September 30th, 1989

September 30th, 1989

Stuck on the TriStar, on the tarmac in Delhi, India.

Flying as much as we do, you quickly become familiar with the workings of the ‘plane and soon get to know which sounds are normal, and more importantly, the ones that are not.

Shortly after we took off for Delhi this evening, while Laney and I were still strapped in our jumpseats, we gave each other a knowing look that said, “That doesn’t sound right.”

The Captain’s voice came over the PA. “Ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain speaking. I do apologize for the inconvenience but we will shortly be returning to the stand, where we will…”

Laney nudged my side and in a hushed tone, with her hand over her mouth, she asked, “Do you know what’s happening?”

“I would if you hadn’t interrupted what the Captain is saying.”

“It’s the undercarriage,” she whispered. “I’ve had this happen before.”
“What was the outcome?”

The phone rang and Laney answered it. I smiled reassuringly at the frightened looking middle-ages woman facing our jumpseats.

“Who was that?” I asked when Laney hung up.

“Fenny, ringing from the front. Apparently the undercarriage, see I told you, the undercarriage won’t go up. Fenny’s about to make an announcement, so buckle up because the passengers are not going to be happy campers.”

Two hours later, still on the ground, it was decided that we should do the drinks and meal service, if only to appease the more than disgruntled passengers.

Elderly male passenger in 28B; “When on earth are we going to Delhi? This is absolutely ridiculous. I need to get off and stretch my legs, I have problems with my veins, you know.”

Posh old bird in 34A; “I say, young lady, my husband (no sign of a husband) mistakenly packed my heart pills in my luggage. Is there any possible way that you or one of those (she pointed outside to the ground crew) people down there could fetch them?”

Too young to be complaining girl in 36B; “If I, like, miss my next flight to, like, Cat Man Do because of this, I’m, like, gonna be, like, way unhappy with, like, you guys.”

Boy in 36C trying desperately to impress the girl who couldn’t pronounce Kathmandu correctly; “I’m never flying with British Airways ever again.”

When Mr. Fenwick came into the galley with an update, he made us laugh when he said, “Basically, the bugger won’t budge.”

And it still hasn’t, so we’re still here on the aircraft, almost five hours after we were due to depart. The passengers are all off but apparently they’ll be boarding (again) in half an hour so we can give it one last shot to see if the undercarriage will co-operate.

I really need some chocolate mousse.

 

September 29th, 1989

September 29th, 1989

Flight from DEL – AUH

Hilton Hotel, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Call time in Delhi was two thirty am. An unearthly hour when one’s stomach does not appreciate getting up and doing silly things like taking a shower. Putting on make-up and a uniform when you should be in bed always feels unnatural and is certainly not my favourite thing about working for British Airways.

When we arrived in Abu Dhabi, there was a message from crewing in London to say our trip has been extended and we need to operate one more sector back to Delhi before we can fly home.

I was absolutely knackered but I think the news of the change made me feel even worse. I went to bed for a few hours then met most of our crew for dinner, during which most of the conversation centred around the difficulties that arise when something like this happens and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Quite a few of our crew are parents of young children and I can’t imagine what a nightmare it must be trying to juggle your family life, from thousands of miles away.

The change to this trip means I’ve been taken off the LA, which, needless to say, I’m really upset about. I’ve had my heart set on going to see David and now I have no idea when that will happen.

At this point, eleven days into the trip, all I want to do is go home.

 

September 28th, 1989

September 28th, 1989

Hyatt Hotel, Delhi, India

Call time is three hours from now but I don’t think sleep is on the agenda. I’m finding it difficult to keep up with the time changes on this trip, plus yesterday’s excursion to the Taj Mahal was exhausting, albeit absolutely worth it.

After a relaxing morning lounging in my room, Laney and I met and caught a tuk-tuk to the market where David and I had our chance meeting.

“How does it feel being here again?” Laney asked as we weaved our way through the crowded market.

“I like this market but nothing will ever top that day with David. What do you think of this?” I asked, picking up a white, cotton shirt.

“That thing is filthy,” she said, squirming.

“I don’t care,” I stated. “I love it enough to buy it.”

“It’ll make everything in your suitcase smell awful.”

“I’ll chuck it in a plastic bag and wash it when I get home.”

“I hope the shirt David bought you wasn’t that grubby.”

“For your information,” I said, “It was clean as a whistle. So there.” Then without meaning to, I added, “I can’t wait to go to London with him again.”

“What?”

“Uh,” I stuttered, “I think I’m just a bit nervous about seeing him again.”

“When are you seeing him?”

