'Plane Insanity"

 - May 5, 2008, 10:22 AM

If you think you could write a book about all the bad airline experiences you ever had, too late–a flight attendant just beat you to it.

But first, the incident that turned my mind to thinking just how rich in material an airliner’s cabin can be. I was returning from EBACE, the show in Geneva that toots business aviation’s horn in the old world, and had noticed an unattractive and persistently amorous couple engaging in public displays of affection in the departure lounge at Heathrow. “Get a room,” I said to myself. As luck would have it, guess who ended up occupying the pair of seats ahead of me in the 767.

It wasn’t long before they were stuck into exploring each other’s saliva, but there was more to come. She broke away and reached up into the overhead
bin before sitting down again and passing something to her companion. He helped hoist her top up around her neck and proceeded to rub ointment onto a nasty and widespread rash. True love, for all to see.

The contrast for me was intense, coming just days after I and a few other scribes had experienced breakfast over the Alps in the first German-registered GIV-SP and, a few days earlier, another Alpine aerial tour aboard a Gulfstream 200, both thanks to the Savannah, Ga.-based manufacturer.

Plane Insanity: A Flight Attendant’s Tales of Sex, Rage and Queasiness at 30,000 Feet is the title of a book by Elliott Hester, published earlier this year by St. Martin’s Press (ISBN 0-312-26958-7; $23.95). It is a fine collection of observations from someone who knows better than most that time spent in an airliner cabin can provide many a raw slice of life.

Pilots don’t escape Hester’s attention, either. He relates tales to illustrate their quirks and foibles. There’s Captain Klutz, who, while trying to gain access to a darkened but occupied bathroom aboard a DC-10, manages to hook one foot in the underwear of the terrified occupant; Captain Confusion, who, in the wee hours of a South American layover, remarks to himself that the bathroom seems awfully well lit before realizing he is locked out of his room, stark naked; Captain Cheap, Captain Kalashnikov and several more.

But it’s the passengers who can be relied upon to amaze and defy explanation. The imbecile who made headlines by deliberately mistaking a food cart for a bathroom was a shoo-in, of course, as are the accounts of initiation into the Mile High Club. The episodes of air rage will appall.

If Mr. Big in the back of the business jet has dropped any hints about selling the airplane, leave a copy of this book lying around the cabin–just in case he’s forgotten what it can be like to ride with
the herd.