Have you ever had a flight attendant from hell who turned out to be an angel in disguise? I did on a recent United Airlines flight. Kind of.
I was flying from Los Angeles to Philadelphia on a recent Sunday night redeye. It was an A319 with only eight first class seats and as I settled into my seat, my first impression was the scowl on the face of the purser standing in the galley.
The lady next to me in row one had a purse in her lap and our first interaction with the FA confirmed my fears. Walking by her seat, she tersely stated, “You need to put your bag up” and just kept walking by.
On her way back to the galley, the lady in 1A asked her if she could store the bag for her. The response was “no.” I took the lady's bag and stored it away.
As is often the case on full United flights, overhead bins filled up and before boarding was close to completion, leaving passengers standing in the middle of the aisle searching for a place to stow their bags.
You should have heard the purser. She fumed loudly about “these people” who bring on bags and how she was not going to deal with them. Across from me in 1E was a Japanese gentleman who had a laptop bag out. He got the same scolding as the lady next to me and was visibly dumbfounded when the purser harshly instructed him to put his bag up but did not offer to assist.
Surprisingly, the purser managed pre-departure beverages, offering passengers the following choice, “Orange juice or water?” Nothing more was said to each passenger. Before we took off, she came through the first class cabin taking meal and beverage orders.
When offered the cold pasta plate with chicken breast, the lady next to me asked what the other choice was. The purser indignantly replied, “Nothing!” to which my seatmate responded back with a hearty laugh that seemed to set off the FA even more.
Naturally, I decided to push the envelope. When she asked me if I wanted the snack, I leaned toward her and asked if she would mind heating it up for me. I was expecting an emphatic NO, but the crew meals were already in the oven warming up, so she obliged, not even protesting.
For good measure, she scolded the gate agent for not enforcing carry-on limits (fair point) before the door was shut. There was no welcome aboard or thanks for flying United—instead, she just told everyone to “be quiet” while the safety video was played.
We rolled down the runway and soon took off, experiencing a bit of chop for the first 20 minutes of the flight, during which the purser sat stoically in her seat. Passengers began to get restless and a couple got up to use the lavatory after 15 minutes. Bad choice.
Over the loud speaker, the purser yelled, “Sit down! Yes you. Sit down NOW.” I turned my head and saw she was referring to a passenger in the exit row who had stood up and opened an overhead bin. The passenger ignored her and she again yelled, “Close the bin and sit down NOW!”
The passenger continued to ignore her and she threw up her hands, shook her head, and said, “Forget it. This isn’t worth it.”
It wasn’t for another 15 minutes—30 minutes into a 4.5hr redeye flight—that she got up to take care of beverages and meals in first class. My seatmate had since fallen asleep and being in 1A, she was first to be served. The purser began yelling (yes, yelling) at her to wake-up and get her tray out, but I told her just to skip the woman—that she preferred to sleep. Surely, if she wanted a meal she could have one when she woke up…
Next came out my plate, which was nicely warmed. I’ve got to say—the United “snack” goes from being tolerable to downright tasty when it sits in the oven for a half hour. I was very pleased with the way it turned out.
Everyone had gone to sleep in the first class cabin, leaving just the purser and me awake. I honestly felt sorry for her, and noticed a Palestinian flag lapel pin on her uniform. I figured I would try to start up a conversation with her, if she was willing to engage.
When she came to collect my plate, I thanked her profusely for heating up my meal. She nodded indifferently. Then I asked her if she was Palestinian, noting her pin. A shocked look spread across her face and she even cracked a smile for a moment.
“Yes I am,” she responded, “And I’m also part Native American. I’m surprised you recognized that flag. Most Americans don’t know that.”
That was all—a subtle insult at Americans—but it seemed to change things.
She soon offered me a second blanket and then presented me with a United amenity kit I had never seen before with eye shades, ear plugs, and an inflatable pillow (similar to what US Airways sells). She added, “Only pursers get these.” It had the old United tulip logo on it and I actually used both the eye shade and the blow-up pillow—they worked well.
I nodded off to sleep and awoke about 30 minutes from Philadelphia. The purser noticed I was awake and came over to me, whispering, “Would you like a scone?” I nodded and said, “Yes, thank you” and she brought me over a hot scone in a bag.
No one else in the cabin was offered one other than my seatmate (who asked me to ask the purser for one).
We landed in Philadelphia soon after and I bid the purser مع السلامة و شكرا (thank you and goodbye in Arabic). She smiled at me before I left, then returned to her scowl.