by Christine Blackburn

When I was 23, I was tired of waitressing on the ground, and thought, hey maybe it would be more fun to be a waitress on an airplane, so I started my quest to become a flight attendant.

The first thing you go through, if you want to be a flight attendant, is an open house. There were about 150 people sitting in the ballroom of the Sewickley Country Inn, on Ohio River Blvd in Pittsburgh, and each person got one minute to stand up and introduce themselves. From this minute, the airline would determine if they wanted to interview you further, and let me just say, they probably only needed to hear 30 seconds from most people....They all sounded the same “I love people, I love to travel...” Who cares what you like to do, I thought.

One girl got up and said “I love people, I love travelling, so I figure, people/travel/flight attendant, am I right?” When my turn came around, I stood up and say “I hate people, but I know how to deal with them.” because I was so cool and 23. Everyone sort of sat up and paid attention, and sure enough, I got called back for the second interview and after a thorough medical exam, I eventually got accepted into the training program.

And this is where the fun starts. Flight attendant training was the most useless school I’ve ever attended. It lasted 6 weeks and all the trainees stayed in the same hotel. The Royce Hotel on Beers School Road in Moon Township Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. Now you take 200 mostly 20 something’s and put them in a hotel for 6 weeks together, and there are going to be hijinks.

It was like a giant dorm, with all of us running up and down the hallways, gossiping, people were sleeping with each other. Lisa Dakin, my 3rd roommate slept with the captain on our training flight. Lisa and I were partnered up to fly to Denver and back for a training flight. On the way back the pilots called us up to the cockpit and asked us if we wanted to go to the Hangar when we landed. Did you ever notice bars near airports are always named like The Hangar, the Cockpit? Anyways, I didn’t go to the bar that night, but Lisa did, and yes, she slept with the pilot.

The point is flight attendants are whores..I’m kidding. Just Lisa Dakin. So, I had this idea that the majority of time in training would be spent on safety, how to open the emergency door, how to use a fire extinguisher. Wrong.

The first thing we learned was “make weight.” Every week, we had to stand single file, against a wall, and then they’d call our names and we had to go get on the scale. and one. “Blackburn 5’4” maximum weight 120 pounds. “Weighs 119. Return to class!”

If you didn’t “make weight” you were kicked out right there on the spot. They would put you on a van and drive directly to the airport, and fly you back to wherever you came from. The weigh-in was brutal. I burned through 2 roommates that didn’t make weight.

They kicked people out for all sorts of reasons; the wrong nail polish, your haircut, not wearing a beige bra. We’d come back from the break and someone’s books would always be gone. “Oh no, gone!” Well, now that I think of it, her earrings were bigger than a quarter. We started training with 200 people and graduated with 100.

We also talked a lot about our uniforms in training. For instance, we had to wear high heel shoes at all times unless we were “in the air,” then you put your flats on. You could have flown 12 hours that day and if a supervisor saw you walking through the terminal in flats, you’d get written up. For 7 years, I only wore navy pumps and beige bras.

And we had to wear a “serving garment” or apron, in the air but never on take off and landing, then you needed to have on your double-breasted blazer. To illustrate this point, one time, during Accident Week, (it’s like Shark Week but with airplane crashes,) we were watching this Air Florida plane... crash in Washington DC and into the Potomac River. Only five people survived including a flight attendant who was pulled up out of the river by a fricking helicopter.

She’s dangling from this rope and she’s hanging on and there are icebergs in the water, and she’s in her serving garment. The instructor stops the tape and says, “You see? You see? Is that what you want? Do you want to be on national television in your serving garment?”

Let me demonstrate just how USELESS all this flight attendant training turned out to be. About 6 months later, I’m flying JFK -West Palm Beach. Let me just say, the passengers on the JFK-West Palm Beach flight can be defined in 2 words. Kosher Meal.

This flight is packed and I’m working first class. All of a sudden, a woman from 5A comes walking up to the galley and whispers to me “Excuse me, stewardess. I just wanted to inform you that Mr.Klein, in 5C, just passed away.” I’m sorry what? “I’m his nurse. He’s dead.” Then she turns around and sits back down next to him. What the fuck? This I DO NOT remember in flight attendant school!

So, I get out the flight attendant manual. “If a passenger dies on your flight, do not be alarmed. Place an oxygen mask over their nose and mouth, adjust the elastic band around their head, and act normally. You may also want to put a blanket in their lap.”

So I get an oxygen bottle and a blanket and head back into coach, and then I see this guy. He’s 147 years old he’s in the window seat, and he is dead, dead, dead. “Hey Mr. Klein, I heard you’re not feeling well. (I’m turning on the little air thing.) How about a little extra oxygen? And the nurse is helping me put the elastic band around his head. “What’s that? You’re a little cold? Here’s a blanket.”

I go up and tell the pilots and they say, well, if the nurse says he’s dead, he’s dead. And the flight continues with a dead guy in 5C. And right before we land, I take off my serving garment, put my pumps back on and check on Mr. Klein one more time. Yep, still dead.

Once we’re on the ground, I assume we will let all of the passengers off and then get the dead guy off. But no, we land, we taxi into the gate, and I open the door and paramedics rush in with a straight back chair and wheel it back to 5A. And the charade continues. “O-k, Mr. Klein, here we go, how are you feeling? Just stay calm, we have you.” They strap his arms around his chest, tighten the belts and then basically “dolly” him off the plane.

At this point, I’m just going by what I was taught in flight attendant school: “Bye, bye Mr. Klein, thanks for flying with us. See you next time.”