“Late next week of course.”

“He’s coming back to London already?” she asked.

“No, my next trip is a four day LA,” I said matter-of-factly.

She stared at me. “You just said something about London.”

I laughed. “I know.”

“But you’re going to Los Angeles?”

“Yes.”

“You never told me that.”

“I thought I did.”

“You did not.”

“Sorry, I thought I’d mentioned it.”

“No, you never mentioned it.” Her tone was more than accusing.

“Ok, ok,” I said, throwing my hands in the air. “Sorry,” I said, unsure why I was apologizing.

We didn’t speak for a while, which felt very awkward but I was determined not to be the one to break the silence. I was racking my brain trying to figure out why Laney had reacted the way she had, when suddenly, she said, “Let’s go for a champi.”

“A what?” I asked.

“Champi,” she smiled. “A head massage.”

“Ok.”

“Just ok?” she asked, with a scowl.

Perhaps in another climate my reaction would’ve been different, but in today’s heat, with sweat trickling down my back, I glared at her. “How would you like me to respond, Laney?”

“I was just kidding.”

I was surprised but mostly relieved when, a few minutes later, she linked her arm through mine. “You’re going to think you’ve died and gone to heaven when you experience champi for the first time.”

No, I thought, I’m going to think I’ve died and gone to heaven next week in Los Angeles, when I “go to London,” again, with David.

 

September 27th, 1989

image
September 27th, 1989
Hyatt Hotel, Delhi, India

Instead of falling into bed this morning, after flying all night, Laney and I booked a trip to Agra, to see the Taj Mahal.

Forty minutes after checking in, we caught a taxi to the spot where the coach was due to depart. When Laney concluded that the taxi driver was trying to rip us off, she started arguing with him, which only made him drive even faster through the heavily congested streets.

Fifteen minutes and several close calls later, the two of them were still bickering. The driver stood his ground and it was obvious Laney wasn’t getting anywhere with him. I didn’t want to miss the coach, so with just a smile and three words, I got him to agree to a price, less than half of what he originally quoted.

“Honestly Laney,” I said, when we finally stepped out of the taxi.
She laughed. “I can’t believe it was that simple.”
“British Airways crew. That’s all you had to say.”
“Yeah,” she said, “but I think it was your smile that sealed the deal.”

Instead of the coach we were expecting, the transportation was a rusty, old van, with gaping holes where the windows should have been.
“This is it?” Laney asked the driver, while he checked our tickets.
“Yes miss,” he said. “You make comfortable yourself.”
“How long is the journey?” she asked, in a somewhat snippy tone.
“Miss, travel time is for Taj Mahal three hours. Maybe more.”
“Three hours in this?” she screamed. “We’ll never last that long with no air conditioning.”
“I am promising, miss, I drive fast,” he replied in his lovely lilt, with more than a hint of a smile.
Laney glared at me when a slight chuckle dared to escape my lips.

Half an hour into the journey, weighing at least (hopefully!) half a stone less from perspiring, the van suddenly screeched to a halt, propelling us forward.
“What the…” Laney yelled.
The driver interrupted her. “Miss and misters, please in seats stay,” he announced, as Laney made her way to the front of the van.
“There’s a cow in the middle of the road,” she enunciated. “Do you see it?” she asked nobody in particular.
There was much clicking of cameras and general sounds of disapproval, uttered in various languages.
“Can you shoo it away?” she asked the driver.
“No, no, no, miss,” he said, shaking his head. “Cow is the source of progress and prosperity.”
Laney pursed her lips, clearly at a loss for words.
“The words of Mahatma Gandhi,” he smiled. “A wise man.”
“Indeed,” she said, stepping out of the van.

The sacred cow made no attempt to move off the road, during which time the local children surrounded the van and held out their hands while Laney and I dished out fruit pastilles and polo mints.
“I wish we had more sweets on us,” I sighed.
“Or something to draw with,” she said.
“I’ve got some hotel stationery and a few pens.”
“You do? Why?” she asked.
“Eh, I just always carry something to write with in case I feel the need to, eh, write.”
“Go and get them,” she ordered.

I thought the heat outside was unbearable, until I stepped into the van. I grabbed the pens and the one pencil I had, from my backpack, as well as the embossed stationery from the Hyatt.

“Brilliant,” Laney said, as I passed her my precious stash.
I looked at the sea of young, questioning faces gathered around us. “We don’t have enough paper or pens for everyone.”
She waved her hand in a dismissive fashion. “Who wants a picture?” she shouted.
Her raised voice caught the attention of some of the children.

