By Meghan Brennan
If Anne Murphy (not her real name) could tell everyone boarding her plane just one thing, it would be that she and her fellow cabin crew are there, first and foremost, for passengers’ safety. Well, that and to please board a little more quickly. And maybe consider bringing your own food on board. And a pen for customs forms.
Flight attendants may not be the ones guiding the plane through the air, but they are the members of the crew that passengers see and interact with most. They’re also highly trained employees of any airline – they know how to handle every kind of situation, from the everyday to the most rare occurrences. Many speak more than one language, especially on international routes. Basically, serving soda and peanuts is only the smallest part of what they do.
After over 30 years as a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline, Murphy knows all the ins and outs of air travel. And since she does international routes, she knows the world like the back of her hand. The day before we spoke, she was flying home from Japan, and the day after she was off to the Chinese consulate to renew her visa – talk about an exciting life!
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It’s not all fun and games and glamour, though, as Murphy will be the first to tell you. She’s seen some things. “Some people just snap,” she says, which seems to encompass a range of sins from air rage to, well, attempts to “go into the bathroom with another person for…pleasure,” as Murphy delicately puts it. Her most frightening story is one of a passenger who attempted to open one of the plane’s doors while in flight (which, she is quick to point out, is impossible).
Air travel has changed a lot in the decades that Murphy’s been flying, especially in terms of security. “When I first started,” she says, “all you had to do was show your badge and you could walk through security; you didn’t have to stop.”
And of course, the sophistication of the Jet Age is long gone. Murphy wasn’t there for it, but she works with some flight attendants who were. “People used to dress up to fly, and now people barely have clothes on. It’s less civil,” she adds, a slightly mournful tone in her voice.
For whatever drawbacks there might be, though, Murphy keeps on going for one very good reason: “I’m in love with the world.” Asked for a list of her favorite destinations, she can’t quite help herself from gushing. “I love going to Greece, and I love Asia because it’s so different. I like places that have culture, that have history: Paris, England, Italy. Wherever I go, I find something to like.”
Sometimes it’s the food, like arancini and gelato in Italy, bratwurst and beer in Germany, and a baguette with butter in France. In fact, Murphy always tries to stop by a grocery store when she’s abroad. Sometimes it’s just so she has something to eat on the flight home.
“There’s not much anyone can do” for plane food, she says – remember, flight attendants eat the same meals passengers do, which have been frozen and stored in a warehouse before being brought to the airport. She’s become a huge advocate of bringing her own meals for flights.
Still, there are a few things she says you should always bring on your flight, even if you’re ok with the airline’s food. “Planes run cold,” she mentions, so even if you’re always warm, it can’t hurt to have a sweater or a jacket with you, especially these days when there aren’t always blankets on board
She also suggests an eye cover and earplugs if you know you want to sleep, plus something to keep yourself amused – because you never know if the in-flight entertainment system might have some problems. Her most surprising item to bring along? An umbrella – because there’s always a chance of rain when you get where you’re going.
And really – don’t forget a pen.
About Meghan Brennan