SOMETHING about air travel seems to bring out the best and worst in people, so when it comes to bizarre tales to tell, flight attendants have more than their fair share.
“We always say passengers check their brains in with their luggage,” says Darren Thomas, who has worked as an international flight attendant for the past 27 years.
“Maybe it’s the altitude, maybe the copious amounts of alcohol or maybe it’s just that people relax when they get on-board. They drink a little, some too much and let their guards down.”
He’s not kidding about the “letting their guard down” part.
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On one shift, he was working in first class when an elderly lady who was extremely well dressed boarded the plane.
“She was clutching her walking stick in one hand and her Birken Hermes handbag and boarding pass for 1J in the other,” says Thomas.
She requested a large glass of the best red wine before take off, then another large glass after.
“She proceeded to wash down two Stilnox (zolpidem) tablets and handed me the empty packet.
“Exactly seven hours later — somewhere over the Pacific Ocean — I heard a scuffle in the cabin. It was completely dark in there and had been very quiet five minutes earlier.
“To my surprise as I entered the cabin, there was my extremely well-dressed passenger completely undressed (naked) swinging her walking stick around and yelling at the top of her lungs that these interlopers/criminals should get the hell out of her bedroom or she would be forced to call the police.
“The Police were called, however, they were the Federal Police at our port of arrival. She had broken a passengers nose and destroyed a video screen!”
Then there are the passengers who are always looking for that cheeky free upgrade and somehow hope that no one notices.
Thomas relates one journey where “a young gent” had taken it upon himself to upgrade his economy seat to an empty chair in business class right after take off. He had even left his family behind in economy.
“I remembered boarding him with his family and knew that they were sitting as a group in economy. I verified on the P.I.L (passenger information list) manifest that he was sitting in economy. However, I was in a cheeky mood that day.
“I approached him and he looked rather anxious, but instead of asking for his business class boarding pass (which I knew he wouldn’t have), I proceeded to offer him everything available in business class.
“Would Sir like some pyjamas? Would Sir care for a beverage? Would Sir enjoy a newspaper? Would you please permit me to make your bed up for you? Everything accepted with the grace and charm of a fully-fledged, world weary business class traveller.
“However, there was a sting in my tail. I asked how would Sir like to pay for his upgrade … cash or credit card? He instantly went to retreat back to economy. I explained to him that, unfortunately, he had already received the service and there was no way of undoing it. I don’t think he ever upgraded himself again!”
Not all encounters are drug and alcohol-induced or involve freeloaders, however. One in particular was rather heartwarming.
“There was a moment, years ago when I was approached by a young couple to see if I wouldn’t mind asking the captain if he could legally marry them on-board en route from Sydney to Los Angeles.
“Their logic was that under maritime law the captain of the ship could legally perform a marriage service (this was historically because sea journeys were so long). They considered the 747 we were travelling on a ship.
“The captain agreed with their logic and proceeded to do his best clergy impersonation in the first class galley. To this day, I’m not sure if it was legal and under which countries’ jurisdiction it would fall.”
So there you have it. Don’t try and sneak an upgrade past the cabin crew unless you’re prepared to pay for it.