Beach read alert! If you're looking for a travel-themed tell-all that spills the beans on the friendly—and sometimes frisky—skies, pick up a copy of not one, but two eye-opening flight attendant memoirs.
In the tradition of 1960s bestseller Coffee, Tea or Me?, Mandy Smith's no-holds-barred memoir, Cabin Fever: The Sizzling Secrets of a Virgin Airlines Flight Attendant, recounts stories from love affairs to mid-flight scares over 12 years as a Virgin Atlantic flight attendant. Frequent fliers may find the content a little too close for comfort; for example, she shares her opinions about Premium Economy passengers:
People who can't quite afford Upper Class but feel they can click their fingers and demand the world, simply because they've paid a few hundred quid more than an Economy passenger for a little extra leg room and a slightly bigger seat. That's why we nicknamed them the Gin and Tonic Brigade; they believe they deserve as many freebies as they can get their hands on, which most often results in them drinking the complimentary bar service dry.
Smith compares her job with that of a waitress, nurse, therapist, policewoman and negotiator combined. I enjoyed her account of maintaining her cool during a stressful situation; I guess I'm not the only passenger who takes her cue from the flight attendants:
I was fully aware that every single person in the cabin was scrutinizing my demeanor with anxious eyes, making sure I was not wearing an expression that screamed, "We're going to crash." We know the score: watch the air hostesses, and if we're not panicking, you know everything is okay. That's why we look so bloody cheerful all the time. Anyone who thinks being an air hostess is all about serving tea and coffee and looking pretty is kidding themselves. It takes stamina, patience, commitment...and a whole load of acting talent.
Moving across the pond from the UK to the USA, veteran flight attendant and media maven Heather Poole's bestseller, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet, dishes on everything from finding love to first-year wages that qualify flight attendants for food stamps.
If you've ever been curious about grooming standards—for a profession that requires at least one-inch heels for women—Poole tells this story:
Lipstick, at flight attendant training, was serious business. It had to be worn at all times. "Why?" asked a classmate who had dared not to wear the color my airline had recommended that year, Clinique red..."So passengers can read your lips during an emergency," said an instructor, matter-of-factly. None of us knew if he was serious.
And if you've ever wondered what kind of crazy behavior flight attendants have seen, Poole gives this shortlist:
In flight, I've seen passengers get naked, attempt to open an emergency door in order to get off the "bus," reach inside a first-class meal cart and eat leftover food from a dirty plate, and get hit on the head by luggage—then threaten to sue the airline because the injury had affected their psychic abilities. Once I watched an entire group of passengers traveling to Haiti put a voodoo curse on a coworker...and I've seen a woman try to store her baby inside an overhead bin.
A flight attendant's first priority is passenger safety. So, be nice! Even a smile and a few kind words can set you apart from other passengers, and that—according to the experts—is the best way to score a blanket or an extra snack.
This post is written by Trip Styler's Assistant Wayfarer/Editor Heather.
[images via penguin and harper collins]