Laney sat on the ground and quickly sketched a picture of an aeroplane. She held it up and passed it to a little boy standing over her. Then she tore a sheet of paper in half and handed it, along with a pen to a tiny, barefoot girl, who looked about four or five.
“Your turn,” Laney said softly.

The little girl smiled shyly and sat on the ground beside me. Laney passed me a few sheets of paper that I tore into four pieces, each. She gave me an approving nod and did the same. When I doled out the pieces of paper, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the younger children were missing either a few fingers, or toes.

I stood up and held up a pen. In a bold voice I never knew I had, I shouted. “Do any of you have pens or pencils?”
Everyone started rummaging through their bags and pockets and not only did we gather enough writing utensils for each child but more sweets, most of which I didn’t recognize.

Feeling beyond wilted but not daring to complain, I got Laney’s attention.
“Look,” I mouthed, tilting my head in the direction of the cow, as it raised itself from the road and started moving slowly in the opposite direction.
“Time to go,” Laney said with a heavy sigh.

Back in the van, the kids reached their hands through the window openings and we squeezed their fingers and retuned their sweet smiles and waved as we drove off.
We learned today that Taj Mahal, means, “Crown of Palaces.” And that the beautiful, unique structure was built to house the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of the emperor Shah Jahan, who was heartbroken when his wife died giving birth to their fourteenth child. It took some 20,000 workers and assistance from 1,000 elephants, twenty- two years to complete. It is made mostly of white marble, laced through which, are intricate pieces of various gemstones, which make it sparkle.

But I think what I truly learned today went above and beyond any facts on the construction of the Taj Mahal.

September 26, 1989

September 26th, 1989

Night flight from AUH – DEL

And now to India, after a very eventful twenty-four hours in Abu Dhabi, where we wasted no time checking into the hotel, changing and heading out again with most of our crew. Including Simon, the First Officer.

“Sorry you didn’t make it to the bar in KL,” he said, while we made our way to Safari (aka the hotel disco.)

“Oh, Simon, I’m so glad you brought that up. I ought to give you those drinks vouchers back.”

“Whatever for?” he asked, sounding smug.

“Just in case you want to pass them onto someone else.” I smiled and made sure he was looking at me. “Like, Mavis, for example.”

He didn’t utter a word, stepped up his gait and caught up with some of the guys on our crew.

In Safari, the VIP area was roped off and Laney asked Mavis if she’d heard about “The Boxes.”

“The what?”
We clued Mavis in and her response was outrage, shock and indignation. Until the first box arrived.

“Can I take a peek?” Mavis asked, taking the Cartier box from the outstretched hand of the man sent to deliver such.

“Don’t you dare!” yelled Laney.

Mavis reluctantly passed the box back to the short man. He looked at me.

“No thank you,” I said, holding up my hand.

Laney jumped up. “Don’t come back,” she hissed, towering over him. “Do you understand?”

He bowed and scurried off.

“That was horrible,” Mavis said sounding perturbed.

“I know,” Laney said, “but we can’t afford to get tied up in any of that.”

When we were on the dance floor, several hours later, we watched as “the courier,” approached a group of girls who’d just arrived in the club.

“What do you think they’ll do?” Mavis asked.

“Hopefully the right thing,” I said.

One of the girls, a very tall blonde, gleefully removed a jewel-encrusted bangle from the box and slipped it on her wrist.

“That’s interesting,” I said.

“What?” Mavis asked.

“They usually start with earrings first.”

“Maybe she’s been here before,” Mavis suggested. “Do you think those girls are crew?”

“They don’t look like BA crew,” said Laney.

“Regardless,” I said. “We should go over and fill them in.”

We spent the rest of the night with the girls who, it turns out, were Australian models on a magazine shoot. They were more than happy that we approached them to explain what might be expected if they were to accept the Cartier boxes. In fact we ended up having such a fun time with them that we didn’t leave the club‘ til five this morning!

Laney and Mavis came back to my room, where we lounged for the rest of the day. We did consider going out but the lovely air conditioning was blasting and the room service choices at the Abu Dhabi Hilton are fab.

Sadly, Mavis was rostered to fly back to London with another crew but at least she didn’t leave with any extra jewelry!

 

September 25th, 1989

image.pngSeptember 25th, 1989

Night flight from KUL – AUH

At three this morning, there was a not so gentle knock on my door. I peered through the peephole to see Laney and Mavis, slightly swaying, clutching each other’s arm.

“Sorry,” I laughed, opening to door to them. “This is a lush free zone.”

“Obviously not,” Mavis slurred, making her way through the door.

