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Distant Lands

Wednesday, 05 March 2008

It's Not You, It's Your Airline: Flight Leader From Hell

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Made it.  Something more than 20.5 hours, all told, but made it.  The child was actually really good, except for a couple incidents on the Paris-Atlanta leg.  Those were exacerbated by the Flight Leader, who wouldn’t allow me to walk him in the aisles.  She also woke him up from his Benadryl-induced nap, just to mess with his pillow. 

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That's the summary; now the details:  The kidlet was pretty happy during the ride to the airport, pointing out taxis and cars and then airplanes.  He was thrilled to be on the plane, nose pressed to glass, reporting on all the busses and tractors and trucks and airplanes moving around the airport.  He thought driving down the runway was neat.  Then we stopped to wait for our turn to take off, and he sat back from the window, looked at me, and said, “All done.” 


I explained that he should really wait a moment before deciding he was done with this trip, since we had about 17 hours to go. 

The thrill of takeoff convinced him to hang out for a while, but later, over Nova Scotia, he started asking me to let him go outside.

Still, all in all he was amazingly good, and everyone said how wonderful he was.  I drugged him with Benadryl during our layover in Paris - we'd already been travelling for 8 hours and he'd been awake for 12, and I have the kind of child who can't sleep outside of a sensory deprivation tank.  My plan was to make the most of our business class seats by reclining his and tucking him in and letting him sleep for the 8 transatlantic hours.

Like most plans, it did not survive first contact with the enemy.

In this case, the enemy was a woman in her late 50s wearing about 5 pounds of cubic zirconia randomly distributed on her ears.  She was the Alpha Pack Member of the flight crew, and unfortunately, the attendant for our seats.  I had given my son the window seat, in part for his entertainment, and in part so I could be a physical barrier between him (or his toys) and other passengers (a lesson learned on a previous flight).  For once, the Benadryl actually worked and he was asleep before the meal came.  I asked the attendant if I could get something for him later, after he woke up, and she said sure.  I ate in peace, then reclined my own seat to nap.

About 20 minutes later I felt something against my leg.  I lifted my mask to see the attendant leaning over me, doing something to my child.  Stifling my initial response, which involved physical violence (apparently those primal urges to protect our young are still there), I asked what she was doing.  She said, "He needs a pillow." Sure enough, she was trying to lift him up and cram a pillow under his head.  I said, "No, he doesn't, and please don't disturb him."  She said, still focused on shoving a pillow under him, "Yes he does!"  At that point, of course, he woke up from the disturbance and started to cry.  She actually got a little moue of distaste and departed.

Once up, he wouldn't go back to sleep.  We played video games, we played matchbox cars, we read books, we attempted to watch a movie, everything.  I let him stand in the space between our seats and the seats in front of us so we could play, and I let him sit on the floor (sometimes he sleeps on airplane floors).  The attendant came by twice and told me he had to remain in his seat.  Even though the seat belt light wasn't on I tried to comply, but the poor kid had to move around, and I was keeping him in our space.  Also, I asked repeatedly for some lunch for him.  In theory, business class travellers are supposed to get food when they ask for it.  Other people in the cabin were.  My son never did. 

At last I walked up to the galley with him.  I figured he could use the walk, and I could see if they had food out.  Two other attendants were there, and I explained that he hadn't gotten any lunch and I was hoping I could get some leftovers for him.  They said sure, and asked me what I wanted.  Then the Flight Leader appeared and actually raised her voice at me, saying I wasn't allowed in the galley and children were absolutely not allowed there.  I've been on roughly 150 flights and have never been told to leave the galley, so I was stunned.  I said, "If you'd brought him food any of the times I'd asked, I wouldn't have to be here."  That really pissed her off, but she just said, "Go back to your seat and I will bring you something."

I didn't see her for over an hour. 

However, about 20 minutes after that, one of the attendants who'd been in the galley came by my seat and asked if we'd been served, then came back with a plate of cold cuts, cheese, and grapes for us.

Things came to a head when it was time for our second diaper change. I got him out of his seat and ready to go so that I could get into the bag with the diapers.  While I was doing that, the attendant came over and said "He cannot be in the aisle!  Children are not allowed to block the aisles!"  I replied politely that we were getting ready to go to the bathroom.  "You have to keep him out of the aisle!" she reiterated.  "I'm in charge of the security of this plane, and you have to keep him under control!!"

I'm pretty sure my jaw actually dropped.  So did other peoples' jaws.  All the businessmen around me responded at once, saying that my child had been wonderfully quiet, was not bothering anybody, was not out of control, had not been blocking the aisles, etc.  Under the barrage, the Flight Leader fled again.  I gratefully thanked the men, one of whom said "I don't know how you are surviving without being able to walk him in the aisles."

I don't know how we survived the whole 20 hour flight without any sleep, since that leg was our only shot at sleep.  I know that flight attendants are not airbone waitresses.  I try to be an easy passenger.  But, Dear Flight Leader:  without customers, you have no job.  The whole reason there are passenger flights is "passengers."  I know it's a weird environment post 9/11, but please don't let your desire to be a control freak get the better of you.

I wrote the airline when I got to my new home.  The other attendants were both professional and considerate, but this one made an expensive and long trip amazingly painful, and I've since selected away from that airline when I can.

Posted in Europe : Toddler by Raq W. at 9:11 PMPermalink

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