Thursday, March 19, 2015

And Finally, a De-briefing

I call it a de-briefing.

Back in my life as a TWA flight attendant, we always had a flight briefing 1 hour and 45 minutes before a flight. The entire crew would meet and discuss every anticipated activity and many unanticipated possibilities, pre-, during, and post-flight.  The Captain would tell us flight plans - traffic control, weather, time anticipated in the air, any turbulence expected, etc. We would receive a flight manifest telling us how many passengers to expect (410 on a full 747, back in the day of "marginally-comfortable" international seating), any special meals (the flights to Tel Aviv were pretty busy at meal time, given the amount of kosher special meals to dole out up & down the aisle.), and any special passengers on board: unaccompanied minors, handicapped, prisoners, armed air marshals, stretcher patients, name it, we had a heads-up on passengers beyond the norm.  We would also be given names of any passengers of notoriety on board our flight.

Our debriefings happened 45 minutes after each flight.  We would scurry through customs in time to meet these mandatory meetings.  On very rare occasions, our crew would be stopped and sent to guarded restrooms, so that we could "donate" to the drug abatement movement.  (i.e., pee in a cup for drug testing.)

That was twenty years ago.  I suspect, perhaps, that there is much more security involved in briefings nowdays, and MUCH LESS inflight service awareness.  That's a guess, based on my eight flights on our trip to and from Australia last month.

How were my flights?  Well, I won't complain.  They were not great.  But, they were not horrendous.  I have heard anecdotes about horrendous flights.  Sometimes these tales are told by folks that just don't have a clue about travel and flexibility.  Seating on my flights to Australia were full-loads.  No wiggle room.  That was snug and not snug-as-a-bug comfortable way.   Coming home, I got to fly on a brand-new 787!  This was exciting for me.  The 787 is made of "lighter-weight" (my description, not an engineer's) composite material which allows it to fly using less fuel consumption.  My plane had fun windows: instead of pulling down the shade in our standard aircrafts, I could tap the window itself and the "shade" would darken as much or as little as I liked.  No mechanics here, I don't think?  I think it was computerized.  I don't know.  It might have been magic.

Food to and from rural Kansas was not one whit anything to brag about.  More to muse the reality of some of the food.  REALLY?  Interestingly, last week I was opening my Baking with Julia Child cookbook, and an Air France menu fell out.  It was from a flight I took about sixteen years ago, in Coach Class, not First Class:

As our trip to Australia was towards its end, we were delayed due to winter weather in Dallas.  Yes, even though my flight did not go to Dallas, my flight to Chicago was delayed.  This is where, as a former airline employee, I get it.  Many passengers don't.  If a plane is halted by weather at Point C, then Points A and B cannot coordinate any aircraft flights to Points D,E,F,G, or H.  Simple.  More difficulty comes when the cockpit crew from Point C is stalled and cannot meet its next flight from Point D to Point L.  And the flight crew (flight attendants) from Point S which were to meet up with their next flight to Point 500 are still back in their second leg of their day, Point K.

So, this is what air travel was like upon our return to the U.S.A. But then - let's get back to airlines and such.  The planes are stuck all over the U.S.A.  So are the cockpit crews and the flight attendant crews.  FAA (Federal Airline Administration) requires so much rest inbetween flights.  This is a good thing.  It's a safety thing!!  But it sure does wreak havoc on weeks like the one of our return.  Not only are the airports all over the U.S.A. dealing with ice and de-icing, delayed flights and cancelled flights, blah blah blah, but then the poor Crew Scheduling from each airline is dealing with something the likes of Checkers+Chess+Stratego+Risk+Canasta.  I always made sure I spoke kindly to our Crew Schedulers.

And in closing, let me say that I made it home very late the day of my return.  I took a hotel in Kansas City rather than drive home in the two extra hours of dark.  I was much better for it in the morning.  That Spouse o' Mine, on a flight later in the week, did not fare so well, and ended up experiencing an odyssey of jet lag and sleep deprivation, all on the concrete floors of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport - with, as he exclaimed to me one evening, "With the REST of America!!"  (He was toast, apparently.)   At one point, he also told me over the phone that he had been handed four boarding passes, to four different gates, and had been admonished by the gate attendant, "If the first flight is cancelled, then RUN to the next flight!"  In this conversation, I tried to cajole him, saying, "Just go to a quiet corner and play some Chess."  He replied, very irritated, "I can't think!  I can't THINK!!"

And so it went.  We are home.

Home again, home, again, Jiggety-jig.

Thanks be to God.

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