“We need tea and toast,” Laney said.

“And carrot cake,” Mavis added.

They each had a look of surprise when they noticed that half the king size bed was covered in reams of pages I’d just written.

“What are you planning on doing with all of those?” Mavis gestured with her hand.

“Nothing,” I said.

“Can I read some of them?” she asked, reaching for a few pages.

“No, you may not,” I said, blocking her.

“Oohh, testy,” Laney quipped. “Did you write something about us?”

“Maybe,” I teased.

They left my room at five am, and we met again at nine for breakfast! It was over a hundred degrees today, so we spent most of it hiding under umbrellas by the pool before going back to our rooms to try and sleep before pick-up.

Fortunately, I did manage some shut-eye, so the flight, so far, has been good. Most of the passengers fell asleep shortly after take off so we’ve had plenty of time to ourselves in the galley, which led to lots of silly antics.

Next stop, Abu Dhabi.

 

September 24th, 1989

September 24th, 1989

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Met Mavis and Laney this morning for a trip to the outdoor market, where, as usual, it was mobbed and ridiculously humid, neither of which I enjoy. After several hours of traipsing around, wilting to death, I told the girls I’d had enough. They were in agreement that the weather was draining so we caught a taxi back to the hotel (fully air-conditioned, ah.)

I rang mum and dad from the lobby, just to check in and see how things were at home. Mum was getting ready for church but was pleased to tell me a letter had arrived, “With a lovely Japanese stamp.” Obviously David, from Tokyo. I was tempted to ask mum to open it and read it out to me, which I know she’d have been more than happy to do but I’ll be home in a week and can savour reading it then.

Took a nap then met Laney and Mavis in the lobby at seven. Headed to the Tin Mine at the Hilton hotel, which, according to their flyer is, “The Studio 54 of Malaysia.” The fact that Studio 54 closed in New York almost ten years ago obviously escaped the attention of the marketing department! Studio 54 is definitely one nightclub I’d have loved to go to, I love all the stories about the famed nightspot but the best one has to be when Bianca Jagger rode a white stallion around the club on her thirtieth birthday!

The Tin Mine was filled mostly with tourists, ex-pats and other airline crew and even with the dj playing some of my favourites, I just couldn’t get into it. By the time midnight rolled around, I felt groggy and tired, but not from alcohol (I only drank coke.) I told the girls I was wiped, so they walked me out to the taxi stand, then they went back inside.

I’m not tired at all now so I feel a writing marathon coming on and I know I shouldn’t, but I might have to order some chocolate mousse from room service, if only to keep my creative juices flowing.

So glad I remembered to pack my Sony Walkman, because the night would not be complete without dancing around the hotel room, with the headphones on, listening to Luther Vandross singing, “Never too Much.”

 

September 23rd, 1989

September 23rd, 1989

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Around four o’clock this morning, after a huge helping of chocolate mousse, I felt beyond bored, so I scribbled a note for Laney and made my way down the corridor, to her room.

Just as I was slipping the note under her door, she opened it, which made me jump. I let out a little scream.

“Come in quickly, before we get in trouble,” she said in a half whisper.

“You can’t sleep either?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m sorry I didn’t meet you and Mavis last night, I forgot to set the alarm and didn’t wake up ‘til eleven.”

“Me too,” I said. “Oh, shit.”

“What” she asked.

“I hope poor Mavis didn’t wait for us to show up.”

“Oh, I didn’t even think about that. Let’s go stick a note under her door to apologize.”

“You’re in your pj’s.”

“Nobody will see me at this hour,” she laughed.

An hour later, while Laney and I were gorging on toast and carrot cake (I know, totally bizarre combination) there was a light knock at the door.

Laney peered through the peephole. “It’s Mavis,” she said, opening the door.

“I’m so glad you left that note, hi Karen,” Mavis said, coming into the room. “I’ve been tossing and turning for hours. I was in such a deep sleep yesterday that I didn’t hear the alarm go off.”

“That flight really took it out of us,” I said.

“In seven years of flying I’ve never experienced such an awful flight,” Laney said.

“Aw, I was only fifteen when you started flying, Laney.”

“And I was only fourteen,” Mavis said.

“Hush your mouth, children,” Laney chuckled.

Mavis perched herself on the edge of the bed. “I didn’t wake up ‘til after eleven last night.”

Laney and I started laughing.

“What?” asked Mavis.

“We clearly have the same circadian rhythm,” I said.

“I don’t know that that is,” Mavis yawned, reaching for a slice of carrot cake, “but we’re definitely on the same wave length.”

