Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Credit where credit is due!

Big SHOUTOUT to our Santiago flight kitchen!

We had only 9 customers in B Zone on 846 departing Santiago de Chile night before last, so I "floated" to Economy Class to lend a hand.  After the service, I sat down with an Economy meal before my break started.  Tray, utensils, plasticware, it all looked the same as "normal" but...

The couscous salad was BRILLIANT!  Fresh, subtle flavors with just a suggestion of pungent onion and pepper.  I haven't enjoyed couscous since my days in the Latin Quarter as a poor college student and NEVER did I enjoy it unheated.

The chicken entree was a Mediterranean preparation of white meat chicken with tomato-based sauce, black olives, capers, and a smattering of goat cheese.  It was FRESHLY PREPARED!  The clincher on this dish was that I found a whole bay leaf in mine.  A bay leaf...whole...in an Economy meal.

The quality of the salad and main more than made up for the choco-flavored (read fake) Cool Whip desert which looked much nicer than it tasted.  The "mousse" was underwhelming and left a "synthetic" aftertaste.  I stopped after one spoonful and am regretting that one.

Overall though, GREAT JOB!

(I wish I'd had my phone in my pocket for a quick photo of the bay leaf.  I'm almost doubting my memory of it!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ku'u home

Yesterday, after morning traffic had dissipated somewhat, my mom drove into town for an overnight visit.  Our plan was to spend the afternoon with my widowed aunt and and her daughters at Northside Hospital's Cancer Center.  My aunt was recently diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer and was to have a procedure to stint a biliary duct that had been blocked by the growth of a cancerous lesion.

As Mom, Philip and I had a light lunch, we were mindful of the fact that my aunt has been unable to eat meaningfully for months.  She has been so wrapped up in the care of her second husband (my uncle died some years ago), that her own health has suffered without remark, with hardly even any notice.  If it weren't for the unusual metallic taste in her mouth and the recent yellowing of her skin, we might still think that Aunt Laura "just wasn't eating right".  The fact is, she's hardly eaten at all and her body is noticeably wasted.

To myself, I wonder, "What is the point of sitting with the girls during the procedure?"  But the answer is self-evident.  It's a demonstration of love and care.  It's a repayment of the kindnesses we received when Dad was in decline.  It's a distraction from the galvanizing fact that a life we value is about to end.

In a pre-operative appointment, the physician was hopeful that the stint could be placed endoscopically, a quick, efficient procedure from which Aunt Laura could quickly recuperate.  Once the duct was open, many of her symptoms would be alleviated.  The tumor would still be present.  The prognosis would still be grim but she would gain some immediate, day-to-day relief.  Most importantly, she would have a bit more time free from disease-related stress to plan and make decisions. If the endoscopic procedure didn't go well, they would place the stint via an open procedure, meaning longer recovery and increased likelihood of complications.

The girls, daughters, daughter-in-law and granddaughter were gathered in support of their mom.  A quick pre-op visit revealed that Aunt Laura was at peace.  Just the day before, she had secured a supportive accommodation for her husband who suffers from age-related memory issues.  Were she able to join him there, the facility would welcome her in an apartment-like setting with her husband.  So many concerns were addressed with that one decision and commitment.  But the one that mattered most and most immediately was never at issue:  Aunt Laura was at peace with the idea that her time on Earth was nearly done; she was confident in her physician and reliant upon the Physician.  Her composure must surely have been a gift to the girls.  It was to me.

As her procedure began, we sat together in the surgical waiting room, engaged in the idle prattle of the concerned, a thin guise for the fear and uncertainty that prevailed.  We reminisced, smiled, laughed and supported those we love with the good-intentioned distractions that serve so well.  After an hour or so, we learned that the procedure had gone as planned and that Aunt Laura would be free to go home in another hour, or so.  This hurdle had been cleared handily.  There would be time and relief now to prepare for the next hurdle and for the end of the race.

When Mom and I returned to the apartment, an appetite-stimulating aroma wafted out as the door opened. Philip had been busy doing his part to support the cause, preparing his Aunt Anne's Butter Chicken, jasmine brown rice and broccoli for our dinner, left warming on the stove until he returned from afternoon yoga. Mom and I shared some wine while waiting. By the time he got back, we were ready to be comforted by Philip's culinary expression of love and support.  Dinner was the perfect period at the end of a lovingly-written sentence. 

In retrospect, what Mom, Philip and I did was so little.  In reality, what we did was very nearly all that matters in life.

If, in our very "busy" lives we can't take time to help our fellow travelers along their path, what, exactly, are we here for?  We concern ourselves with so much that, in the end, is of little real consequence.  Why is that?  To distract ourselves from our own mortality?

