first comment on your blog and I feel like I’m royally f’ing it up.

    Anyway, it’s not often I’ll enjoy reading a post as much as this – I loved it LOL Funny and endearing – and yes, I remember smoking on a plane too… and no cell phones, no internet, none of that use-your-smartphone-as-a-boarding-pass malarkey.., oh how the world has changed LOL


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