I should have known it was going to be a weird flight when the captain introduced himself as A-rod. Short, round and graying, he stood in the galley massaging the shoulders of a tense looking flight attendant. When the agent walked on board with paperwork, the flight attendant quickly slid out of A-rod’s reach and eagerly asked. “Ready to board?”
Boarding, for a flight attendant, is the most hectic and difficult phase of flight, and would you believe we’re not even getting paid until the aircraft door is closed and the airplane backs away from the gate! It’s true. What makes it stressful is the pressure to get full flights staffed with minimum crew out on time. No longer are there extra flight attendants floating around to help passengers the way there once was years ago. Either we’re setting up a galley or keeping an eye on our exit doors. And by the time a full load settles into their seats and flight attendants can finally move freely up and down the aisle, we’re usually just a few minutes away from taxiing out.
Enter the cat lady. I spotted her right away during the boarding process. Now I love cats. I even own a sixteen pound Maine Coon named Gatsby, so I’m a bit of a cat lady myself. What I don’t love are – not passengers who bring on board pets that don’t fit under the seat in front of them (it happens), but passengers who don’t tell us when their pets don’t fit under the seat until the last minute, like a woman did on a flight a few years ago! That cat wound up in the first class coat closet for take off. So when I spotted this newest cat lady with a large hard case carrier, I asked if it would fit under the seat in front of her.”It should,” she said matter of fact. “I went to the airline’s website to check the measurements under the seat.”
Sounded good to me.
Well not only did the carrier not fit under the seat, an aisle seat, nobody with a middle seat wanted to split from their traveling companion. Cat lady turned red. In the aisle she stood yelling at me because my airline had “lied” to her and now I needed to make things right! Honestly, I was trying, but she wasn’t making it easy screaming at me like that. To make matters worse, the agent started making a PA asking everyone – her – to take their seats. That’s when it seemed like just about everybody seated in a five row radius began claiming to have severe cat allergies.
Quickly I walked up the aisle to report what was going on to the captain and the frazzled agent, but along the way a passenger waved me down to ask if his dog had been boarded. He’d seen it sitting in its crate on the tarmac and was worried. I told him I’d be right back.
“If the guy with the dog is wearing a red baseball cap, I already told him his dog was on board,” said A-rod. “It’s a big brown dog, right?”
I had no idea what it looked like, and was just about to tell him so when the agent interrupted us and asked, “Are you going to take the delay Captain?”
A delay is bad news at an airline. And someone has to take the heat. This is why flight attendants and agents start making back to back PA’s asking passengers to step into the aisle when stowing their bags and to take their seats as quickly as possible for an on time departure. Otherwise fingers start pointing. Flight attendants, gate agents, mechanics, cabin cleaners, we’re all guilty of trying to place the blame on another department. Get docked with too many delays and one could very well lose their job. It’s that serious.
I didn’t wait to hear A-rod’s response, I quickly walked back to coach and asked the dog owner if his dog was big and brown. He just looked at me. Then he told me the breed, as if that meant something to me. I tried again. “Is that breed of dog normally big and brown?”
He smirked. “Yeah.”
“Your dog is on the plane.” One down, one more to go.
Only when I finally reached the cat lady, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Somehow, I don’t know how, the other flight attendants had moved passengers around in order to accomodate the cat under a middle seat. In doing so, the cat lady now had an entire row all to herself.
Just as I started to relax, a passenger tugged on my sleeve. “Excuse me, Miss, I want to know what that woman paid for her seat!”
I started to tell him I had no idea what she paid for her seat, or what anyone paid for that matter, when another passenger piped in with, “Did she buy one seat or three?”
Across the aisle a woman yelled, “I don’t think it’s fair that she gets her own row while the rest of us have to suffer!”
On the verge of a mutiny, I tried calming the passengers down. It wasn’t easy. Did I happen to mention we hadn’t even taken off yet? And that boarding sets the tone for the flight? Oh yeah. Welcome aboard. Now where the heck was A-rod when you really needed a massage?
Tips for traveling with pets on the plane:
1. Book flights early. Only a certain number of pets are allowed in the cabin at one time.
2. Check the airline’s website for pet policies and maximum dimensions for carriers. (21 inches long X 13 to 16 inches wide X 9 inches high seems to be the standard)
3. Purchase a flexible pet carrier or “bag” as these tend to fit better under seats than hard case carriers. (If checking a pet in cargo, only hard case carriers are accepted.)
4. Choose a middle or window seat, as the space under aisle seats tend to be narrower.
5. Pets are required to stay inside their carriers throughout the flight. Make sure it’s ventilated on both sides.
6. Line the carrier with an absorbent material like “puppy pads” in case of an accident.
7. Make sure your pet is wearing an identification tag.
8. Personalize your pet. Put a sign on the carrier that reads, “Hi, I’m a cat and my name is____ . This is my first flight.”
Photos courtesy of Erica.Hargreave