August 27th, 1989

August 27th, 1989

Night flight from LCA – LHR, as a passenger!

I noticed the message light on the phone flashing as soon as I woke up. Expecting it to be news on the whereabouts of my suitcase, I was surprised to learn we’d be flying home as passengers and not as operational crew.

Having no extra clothes, I wrapped the bed sheet around me and opened the doors to the balcony. I peered out and saw Suzette sitting on her balcony, right next door.

“Suzette,” I whispered from behind the door.

“Who is that?” she asked, putting down her book.

“It’s Karen.”

“Oh, morning sweetums. What are you doing?”
“If I come out, will anybody see me?”

“No, it’s safe, come on out,” she said, standing up.

I gingerly stepped outside. “Looks like Armani,” she laughed. “I just remembered you have no luggage. Do you need anything?”

“You wouldn’t happen to have a spare toothbrush would you?” I asked.

“Give me a minute,” she said, with a nod.

I waited on the balcony and heard Suzette talking, I assumed, on the phone. I couldn’t make out what she was saying so I assumed she was talking to her boyfriend. When she came back out, she had a First Class toiletry bag in her hand.

“You can keep that,” she said, passing it to me over the low wall that separated us.

“Ooh, lovely, thank you.”

She held her finger up to her lips and spoke softly. “Acquired during a recent upgrade on a staff travel ticket to see my sister in Australia.”

We chatted for a little while and I noticed Suzette looking at her watch.

“Be right back,” she said, going into her room.

Next thing I knew, Suzette and four others emerged from her room, all draped in bed sheets!

“Surprise!” they shouted in unison.

I cracked up laughing and took the offer of Simon’s hand to help me over the wall.

“We didn’t want you to feel left out,” Suzette chuckled.

“Yeah, you’re not the only fashion queen around here,” Simon tartily said.

“Let’s order room service,” Suzette suggested.

“But first, we’ll start with these,” said Simon, producing two bottles of wine from underneath his designer toga.

 

August 26th, 1989

August 26th, 1989

Night flight from LHR – LCA, as a passenger

I have nothing! Not even a toothbrush. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Torrential rain the entire drive to Heathrow this afternoon. I hate driving in those conditions, especially when I find myself chugging along, sandwiched between oversized lorries. I definitely need a car with more power for motorway driving. With something zippier I could easily pass the lorries and not get stuck behind them, getting sprayed.

Even though we were travelling as passengers today, we still checked in at TriStar House and dropped our suitcases off. There was a briefing to establish our working positions on tomorrow’s flight home, as well as other info pertaining to the flight/trip. The only difference is that we weren’t in uniform.

Flew here on a Boeing 757, which, compared to the TriStar, felt small. Sat with my purser, Suzette, who is absolutely lovely. Suzette’s been with BA for over ten years and it was refreshing to hear how much she still enjoys flying. She told me she quickly became hooked on this lifestyle and has no intention of leaving until she retires (in about thirty years from now!)

The flight made a quick stop in Rome, then onto Larnaca. As soon as the aircraft doors were opened, the warm air quickly filled the cabin and I was happy to finally disembark.

By the time we reached the baggage claim area, the crew luggage had already been offloaded, as is typical. One by one, my crew claimed their suitcases and I thought that perhaps mine had been loaded, by mistake, in the hold with the passenger’s luggage. I waited by the carousel, hoping it would appear but needless to say, it did not!

The CSD helped me file a report to give to the ground staff and of course that delayed the crew bus leaving the airport. By the time we arrived, the hotel bar was already closed.

So, here I am in Cyprus with only the clothes I’m wearing and the contents of my handbag and cabin bag.

Fortunately, we’re only here for the night!

 

How Working As Cabin Crew Changed Me…

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This is a recent guest post I wrote for lifeasabutterfly.com

How Working As Cabin Crew Changed Me

“I have a date! I have a date! I have a date!” I squealed, as I ran around the hotel room in Orlando. My best friend Pamsy, who was still suffering from jet lag, peered out from under the floral bed cover.
“We should go out and celebrate,” she said, with a yawn.
“It’s a bit early for drinking.”
“I don’t mean with alcohol,” she croaked. “We can celebrate with food.”
“Perfect,” I said, smiling. “Let’s go to Denny’s and pig out.”
“Deal,” she said, sitting up. “What date does your training course start?”

Less than two week’s later, on a dank January morning, I joined the sea of commuters waiting on the platform for the train to London. My stomach was doing somersaults but when I finally arrived (almost three hours later) at Cranebank, British Airways training centre, my nerves had morphed into excitement.

Little did I know that several of the people I met on that first day of training, back in 1989, would become decades long friends. Friends who shared experiences unique to cabin crew as well as life events we all go through.

One of the most exciting days of the six-week training course was the day we found out where we’d be heading on our supernumerary flight. I had my heart set on New York and felt almost sure that’s where I’d be going, so when I opened the envelope and saw the airport code for JED instead of JFK, I was shocked.

Stepping onboard the TriStar in uniform for that flight to Saudi Arabia is one I’ll never forget. I felt apprehensive and anxious, trying desperately to remember everything we’d learned in class. But, once the announcement was made that passengers were about to board, a feeling of calm came over me and from that point on, working onboard became second nature.