"Denial is not just a river in Egypt."

To be continued...(thank God!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Epilogue: Surprise & Delight

We learned as we gathered at the gate that a significant storm system was moving into the Chicago area and could result in delays at O'Hare.  The captain seemed to think that we would still have a window of opportunity to operate our flight at near the scheduled times.  We boarded our completely full aircraft and departed, as normal.

As we taxied toward the departure runway, I thought it odd that we made a left turn, crossing the active departure runway, onto the taxiway between arrivals and departures.  The sound of the #1 engine spooling down as it does upon gate arrival confirmed my suspicions.  We were being sent to the "penalty box".  A ground stop had been declared at O'Hare and our departure would be delayed indefinitely.  The captain did an admirable job of explaining our situation, adding that he would give us periodic updates.  The flight attendants immediately offered water to customers parched by the mid-summer heat and understandably anxious from the news.  Just their presence in the cabin calmed things, I think.

Updates came but they didn't hold much good news or much promise that good news would be forthcoming.  The captain's calm, professional delivery kept anxieties to a minimum.  As we approached the hour mark, the cabin crew offered snacks and a mix of soft drinks.  Unhurried and friendly, the atmosphere remained calm. The gentlemen behind me actually joked about missing their connecting flights.

At near the 2 hour mark, the Captain's news was decidedly not good.  We had been given a takeoff slot hours in the future and the crew would reach their FAA-mandated maximum duty period constraints long before then.  They were making a last-ditch appeal to Air Traffic Control via our dispatchers in Chicago to advance our place in line.  But it was clear that he wasn't hopeful.

A collective moan rose in the cabin.  The cancellation of a full flight between the nation's two largest air hubs sounded like disaster because it certainly would be for those affected.

Without warning, I began to simultaneously hear and feel a rumble from the left hand side of the plane (I'm sitting in the window seat at the left emergency exit). I recognized the familiar engine start as soon as it began.  Seconds later, "Ladies and gentlemen, we were successful!  ATC has moved us to the front of the line. If we leave right way, we're going to Chicago.  Everyone take your seats as quickly as you can."

Folks were seated and the flight attendants had the cabin cleared of service articles as quickly as I've ever seen it done.

"Flight Attendants, please be seated for departure."  The guys behind me laughed, "I don't think they needed to be told!"  No, they didn't.

At present, we're flying a strange arc out to the west of Chicago in order to circumnavigate and come in behind what the captain described as a Level 4 storm, "the kind that can uproot trees."  Fine with me!  I don't hear any arguments from the Type-As seated all around me, either!

And, if anything, I'm prouder of my airline-employer's performance today than I was earlier, in spite of our 2-hour plus arrival delay.  Anyone should be able to do a good job under perfect circumstances (we weren't able to do even that for a while, sadly). 

It's a customer-pleasing, expectation exceeding performance under uncontrollable circumstances that separates the truly good from the merely passable.  I used to work for the truly good.  I'm excited to think that I may have that opportunity again before I retire.

I have a really, really, REALLY good feeling about that.

P.S.  As I exited the airplane and stepped onto the jet bridge, I overheard a woman behind me say, "They did a really good job!"

Yes, they did. 

Surprise and Delight

Few things excite me like making a real-world report as a surprised and delighted customer of my airline-employer. I'm traveling Atlanta/Chicago today at 1701, prime time. 

I arrived at the airport via train at 1535. Upon checking, I learn that my flight is departing on-time.  Checking a little deeper, I learn that the aircraft for my flight will be arriving early from ChIcago. 

I stop into the Club, upstairs, near gate 10.  As soon as the elevator doors opened, I noticed it.  I knew in an instant that the sophisticated, modern, attractive yet subtle aroma I smelled had to be the much-hyped "Landing",  my airline's soon-to-be signature fragrance. To confirm my suspicions, I asked the smiling agent who greeted me. 

"Yes, it is!  I'm can't believe how many people have remarked upon it."

As I moved into the club area with food and drink, I wondered if it might be too much, if "Landing" might not mix well with eau de red pepper & Gouda soup. But the transition was actually pleasant. 

As I write this, I'm enjoying a crisp, refreshing glass of nicely chilled prosecco.  Muted conversations all around me and the occasional laugh reveal calm, relaxed customer experiences; the sounds of the anxiety-free. 

And I'm thinking, "Now, this is the way an experience with My company
should feel, taste, look, smell and sound."  There's nowhere I'd rather be today. 

I'd love to share that experience with you. I hope I did.