The scariest little flight attendant

May 26, 2009, 4:46 PM UTC

It’s been a little while since I talked about the horrors of contemporary air travel.  Either I’ve become so desensitized to the situation or it’s gotten better in the last year or so, I don’t know. Either way, my head hasn’t flown off my shoulders in quite some time. Which made my experience of JetBlue the other day all the more rich and surprising.

I’ll just tell it to you as it happened. You can judge whether I’m over-reacting. I do sometimes.

My wife and I were in the exit row of the 5:59 JetBlue flight out of JFK to San Francisco. Because I love her, I took the middle seat and she had the aisle. The flight was on time. Everything was moving very smoothly. The general air of JetBlue jolly, democratic collegiality prevailed. All our bags were neatly stowed. I had placed my wife’s wheely bag, which is perfectly sized to go into the overhead compartment wheels first, and my backpack, which contained my beloved MacBook, up there, and neatly inserted her folded topcoat and my favorite sport jacket on top of our stuff.

As always, there is always one butthead who appears just as the doors are closing and requires immediate assistance for seating and stowage. Indeed, here he came, and with him, following close by, a very neat, very tidy, very trim gate agent with the passenger’s wheely bag in tow. The late arrival went back to his seat in the rear of the plane. The flight attendant began to look for an overhead compartment to put his bag. He selected ours, which was already rather full not only with our possessions but those of several others. The flight attendant opened the compartment door and immedately began violently jamming the new bag into a space that he perceived existed somewhere in the interstitial zone between everybody’s luggage.

“Excuse me,” I said to him, as he repeatedly mashed the bag into the imaginary space, “are you squashing our coats up there?”

“It is company policy that rolling bags take precedence,” he snapped. “You can put your coats on the floor.” I thought this was rather severe. If I had wanted to put my coat on the floor I would have already done so. Also, I have a thing about officious people with a tiny bit of power being mean to me. Call it an occupational hazard.

“Also,” I said as he banged and slammed the new bag into our stuff, “I have a computer up there, so please be gentle.” By now he had taken our coats out and tossed them onto our laps. Then he removed my wife’s wheely bag, which was superbly positioned, in order to fit in his load. That done, he once again began jamming and cramming my wife’s bag into the space that now no longer really could accomodate it.

“This doesn’t fit,” he said. At that point he took out my bag and deposited it into my lap. So all our luggage and carry-ons were now out of the position we had established for them. My wife is a patient woman, a fact she has proven time and again by continuing to favor me with her presence.

“I’ve been on a hundred JetBlue flights with that bag,” she said calmly, “and it fits perfectly if you put it in wheels first.” He was now violently mashing it handle first into the spot. At that point, I believe he bumped my wife. She says no, because she is a non-violent type and likes to avoid confrontation, but I’m pretty sure I saw her leap a bit out of her seat and say, “Oh!”

Several things then happend simultaneously. She took out a little notebook and pen — as the increasingly desperate re-loading of the compartment continued — and I leaned forward in my seat in order to see his name badge. She then wrote down his name in block letters: PATRICK. And he, having finally completed his task, looked down and saw her do it.

“May I see your boarding pass, please?” he said, and it wasn’t a request.

“Of course,” said my wife. I wondered if she still had it. Sometimes we all toss our passes once we’re on the plane. She hunted about for it. For a while it looked like she was going to have to get her bag down again, but then yes, there it was, in her purse on her lap. “May I ask why you want to see my boarding pass?” she mildly inquired.

“Well!” said PATRICK, “you are writing down MY name and I would like to see the name of the person who is writing down MY name.” He then regarded the boarding pass closely and I thought rather ominously. He then reluctantly handed it back, and then went up to the cockpit, where he gave us the evil eye until the doors of the plane were closing, at which point he left. At some point, I got up and put my bag and our jackets back in the place that was left for them.

I still wonder what PATRICK would have done if my wife had been unable to unearth her boarding pass from our mass of scrambled belongings.

I will say that the on-board flight crew seemed especially nice to us for the entire flight. Perhaps they were afraid of these two obvious troublemakers. Or perhaps they knew this gate agent. Don’t you know the character of the people you work with every day, particularly the scary ones?