Thursday, May 7, 2015

Getting Re-Acquainted with an Old Friend

I feel as though I became reacquainted with an old friend last weekend.  The all-nighter "rocket" from Houston to Sao Paulo, Brazil seemed as familiar as a well-worn pair of shoes, rediscovered after years of neglect.  This trip is eerily similar to the one I flew for the better part of 7 years, during the time of my Dad's illness and slow descent.  Every week, sometimes twice, piggy-backed, I would fly all night from Houston to Buenos Aires, Argentina, arriving in the early morning.  After a 4-5 hour nap and a snack, I departed Buenos Aires at around 9pm, fly all night, and arrive home a 6am.  When the trips were "piggy-backed", I left Houston again that same night to repeat the process.  Though it sounds brutal, piggy-backing increased my contiguous time off.  The second half of a piggy-backed "rocket" (quick turnaround trip) is surprisingly easy, as recompense.  One's body makes the time adjustment on the first trip, allowing the second to feel almost natural.

At first, it was a totally alien feeling living on the backside of the clock.  But once accustomed to the routine, my body welcomed the familiarity and rarity of those trips.  They increased the free-time at home in my schedule, allowing me to travel back and forth to Atlanta to be with my family as much as possible.  I suppose that maintaining a nocturnal schedule alters the consciousness of a diurnal creature as much as alcohol might alter consciousness.  For as I began my first all-nighter rocket to Sao Paulo last week (my last Buenos Aires was in 2011), a flood of memories, feelings and emotions rushed into my head and heart.  (I remember reading that feelings and experiences encountered while under the influence of alcohol are sometimes forgotten until one is once again under the influence.)  It's a different destination and airplane (now a 787) than before but otherwise, oh so similar.

After having the better part of the day free, I attempted a catnap of 2 hours or so before my 8pm check-in.  Our 915pm departure from Houston is sufficiently late that many of the customers in the premium cabin where I work have had their evening meal and think only of slumber.  (Travelers from or who frequent cities in deep South America are well-accustomed to all-night flying.  Many come equipped with the appropriate pharmaceuticals to ensure a good rest onboard.)  The few who remain awake to participate in our full meal service are mostly novices, insomniacs, or eschewers of sleep medications.  Seemingly moments after the Dreamliner's wheels leave the firmament, all is calm, all is quiet.  In 8 hours or so, we will brighten the cabin for a quick breakfast before landing.

Once the first meal service is complete and Duty Free product sales have been offered, crew rest breaks begin.  On the 787, that means that roughly half the Flight Attendants can relax for a couple of hours in claustrophobia-provoking, coffin-like bunks above the passenger cabin while the remaining Flight Attendants remain vigilant and available, evenly distributed throughout the cabin.  This is markedly different from the 767 we once flew to Buenos Aires which had no bunks.  Flight Attendant breaks were taken in Economy Class seats, markedly less inviting, notably less comfortable, assuredly less restful.  Midway through the flight, the two halves of the cabin crew switch places which means that I return to the B zone galley to prepare for breakfast.

The routine is mundane, mindless.  As a result, it can be quite calming:  the peace and quiet of the middle of the night spent arranging breakfast items on trays, placing dry cereal in bowls, loading hot breakfast entrees into ovens, icing water glasses, pouring juices and setting up carts.  Add a quick count of the liquor remaining in the barcart and it's time to serve again.

Arguably, more customers participate in the breakfast service on all-night flights than did in the dinner.  In both cases though, for the galley Flight Attendant, preparation is key to success.  Breakfast breezes by, followed by an uneventful arrival in Brazil.

After a quick van ride to the hotel, we all enjoy the breakfast provided with our hotel's compliments and retreat to our chambers.  Often, I don't even remember getting into bed, sleep comes so quickly and easily.  A few hours later, I'm awake, ordering room service, shaving, showering and preparing to do it all over again; an identical routine service and timeframe for the flight back to Houston.

Routine is not the most notable earmark of an international Flight Attendant's life.  "Expect the unexpected" could be our motto.  So when a routine so familiar, so comfortable returns after an absence of several years, it's like greeting a long-lost friend.

Now, I just hope my 30+ years of seniority is sufficient to keep me on this trip for a few months.  It's so hard to say good-bye when you aren't ready.

For my Dad...

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