My first contact with Flight Attendant Kathryn M. came when, less than 20 minutes into the flight, she arrived at seat 5F to take my luncheon order.
“Would you like Shrimp Salad or Chicken Perino,” she inquired, leaning slightly forward over Eduardo, the agricultural researcher from Costa Rica, sitting in 5E.
UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS: These two senior flight deck officers expertly guided one leg of our flight aboard an EBR 145 to southern latitudes. There was no time to obtain their names as they were really busy with pre-flight checks. If anyone knows the identities of these terrific human beings – and expert pilots – please ask them to get in touch with me. They do their employer proud. © 2013 Warren Swil
“I’ll take the shrimp, please, Kathryn,” I responded without hesitation.
She was a bit taken aback that I used her name. I guess few passengers care enough about cabin crew to bother reading their lapel name tags.
I thought it only common courtesy.
Immediately after placing my order with her, I quickly asked Kathryn: “Is it OK to use the restroom while the seat-belt sign is still on?” My need was urgent.
As she gently shook her head pointing to the overhead sign, still glowing, she said with a smile: “Not really,” her neatly-styled blonde hair swinging slightly as she reinforced her words with a gesture.
It is sometimes better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.
At least two others had already left their seats – I saw them – and walked up the aisle to use the sole first-class restroom on the port side just to the left of the forward galley, adjoining the cockpit.
After yet another person did so, the sign still bright orange, I turned left and leaned backwards towards Kathy from Chicago who was dead-heading in her UAL crew uniform. (We had already met: as UA 230 climbed out of LAX doing the customary bank to port and circling from a westerly to an easterly heading above San Pedro, I pointed out to Kathy the island of Catalina, just below our starboard wing. It looked glorious from 15,000 feet.)
I asked Kathy, the expert, if it was OK to go to the restroom while the seat belt sign was still on. She gave a kinda half laugh and smile. “We’re not really allowed to tell you that you can,” she said, choosing her words carefully.
I picked up the nuance immediately.
“Then it must be better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission,” I replied, smiling.
“I guess,” she smiled.
Just as I was loosening my belt, the captain turned of the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign. Ping!
Kathy and I giggled.
What happened next is almost beyond credulity.
I thought (mistakenly) the restroom was occupied. As I stood patiently waiting outside the door, Kathryn (the on-duty crew member and pusror) was preparing the first serving of passenger snacks less than six feet away.
I leaned over and, in a voice that was almost a whisper, told her quickly that a dear, longtime friend, Jeffrey H. worked as cabin crew for American Airlines, and that I knew just how difficult her job was.
She turned towards me with a huge smile on her pretty face. “But, I love my job,” she said, the genuineness of the emotion so obvious in her tone of voice and facial expression.
This was no public address system announcement.
“So do I,” was my immediate response.
How special that makes both of us, I continued, almost in a whisper. The vast majority of working men and women on earth hate their jobs; not us. That, I suppose, makes us part of the “one percent!”
Naturally, she then asked about my employment. “I am a professor of journalism at Pasadena City College,” I replied proudly.
Her jaw dropped.
“I went to PCC,” she said, now grinning. “I live in La Canada Flintridge.”
I could not believe my good fortune. I wanted to give her a hug, on the spot, but I think she had a tray of hors d’oeuvres in her hands.
Kathryn then told me she took lots of art classes at PCC (in the 1970s) and graduated with an AA degree in the humanities. She “loved journalism,” she added.
What a blessing.
“I graduated from South Pasadena High School in 1969,” she added, busy with the hors d’oeuvres again.
“I also graduated high school in 1969!” I exclaimed in wonder.
As she walked down the aisle to serve, I said to her: “We must be soul mates.”
“I think so,” she said.
Due to its highly personal nature, this story was fact checked by all participants before publication. The last names of the UAL personnel are withheld upon request. They are available only by subpoena.