Why “Sully” made me proud to be a flight attendant

Sully
Tom Hanks as Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger in “Sully.” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Films/TNS)

I wanted to take my 10-year-old son to see the movie “Sully,” but I worried it might be too much. I worried it might make him worry about me.

Me being a flight attendant has never been a problem for my son. In fact, when I yell down the hall that I’m going to work, he’ll yell back, “Woo-hoo!”

“Aren’t you going to miss me?” I’ll tease. He always laughs and says yes.

Work time means daddy time. Fun time. I presume there are hot dogs and pizza and no bedtime when I’m gone, even though they deny it. But why else would he be so happy about me leaving? Whatever it is, they won’t tell me. All I know is there are a lot of inside jokes when I get back. That makes me happy. I like when my son is happy.

Unfortunately, last month was different.

“Don’t go!” my son cried into the phone as I walked through the terminal at JFK to my gate.

“I have to go. It’s my job. I won’t be gone long.”

Then he said something he’s never said before. “But what if you don’t come back.”

I stopped walking and leaned against a wall. “Of course I’m going to come back, sweetie. Why in the world would you say such a thing?”

“What if you don’t?”

“I will. What’s going on?”

“I just…” His voice cracked. “Have a bad feeling.” He started to cry.

My heart broke. For the first time in his life, my job upset him.

I love being a flight attendant, so much so I’m always kidding around about how I’ll never quit, how I’ll be the one using the beverage cart as a walker. But that day when I leaned against the wall and tried not to cry along with him, I told my son if he felt the same way when I got back I’d quit my job.

I don’t want to quit my job. But I don’t want my son to feel this way even more.

Why did he get so upset? I don’t know. Even he doesn’t know what it was. Maybe he was homesick. I’d taken him with me to New York to stay with his grandparents while I worked a week.

Or maybe he’s at an age where he’s starting to understand what’s going on in the world a little more. He likes to watch the news.

Or maybe it had something to do with a conversation I had with my mother-in-law the day before I departed on my trip. He was sitting beside me when I said something about trading my trip to Manchester, England, for Paris.

“Don’t go to Paris,” my mother-in-law said. “Paris is dangerous.”

I nodded. This, of course, isn’t true. Anything can happen anywhere at any time. It’s just when you have a job that forces you to deal with life-or-death situations, from time to time you lie to yourself to make it easier. “Terrorists don’t care about Manchester,” you say, and then laugh.

I’ll never know what bothered my son so much, but it was enough that had me wondering whether I shouldn’t take him to see the movie “Sully.” I never once thought about how the movie might make me feel.

When I told a neighbor we were thinking about going, he asked, “Does that…sort of thing…bother you?” I assumed he meant movies about airplane crashes, not the airplane crashes themselves.

“Not at all,” I told him.

Whenever there’s an incident on the news involving a plane, I’ll get texts from family and friends asking how I’m doing, if I’m OK. Fine, I’ll text back. What you have to understand is I’m always on guard, always thinking about what could go wrong and how I’d respond in a crisis, even when there’s not an airline incident on the news, in the newspaper or up on the big screen. I’m always thinking about things that could go wrong, and sometimes I dream about it too. I dreamt about crashing into buildings in New York City before 9/11.

Here’s something most people don’t know. On every flight, right before takeoff, flight attendants are required to do a 30-second review. What this means is we take 30 seconds to go over evacuation procedures in our heads. That way, if something does go wrong, we’re ready to go. We don’t have to think about anything. We jump up and go into action. On a plane every second counts.

A 30-second review involves going over evacuation commands, the very same commands the flight attendants in the movie yell out after Tom Hanks, I mean Sully, tells the flight attendants to brace for impact. When I heard the crew yell, “Brace!” followed by, “Heads down, stay down!” my chest tightened. I held my breath. I couldn’t breathe.

That’s when my son leaned over and said a little too loudly for a movie theater, “Isn’t that what you say?” He was smiling. Beaming really. He didn’t look scared at all. Infact. he seemed excited to hear the very commands he knows by heart.

“Yes,” I whispered back and gave his arm a squeeze.

