I've had to deal with roaring drunks, tantrum-throwing children, marriage-ending screaming matches and gross-out, rent-a-room reconciliations, all at 30,000 feet. But as I was sliding down the inflatable emergency exit chute, I suddenly remembered one woman who insisted she had a medical emergency during a coast-to-coast flight and wanted to know if there was a doctor on board. We made the announcement and a surgeon on his way to a vacation in Hawaii with his family came forward. We took her to the woman, who told him she just realized she needed a refill for her cholesterol medicine.
I can't tell you how many times I've had to escort travelers to their seats while the "Fasten Seatbelts" sign was illuminated. I asked one guy if he had seen the sign. "Yes," he said, "But I didn't think it meant me." That seems to be the prevailing attitude of the troublemakers. The carry-on luggage rules aren't for them. The lines for the seating sections aren't for them. The window seat they are in is not the middle seat they've been assigned. They think everyone else has to turn off all electrical equipment and cell phones but not them.
"Don't you know who I am?" many of them ask. The standard joke on board is to turn to the other passengers and yell, "This man does not know who he is. Can anyone help him?" After that the passenger usually says, "You'll never work on this airline again."
As I picked up speed down the inflatable slide, I wondered where do these people who think the rules don't apply to them come from? I blame the airlines.
For some reason, they let infants that can sit in the mother's lap fly for free. If you can annoy people before you can even speak, you're sure to be good at it when you grow up. They should be charging parents with infants quadruple and make them buy three seats per child. It's not that I don't like babies, but I like the other 250 passengers better. It would make much more sense if the airlines let whomever it is that just can't live another day without seeing this child, fly to see it for free.
Most passengers couldn't be better behaved and they handle a stress-filled cramped cabin with pleasant resignation. "We're all in the same horrible, stinking, claustrophobic, leg-cramping, mind-numbing, deafening flying boat," is the thinking, "Go along and get along."
Problem passengers, however, are under the impression that they are in a flying four-star hotel/restaurant/spa, and that their job is to review the food and the service. "Is this the only brand of honey roasted peanuts you serve?" "Why, I've had better snacks at a filling station. A BP filling station." "There's no make-up mirror in the rest room." Sometimes I feel like I'm on one of those reality shows where they make you do stupid things day after day with a bunch of people who are trying to stab you in the back — except the contestants get a chance to win a million dollars for putting up with all the nonsense, and I don't. And they only have to do it for a month, I've been doing this for 15 years. I'm not a saint, but I don't make it my mission in life to make other people miserable. For once, I want to work someplace where people treat me like a human being, with respect and dignity. Teaching? No, that makes being a flight attendant look easy. The fast-food industry? Life is too short. Telemarketing? Ugh. Car salesman? I can't afford the cut in pay.
At the very moment I hit the bottom of the slide I realized that there are very few jobs that are all fun and problem free. I should have started crawling back up.
Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo." You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org