Paula Gahan from Kildare lives in London and works as cabin crew for an international airline. Listen to her. You might need her one day
Ask anyone who works with “the public” and they’ll tell you that you get a sixth sense about people and learn to categorise them very swiftly. As an air steward I’ll often spot a passenger and think: “Oh yeah, I’ve met you before, I know exactly how to deal with this.”
Once I was standing at a boarding door when a smartly dressed woman walked on to the plane and towards me. Don’t ask me why, but my immediate thought was, here comes trouble.
Being the lovely person that I am, I had a word with myself. Come on now Paula, don’t be judging people so harshly, she might be a lovely lady. “How dare you treat me this way?” she said. Hold up, I thought.
Immediately, she was effin’ and blindin’ at me, jabbing her finger in my face and wailing like a banshee about how she wasn’t being treated like the “first-class passenger” she was. In the end the woman became so irate, she was forcibly removed from the aircraft.
Most airline passengers are sweet, lovely and courteous, but life being what it is, you do get the odd difficult customer.
I can categorise most of the tricky customers I’ve ever met in my work as an air steward into five distinct groups. They may be wearing different clothes, speak with a different accent, be seated in a different section, but at the core, they’re the same. So here it is folks, the five worst passengers you can meet at 40,000 feet.
I can spot a “Karen” at a hundred yards. And no, it’s not because of the infamous Karen-style asymmetrical bob, but by the pinched look of barely suppressed rage simmering under the surface.
Karen is angry. And by God, she’ll find someone to be angry with. I avoid them like the plague. If I see one heading towards me with that scowl, I run for the hills. Sometimes though you get cornered and can’t avoid them. On a recent flight a middle-aged woman came on board and asked to be upgraded because she’d had a “tough week”.
I went through the usual routine of telling her we don’t do upgrades in the air. The woman then slumped against the wall, hand to forehead, channelling Bette Davis and howled. Yes, howled like a baby with a new tooth coming in. I was embarrassed for her, as passengers walked by and stared at this grown woman having a temper tantrum.
I did what stewards always do in these situations, made some comforting noises and waited for the tantrum to pass. How do people get like this? Even now, as a 35 year-old woman, I’m still afraid I’d get the arse slapped off me with a wooden spoon if I even attempted such behaviour. I’m currently lobbying for wooden spoons on all international flights.
The Marlboro man
He can be recognised by the chest hair jutting out from open shirt and his boot-cut jeans, which haven’t been seen since Garth Brooks’s 1992 world tour. Termed the “Marlboro man” as he really is from a bygone era when men were men, women were women, and you could still tell off-colour jokes without losing your job.
Speaking of jokes, the Marlboro man enjoys trapping you in the corner of the galley at 3am and telling jokes he got out of a Christmas cracker in the 1970s. Even though he’s knocking 70, he’ll still chat up all the 20-year-old girls and invite them to join him on his yacht in Marbella. These invitations are instantly forgotten when he wakes up hungover and stinking of cognac after we land.
The Mary and Josephs
They are the first people on the planet to ever have a kid. Yes, no one in the history of time could ever understand the stress these two parents are under. They’ll come on with 50 million bags for the little tyke and 40 bags of home-made food for you to reheat on demand.
They look like they haven’t slept in six months and press the call bell every two seconds looking for the cabin temperature to be adjusted. “Are you absolutely sure it’s set to 24 degrees? Little Bethany can’t sleep at anything over 25.”
This only applies to first-time parents. After the second child, they’re liable to walk off the plane leaving the baby in an overhead locker.
While the Karen wants to speak to the manager and get you fired, the princess just wants a bit of extra attention and to be acknowledged as the very special person they are. By rights, the princess should be sitting up the front in first class, but while she’s stuck down in economy class, she’ll make damn sure she gets the attention she deserves.
Princesses are usually between the ages of 20 and 40 and I suspect once they hit middle age, like Cinderella’s coach turning into a pumpkin after midnight, they turn into a Karen.
I had a princess on my last flight.
“There’s a man sitting next to me and his toes are pointing directly at me,” she said.
By the look of disgust on her face, you’d think he was pointing another body part at her. I had to go out and place a blanket over this guy’s offensively pointed toes before she’d calm down.
The entitled man
The worst thing about being 40,000ft in the air and having a grown man chase you down the aisle screaming “You told me they’d hold my flight!” is that you’re 40,000ft in the air, with no escape from them.
He had been badgering me for hours already, repeatedly asking me to hold his next flight. There was no reasoning with him. He was demanding that I somehow get in touch with a completely different airline, with the magic phone that all cabin crew possess and tell them to hold his flight.
The pilot then makes an announcement that all connecting flights will be rebooked, and entitled man shoots out of his chair and charges towards me like a bull. “You told me you’d hold my flight!”
Never in my wildest dreams would I ever treat another person like this. Yes, I may be wearing a uniform and name badge, but I’m still a human, I still have feelings. When you prick us, we bleed.
We all want to get away this summer, so let’s try to make it a pleasant experience for everyone. Remember your manners and don’t forget the golden rule — always be nice to the crew. You never know when you’ll need their help.
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