Warm, wet vomit is trickling down my leg. It looks like the contents of an airline kids’ meal. Bits of pasta, chicken nuggets, and what appears to be the dribbly remnants of a chocolate bar. I’ve already taken my seat for landing, so there’s nowhere for me to go when the child next to me starts to empty the contents of his stomach as the plane makes its final descent. When the wheels touch down, vomit is running down the aisle like that chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The flight had already been delayed before takeoff, leaving us stewing in the blistering heat of the runway for over an hour, so the smell of half-digested bolognese really adds insult to injury. “Are you going to do anything about that?” a passenger asks me in disgust.
Once you’ve been vomited on enough, it really does kill the self-esteem. I don’t have children, but I think if one of my kids projected body fluids on to a total stranger, I might at least offer them some hand sanitiser. But the parents make no such gesture.
This is just the latest merry example of what it is to be cabin crew in 2022. I am seemingly responsible for every bad experience passengers have had so far with this airline. You put on the uniform and accept the role. It’s a lot like acting; during this particular incident, I have to act like I don’t want to jump out the window. “Yes, of course,” I say. I bend my leg, so the chunks of vomit slide off on to the floor. “I’ll send for the cleaners right now.”
Passengers are particularly tense in this summer of travel chaos, and in my cabin crew uniform, I am the physical embodiment of all their flying woes. The frustration of lost bags, delays, and cancelled flights is heightened by the holidays lost to Covid. They’d probably vomit on me themselves if they got a chance. People forget that people in uniforms are real people.
Staff shortages in the airline industry are only increasing the likelihood of difficult encounters. On the same flight, a man charges toward me. I know that look. If it were a cartoon, he’d have steam coming out of his ears. He tries to compose himself before he speaks. Like Al Pacino’s simmering rage in The Godfather, controlled anger is even more terrifying sometimes than explosiveness. When people are out of control, that’s almost easier to handle.
He recounts a litany of offences committed by the airline: lost bags and prams, delayed flights, a night at the airport, all while jabbing a finger at me like I was the mastermind who’d planned and orchestrated the whole thing. It always amuses me when people talk to me as if I were the chief executive: “Your company is a disgrace, how dare you treat people like this.” I wish, buddy. I wish. I’m just a very minor player on a very minor salary, but it’s part of my job to take it, so I do.
I listen and try to look sympathetic. As sympathetic as is humanly possible, because when a man is as irate as this guy, if you show one ounce of sass, you’re done for. I say sorry. I’m very very sorry. I’ve been saying it so much lately.
As soon as I’m out of the security turnstiles, I take my uniform off. I used to leave it on for the way home but now, if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of the airport, you’re an unofficial public relations rep for the whole airline industry.
I sit on the tube and hope no one recognises me from the flight. I can finally relax and switch off until tomorrow. That’s one good thing about this job, you rarely take your work home with you, I think. Then I look down and see a piece of chicken nugget stuck to the side of my shoe. Oh, the glamour.
July 19, 2022 at 12:45PM Meryl Love