My son knows the evacuation commands by heart because every year before I go back to training I practice them out loud in my bedroom. “Leave everything!” he’ll yell along with me. That’s his favorite part because we have to say it every two seconds. Thanks to passengers who refuse to leave their belongings behind.

Each year flight attendants go to recurrent training to review evacuation and medical procedures. We also go over whatever incidents have happened during the year. This way we’re prepared for anything and everything. Like, say, birds flying into the engine forcing a plane to make a water landing. The year US Airways flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River we spent a lot of time focusing on water evacuations at training. They can happen when you least expect it, even on domestic flights that aren’t scheduled to land near water, as you’ll see in the movie.

In the movie when the flight attendants open the exit doors the slides pop out and inflate in the water. Again my son leaned over and in a voice too loud for a movie theater said, “Is that what happens when you open the door? It flies out like that?”

I shushed him. Then I whispered back, “Yes, it’s exactly like that. It happens really fast.” My heart was pounding. I didn’t want him to sense how stressed out I was.

Again he smiled, this super huge smile. That’s when I realized how proud he was of me, of what I do, my job. I can tell him a million times that it’s not just about serving drinks and snacks, but until you see something like what happens in the movie “Sully,” it’s kind of hard to grasp. To see his face light up like that made me feel good. It made it easier to smile back, even as water began to rush into the cabin up on the screen.

As stressed out as I was, this was the part I’d been waiting for. I wondered if the movie would address what I had heard had happened in the back of the plane in real life. Rumor has it a passenger pushed the flight attendant out of the way and opened a door that should have been blocked. Passengers need to listen to flight attendants when they yell out commands.

Earlier in the day, I had told my neighbor that things like stories about plane crashes don’t bother me. Turns out I was wrong. “Sully” made me feel so much more than I could imagine. Being right there with the crew as it happened was more than a little stressful at times for me. I don’t cry very easily but I found myself wiping my eyes more than once.

“Are you crying?” my son asked as the credits rolled.

“No,” I lied.

Make sure to sit through the credits. While there were many scenes throughout the movie that made me feel emotional, it was the clips of the real passengers and crew that got me.

The following day I asked my son if the movie had upset him. Without taking his eyes off his iPad he said, “Nope.”

He seemed totally unaffected but I just wanted to make sure, so I pressed a little more. “Did you like it?”

“A lot.”

Me too. “Sully” is an excellent movie. I hope everyone gets a chance to see it so they’re reminded why flight attendants are on board: For safety. In case the unimaginable happens.

If I could only use one word to describe how the movie made me feel I’d have to say proud. Proud of the US Airways crew. Proud to be a part of the aviation community. Proud of my job. Proud of all the things flight attendants do that no one ever notices.

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Heather Poole View All →

Yeah, that's me, the one standing in the aisle wearing flammable polyester...

5 Comments Leave a comment

  1. What great conversations with your son. Flight attendants/pilots can go from a routine flight one minute to a disaster the next. Training saves lives. Obedience saves lives. What a great example to our children of the importance of both.

  2. I’ve only flown three times in my life, once when I was 12 yrs old (can’t really remember that) then twice when my daughter was 8-9 yrs old. It’s true most people don’t think a great deal about the lovely air craft staff, unless they are complaining (I heard people moan about the food etc etc) On the last flight I was on from Majorca back to Leeds when we got to the seat my crafty husband nicked the seat by the window rather than his assigned aisle seat , I soon realised why the prior passenger had split what looked like a super large drink of coke or cola on the seat. I approached an attendant who apologised for not noticing, explained there were no other seats spare and put 2 folded up blankets on the wet seat so I would at least have a dry seat. I thanked them glad I wasn’t going to get a wet seat but the couple behind moaned about it as if it were their seat saying they would have demanded another seat etc, they would have demanded one of the attendants seats etc etc. I just looked and shook my head at them, I had a dry, rather comfy blanket heightened seat……what was their problem…..it wasn’t even their seat…..an attendant still needs a seat when landing! Some travellers don’t think of others, just themselves and their own comfort and perfect holiday/experience!
    So thank you to all flight attendants x

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