I am a flight attendant for a commuter airline. This was not my first career choice because I am now, and always have been, afraid to fly. Somehow I made it through the interview process, the training, even the nightmares of my plane catching fire, spiraling out of control and plummeting into the ocean. In my nightmare, I survive the aircraft fire only to drown in the waves of salt water because I don't know how to swim. Most people think that a flight attendant has a glamorous job that jets people off to exciting and exotic places. This is only true if Dayton, Ohio is on your travel destination wish list. In reality, I have spent the majority of my adult life working inside the tiny cabin of a fifty seat jet dealing with stressed out passengers and cleaning up vomit.The job requires that you be well groomed, professional, polite and on time. Most of the time these are easy tasks to achieve. One morning, after sixteen years at the airline, the unthinkable happens. My three alarms do not go off and I oversleep.
We are in Charlotte, North Carolina staying at a Crown Plaza. The bed is comfortable. The weather is beautiful and the previous day had been long. My phone rings with my four a.m. wake-up call. I reach for the phone. It is my habit to pick up the phone and drop it without putting the phone to my ear. But this morning as I lift the phone I hear someone saying "Ma'am! Ma'am!" This is not a wake-up call. My first thought is that this is scheduling telling me I can cancel my four a.m. wake-up call and sleep in. No one ever wants to answer a phone call from scheduling. In fact, flight crews have been known to exhibit some highly-advanced ninja skills when a crew tracker is trying to hunt them down to change schedules. The only exception to this don't-answer-calls-from-scheduling rule is when they are calling to tell you your flight has been cancelled and you can go back to bed for a few hours of much needed extra sleep. I put the phone to my ear and say, "Hello." It is not scheduling, but the angry woman who is managing the hotel front desk. The woman on the other end says, "Ma'am, the van is waiting for you." "Shit, shit, shit." Oops! I realize I have said that out loud. "I will be right down."
Normally, it is just the two pilots and me in the morning van, but I know this morning there is a crew from another airline taking the same van. I am painfully aware that I am now making a lot of people I don't know late for work. This is not a good feeling and making eight people late for work will definitely add to the degree of discipline I will face if we don't make it to the airport on time. Frantically, I throw back the covers. I am suddenly wide awake and my heart is racing. I have slept naked and I scan the room to figure out the fastest way out of here. There is not enough time to get fully dressed so I pull on my skirt and throw on my blouse. This blouse has twelve buttons on it. Shit! Who designed this thing? To save time, I will just button it in the elevator. I throw on my trench coat, slip on my heels, grab my travel pro and race to the elevator. I press the down button for the elevator and start fumbling with the buttons on the shirt. It dawns on me that I will have to make a mad dash into the ladies room to finish getting dressed when I get to the airport. That's when I make an executive decision to just leave the shirt unbuttoned and close the trench coat. Even though I am the only one waiting for the elevator to arrive, I feel oddly uncomfortable. Perhaps this is how a flasher feels that moment just before he opens his coat and tries to make a quick get away without being caught?
When the elevator reaches the ground floor, I bolt out of it as if I have just left starting line of a sprint race in the Senior Olympics. I drop my key at the desk without stopping and head out the main entrance of the hotel. The driver grabs the bag and tosses it into the back of the van with the other seven crew bags. Those bags belong to all the crew members who managed to get up and get dressed on time this morning. I try to prepare myself for the angry looks I am about to face and climb into the van with my head down. I figure if I avoid eye contact maybe they will have mercy on me. I say I am so sorry and tell them that I left the room without getting dressed. I explain that I am literally wearing no make-up, no bra, no panties, and no stockings. This scenario is frighteningly similar to a dream I've had where I go to school, but forget to get dressed. Suddenly, I am reconsidering my career choice. I realize if I can go to work half naked, the burning plane crashing into the sea nightmare is not a far-fetched possibility. I am mentally adding swim lessons to my bucket list.
I am fumbling to get into my seat when the captain from the other crew says, "You see? This is why I don't date you anymore. You're never on time." I don't know this man but I am relieved that they are not scolding me .He is an older guy with grey hair and a round belly. His voice is loud and I immediately like him. I turn around and ask, "Why didn't you wake me up when you left this morning?" He replies quickly, "I would, but you're cranky in the mornings." I retort, "I wouldn't be so cranky if you left some money on the pillow." This is going much better than I imagined. The captains says, "I would leave money, but I never get change." Trying hard not to laugh, I respond, "I am not a vending machine." He says, "I can't find the slot for change." I finish this banter with, "You are not looking hard enough. If it weren't for our son, I would stop sleeping with you." The captain bursts out in laughter and says, "You're awesome. I want to fly with you today." He tells my captain he would like to trade places. My captain is not amused.
We are having so much fun that now everyone in the van wants to get into the act. One flight attendant says, "How can she be so quick this early in the morning?" The other flight attendant says, "It was the extra hour of sleep she got." Finally, the other airline's first officer adds, "I'm still thinking that she is going commando." My pilots sit in silence. I know this is going to be another long day at work and I also wish I could trade places and work with this other crew for the day. This "other" airline is well-known for their friendly crews and this morning they have proven to me why the company has such a good reputation.
Once we arrive the at the airport, I apologize again for making everyone wait. They wish me a good day and bid me goodbye. I make the mad dash to the nearest ladies room where I finish the job of getting ready for work. My pilots do not wait for me. Ten minutes later I am greeting early morning travelers at the door of the aircraft wearing everything including a smile. As it turns out we all make it to work safely and on time. I know it's silly, but to this day, I still get an uneasy feeling when I set my wake up calls for work. I check the settings on the alarm clock and my phone two or three times and I set two wake up calls with the front desk, making sure they're approximately 10 minutes apart. Then I check the alarm clock and the phone settings one more time. I know this is overkill, but going to work naked is a nightmare I do not wish to repeat.