I laughed. “Nothing like carrot cake for breakfast.”

Mavis brushed the crumbs off her lap. “Listen, you two, I have to tell you something, but you mustn’t say a word to anyone else on the crew.”

Laney gestured for Mavis to, “Go ahead.”

“When I woke up last night there was a note under my door.”

“Who was it from?” Laney asked.

“Simon, you know, Simon, the First Officer.”

I moved uncomfortably in the wing chair.

“What did he want?” Laney asked.

“It was weird, actually. He said he’d be in the hotel bar until about midnight and that he’d like me to meet and have a drink with him.”

“That’s a bit creepy,” Laney said, polishing off the last of the carrot cake.

“That’s what I thought, but it gets even stranger.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Inside the envelope were several vouchers for free drinks at the hotel bar.”

Laney put her hand over her mouth. “Are you kidding?”

“No,” Mavis said, shaking her head. “Isn’t that tacky?”

“That’s beyond tacky,” I said, hoping my face wouldn’t give anything away.

“Soooo tacky,” Laney agreed.

“You must both promise not to tell anyone on our crew. I’d be mortified if anyone found out.”

“Don’t worry,” Laney said, “we won’t say a word.”

 

September 22nd, 1989

September 22nd, 1989

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Arrived at the hotel at lunchtime, feeling completely wrecked from a long night filled with demanding, disgruntled passengers during what was, by far, the worst flight I’ve ever experienced.

On the crew bus, I sat with a cool girl called Laney, who joined our crew in Abu Dhabi. As shattered as we were, we still managed to gab all the way to the hotel and laughed over what Mr. Fenwick referred to as, “Shitgate.”

Typically, on a trip, regardless of when we arrive or where we are in the world, the crew meet up in the lobby at five pm. Surprisingly, there was no talk of such today. I think that, alone, sums up just how awful the flight was. Laney and I arranged to meet up with Mavis at eight tonight to go to the night markets but I managed to sleep right through the alarm.

When I finally woke up, there was an envelope with my name on it that had been put under my door. Inside were several free drinks vouchers redeemable at the hotel bar, along with a note from the First Officer, that read; Hello Karen, not sure what your plans are this evening but I’ll be in the hotel bar until, I imagine, around midnight. Hope you’ll come and join me for a drink. Simon.

I looked at the clock and couldn’t believe it was half eleven, which meant I’d slept all day. After I took a shower, I felt wide-awake and thought about popping down to the hotel bar but the free drinks vouchers seemed more than tacky. Besides, the only time I talked to Simon was on the outbound sector when I took two little boys up to the flight deck for a visit.

I decided just to stay in my room, where for the past few hours, I’ve been writing lots of letters. I actually wrote two to David because one wasn’t nearly enough to cover all that’s been happening. I think we’re eight hours ahead of UK time here, so if David’s at home in LA, he’ll be having lunch soon. On the twenty-first!

It’s after three in the morning now and not only am I feeling wide-eyed and bushy tailed, but also totally, utterly bored.

I think the only thing left for me to do is order some chocolate mousse on room service!

 

September 21st, 1989

September 21st, 1989

Night flight from AUH – KUL

Crew rest, finally! Time to rest my twinkle toes, overdose on Earl Grey and see how many chocolate biscuits I can devour in one sitting.

Very leisurely day at the beach club with Frankie, who is now travelling in the opposite direction, to London, while we head to Malaysia. This flight took off three hours late, which put all the passengers in a bad mood. Sadly, none of them seem to have recovered and they’ve all been pretty vile so far.

While we were taxiing out to the runway in Abu Dhabi, the First Class toilets and sinks began to fill with, what Mr. Fenwick later attempted to say with a not so straight face, “expensive excrement.”

The foul stench emanated all the way from the front to the back of the aircraft, where

Mavis and I were strapped into the jump seats, in preparation for take off.

“What on earth is that awful smell?” she whispered.

Staring ahead at the sea of passengers facing us, I said, “It smells like shi…”

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Cabin Service Director. Some of you may have noticed a rather, uhm, unpleasant odour in the cabin. We will be returning to the gate momentarily, where the ground crew will work to remedy this, ah, situation, as quickly as possible.”

“I knew this would be a shitty trip,” Mavis whispered, with a huge smile.

All hell broke loose after the CSD’s announcement and the fetor got so bad that several passengers threw up, which is always just absolutely delightful.

Think I’ll use the hour I have left of crew rest to take a nap, to better prepare me for the remainder of this flight with the horrid passengers, or maybe I’ll just have more tea and biscuits.