Wherever the Road Leads

Women and Airplanes

If you have never flown for business, you might be surprised to learn that hotels, airports and airplanes are surprisingly quiet places Monday through Friday. They’re busy, for sure, but they are quiet.

Being on the road ten days at a time meant one weekend at home then the next weekend in a hotel. During the week, it’s all business folk who, for the most part, are retired in their rooms by 9:00pm, with the occasional straggler in the exercise room or doing laundry. Occasionally a flight crew will arrive later but they get there tired, understand courtesy and are gone long before I ever got down for breakfast.

Mornings at the Breakfast Bar feature mostly men traveling alone – perhaps an occasional woman – either reading the complimentary newspaper or watching CNN generally, on the television. Except to say, ‘excuse me’, ‘thank you’ and ‘Is anyone sitting here?’, there is no conversation.

Weekends when the men’s and women’s bowling leagues, parents with teenagers’ hockey teams or cheerleading competitions arrive, one needs hearing protection at breakfast, to eat whatever provisions haven’t been already ravaged. Be prepared for exuberant youths and inebriated parents thumping up and down the hall for the better part of the night.

The amateur traveler’s a different world. I have seen wives and mothers actually using the drawers in the piece of furniture that the television sits on and where you set your suitcase on, pulling out clean clothes and returning soiled until it’s time to leave. I’ll bet most business travelers assumed those drawers were sealed shut. But Sunday night though, normalcy returns.

“The Road” is not a Meet Market, a Single’s Bar or a dating site. Women are treated exactly the same way another male traveler is treated: completely ignored. Sure, it’s more fun to check out a woman’s butt or legs than a man’s as you stand in line at a hotel’s front desk, an airport’s boarding gate or the rental car counter but just as you wouldn’t talk to a man, no one talks to a woman.

Perhaps it happens, but I have never seen a man try to chat up a stewardess…. though by referring to them as that – stewardesses – I guess I’m showing my number of years of flying… ‘flight attendant’. U.S. domestic flights are far too short generally, and far too full for a flight attendant to have free time after pushing the drinks cart the length of her section then picking up the trash.

Women travelers are generally as absorbed in their laptop, tablet, kindle or paperback as are men and conversation rarely happens. I remember only once was there single’s-bar talk between a man and woman in their thirties. By their dress, however, you could tell that both were leisure travelers, not business.

Only once did I have a conversation on a plane with a woman. My marriage, if not yet actually decreed by law to be over, was a close as damn is to swearing.

A major cause of the failure was how my wife and I reacted to her apple-of-her-eye son who was, in my view, precocious, undisciplined and a complete disruption of the household. After five years of losing the battles in this cause, I had decided it was time to lose the war.

My fellow passenger and I talked about child-rearing. It made me feel a little better when she explained at one point, she and her husband were headed for divorce court over their younger son, and they were the natural parents. Apparently for three teenaged years, he put them through hell. Then almost overnight, he became a new person.

Flight attendants rarely engage in casual conversation with a passenger but it did happen to me once. It could not have been a worse time. I was flying from Cincinnati to Portland Maine, I had a cold and I was so stuffed up I could barely hear. Add to that the pressure in the cabin and my comprehension abilities were barely above lip-reading.

She lived about an hour and a half from home at the time, in Birmingham Alabama. She was my age and she was cute. As best I could figure, though, there was a husband involved, so I don’t think she was interested in too much more than a casual conversation with someone civilized enough to have an Alabama logo on his button-down shirt, amongst all these heathen northerners.

As a road warrior, night after night after night of eating dinner by yourself remains glamorous for only so long. Hoping to have someone to talk to other than Pat Sajak and Vanna White, only once did I ever try to chat up a flight attendant. I was flying from Dallas-Ft. Worth down to Laredo Texas, surprisingly on a slowish turbo-prop with a very limited number of passengers. It was the last flight of the day, so the crew would not be returning until the morning.

I complimented her on her perfume and asked its name. I recognized the perfume as it is pheromone-based, which to me is as alluring as a freshly-killed skunk. I dated a woman who wore the same – expensive, no doubt – brand. She thought it was impulsive and steamy that after dinner out we started foreplay in the shower together, not knowing it was the only way I could get close to her.

Texas hospitality, an empty plane and an overnight stay for the crew didn’t get me anywhere, though. She told me its name and went back to her busy work in the galley, filing her nails. She must have known I was lying about her perfume.

If you have read my post, “Fear of Flying”, then you’ll know I started flying fairly young. Back then, being a “stewardess” was in the same league as being a model. In the fifties and sixties, all the stewardesses I saw were young and attractive, making the trip up and down the aisle in tight skirts and stiletto heels. I was about twenty and dating someone I thought was out of my league. She wore platform heels to the Air Canada Job Fair that she thought was un-fair because she was told to remove her shoes before they measured her less-than-minimun required height.

When I started flying full-time, with unions and equality legislation, I think those same women from the nineteen-sixties were still flying. And few had aged well. Obviously that’s a broad-sweeping generality.

However, the glamor – or perception thereof – has gone out of the profession. I have flown with or seen hundreds of flight attendants walk through airports. Change their uniforms for street clothes and there’s more glamor at the Macy’s or The Bay make-up counter.

An illusion shattered. Next, I’ll learn there really is no Santa Claus. That might be more than I can handle.






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