Warm, wet vomit trickles down my leg. It looks like the contents of an airline’s children’s meal. Pasta pieces, chicken nuggets and what appear to be the dribbling remnants of a chocolate bar. I have already sat down for landing, so there is nowhere for me to go when the child next to me begins to empty the contents of his stomach while the plane makes its final descent. As the wheels roll down, vomit runs down the aisle like the chocolate elf in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The flight was already delayed before departure, and let us stow in the sparkling heat of the runway for over an hour, so the smell of half-digested bolognese really adds insult to injury. “Do you want to do something about it?” a passenger asks me with disgust.
Once you have vomited enough, it really kills your self-esteem. I do not have children, but I think that if one of my children projected body fluids to a total stranger, I could at least offer them hand disinfection. But the parents do not make such a gesture.
This is just the latest hilarious example of what it means to be a cabin crew member in 2022. I’m apparently responsible for every bad experience passengers have had so far with this airline. You put on the uniform and accept the role. It’s a lot like acting; during this particular event i have to behave as if i do not want to jump out the window. “Yes, of course,” I say. I bend my leg so that the vomit pieces slide off the floor. “I’m sending for the cleaners now.”
Passengers are especially tense this summer with travel chaos, and in my cabin crew uniform I am the physical embodiment of all their flying ailments. Frustration over lost luggage, delays and canceled flights is exacerbated by the holidays lost to Covid. They would probably throw up on me if they had a chance. People forget that people in uniform are real people.
Staff shortages in the aviation industry only increase the likelihood of difficult meetings. On the same plane, a man comes towards me. I know that look. If it was a cartoon, he would get steam out of his ears. He tries to compose himself before speaking. Like Al Pacino’s smoldering rage in The Godfather, Controlled anger is sometimes even more frightening than explosiveness. When people are out of control, it is almost easier to deal with.
He tells of a series of offenses committed by the airline: lost bags and prams, delayed flights, a night at the airport, all while sticking a finger at me as if I were the brain that had planned and orchestrated it all. It always entertains me when people talk to me like I was CEO: “Your business is a disgrace, how dare you treat people like that.” I wish that, buddy. I wish. I’m just a very small player with a very small salary, but it’s part of my job to take it, so I do.
I listen and try to look sympathetic. As sympathetic as it is humanly possible, because when a man is as angry as this guy, if you show an ounce rude, you’re done. I’m sorry. I am very sorry. I’ve said so much lately.
As soon as I’m out of safety, I take off my uniform. I used to leave it on the way home, but now, if you’re anywhere near the airport, you’re an unofficial PR representative for the entire airline industry.
I sit on the tube and hope no one recognizes me from the flight. I can finally relax and turn off until tomorrow. It is one good with this job, you rarely take the job home, I think. Then I look down and see a piece of chicken lump attached to the side of my shoe. Oh, the glamor.