The art of maintaining service (when service is the last thing on the mind)

Sitting on the jump-seat in the back of coach, working a flight from New York to Los Angeles aboard a 767, I turned to Stephanie, my coworker, and sighed. “I have to tell you, I was getting a little nervous there for a minute.”

“I know,” Stephanie laughed, even though she was not laughing an hour ago.

I should have known it was going to be one of those days when I spotted the flight attendant slipping her navy blue pantyhose feet into a cheap pair of white house shoes, the kind you snag from a nice hotel, just to go through security.

“Ma’am,” I said eyeing her Travelpro suitcase, not her funny feet, as I placed my own wheelie bag onto the moving conveyor belt, “Are those three large cobs of corn sticking out of the back of your rollaboard?”

“Yes,” she said matter of fact.

I laughed, attaching my tote-bag to my rolling bag, but she did not laugh back, as she slipped her feet into a pair of black leather heels, placing the house shoes inside the back pocket of her rollaboard next to the cobs of corn, and walked away.

Okay, that’s weird, I remember thinking, as I walked to flight operations. Little did I know, that was just the beginning of weird.

We were midway through the beverage service in coach when it hit me. I had just poured a cup of coffee when I smelled a strange smell. It was the kind of smell you do not want to smell, particularly in flight. Now this wasn’t that smell flight attendants often use coffee packets in the lavatory to disguise. Oh no, this was a burning smell. Maybe even a plastic burning smell. Or was it an electrical burning smell? I couldn’t tell. While I tried to figure it out, I handed a passenger a cup of water, no ice, and looked across the cart at Stephanie who had three cups of orange juice in one hand.

“Can I get you something to drink?” I asked the next passenger, not making eye contact, as I still stood staring at Stephanie, who would not look at me no matter how long I stared at her.

I cleared my throat, but she did not look, so I glanced across the aisle at Ben, another coworker, who had just handed a passenger a breakfast sandwich. Too busy counting a wad of cash, Ben did not notice me either. As for his partner on the other side of the cart, she was bent over a passenger plugging in a set of headphones into the armrest. Just business as usual flying across the country, except for that strange scent in the cabin that only I seemed to smell.

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