On that supernumerary trip to Jeddah, I spent my twenty-second birthday at a beach club, in temperatures I never knew were possible, surrounded by ex-pats and crew from various other airlines. I went sailing for the first time that day and remember feeling conflicted when it was time to don the burka over our swimsuits, for the short drive on the shuttle bus back to the hotel.

In my first year of flying on the Lockheed TriStar and the Boeing 747, I visited twenty-six destinations in nineteen countries and spent approximately eighty-three days in the air. When you consider the circumference of the earth is calculated at 24,901 miles, I flew around the world more than eight times that first year alone.

Life as cabin crew exposed me to people from all over the world and all walks of life. Being onboard, surrounded by hundreds of passengers, many of who don’t speak the same language or share the same customs, taught me to be patient and understanding of other people’s needs. It showed me how to manage the vast array of passenger’s expectations, all whilst maintaining a professional air.

Working as a team with your crew (most of whom you met for the first time in the briefing room an hour before) is key to the success of the flight. It’s reassuring to know that you all share the same training and that should something go awry, those Safety and Emergency Procedures and hours spent in Aviation Medicine will be called upon.

At the end of a long haul duty day, with flight times exceeding twelve hours, you go to your hotel room in a foreign land, in a place perhaps you’ve only ever read about. Managing jet lag is par for the course and I learned that even when I wanted to sleep, it was much better to force myself to get up and socialize with my crew. Some of the friends I made during those long flights and trips remain close today because of the bond we developed from working so closely together and relying on each other, both on and off the aircraft.

Being crew taught me to appreciate my time at home and not take everyday life for granted. It’s not a given that the leave you requested for your best friend’s wedding will be approved and good luck trying to start a relationship with the cute guy you just met in your local pub, after you tell him you’ll be away for the next two weekends, on a trip you’re getting paid for.

Having said that, the benefits of being cabin crew far outweigh the negatives associated with it. Going from sipping champagne in a trendy San Francisco nightspot one week to delivering supplies to an orphanage in Zambia the next, became a lifestyle I continued to miss long after I left British Airways. The ability to travel with ease from country to country and see firsthand how other people live has long stayed with me and given me a much deeper appreciation of life.

On Christmas morning in the year I joined, two hours after our crew party wound up, my alarm shrilled and I headed, bleary eyed, to the hotel lobby, where I spent a huge chunk of my allowances calling home. Because I was on the other side of the world, my parents were still celebrating Christmas Eve and I cried after I hung up because I wanted to be at home.

With the anniversary of my first year in sight, I was excited at the prospect of having access to staff travel and wasted no time securing a ticket for my Mum to join me on my first trip to Hong Kong. We were invited to sit on the flight deck for landing and marveled as the Boeing 747 zoomed past clothes hanging to dry from tiny balconies, hundreds of feet in the air, from the flats adjacent to the flight path.

That trip to Hong Kong was the first of many Mum accompanied me on and needless to say, it didn’t take her long to get used to travelling in a cabin situated closer to the nose of the aircraft.

Sadly, my Mum has since developed dementia but thankfully some of the memories of those trips stay with her. Sometimes when we’re looking through old photos, she surprises me when she remembers something we did, during what I now know were precious times.

My favourite trip Mum and I took together was my last one as a single girl, to Nairobi. We watched the sun rise over the Rift Valley and witnessed thousands of flamingoes at Lake Nakuru, before heading back to Nairobi for afternoon tea in a town called Karen, named for Karen Blixen, the author of Out of Africa.

A week later, I boarded a flight from LHR to BOS, as a passenger, on my way to America, to marry the guy I met on a trip, fifteen months prior.

But that’s another story!

August 8th, 1989

August 8th, 1989

At home

“Karen! Wake up!”

I opened my eyes to find mum standing over me, frantically waving an envelope. “Look what just came in the post,” she shouted.

“I can hear you, mum.”

When I spotted the airmail envelope, my thoughts immediately turned to Ben and I bolted upright in bed. Then it hit me that mum wouldn’t react in such a way to anything related to Ben.

“What is that?”

“Looks like David wrote to you,” she gushed, like she already knew him.

“Oh, nice,” I said, holding out my hand.

Mum reluctantly passed the envelope to me and I was tempted to tear it open but I wanted to savour the moment. In private.

“Are you no going to open it?” she asked.

“I’ll open it later,” I said, stretching. “I need a cup of tea first.”

“Just open it and see what he has to say.”

“All in good time mum, all in good time.”

This afternoon, the second mum was out the door, I dashed up to my room. I sat on the floor and brushed my fingers across the flimsy envelope with the American stamp and David’s handwriting. I used the silver letter opener Nana gave me and marveled at the contents. Three pages filled with David’s words, some of which read:

When we landed in Delhi it was too hot to wear my jacket so I carried it and when I got to the hotel, I hung it in the closet. A couple of days later, I was filing paperwork for travel expenses and needed my boarding card for the flight information. You can imagine my surprise when I found your note in my pocket! That afternoon, I sent you a postcard, then a couple of days later I went to the market. “There’s no way it’s her, no way.” I kept thinking, navigating my way through the crowd. When I stood behind you and heard your voice, I still could hardly believe it was you.

I have his address, now I just need to get to LA.