Browsing Tag

Pan Am


Free ‘n Easy

One of the unexpected consequences of moving to Berlin is the amount of time I spend inside the cabins of Easy Jet planes. Since the move in February, I estimate my Sleazy Jet flying time has breached the twenty-hour mark, plus the same again queued up waiting like sheep in a pen for the free-for-all boarding call. That’s two whole days of my life I will never get back, like ITIL training or that afternoon I once spent in Swindon.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Among the long and varied list of bargaining points on the deal I made with husband to get him to move to Berlin, one was that we would return to the Cotswolds for a weekend every month. To break him in, I agreed to once every two weeks to start. And just when I thought I had weaned him down to a compromise agreement of once every three weeks, I somehow find him spending the entire month of May there – admittedly the nicest month of the year to be in the Cotswolds—while I fly back every weekend to see him.

As such, I have become something of an expert Easy Jet flyer. I have learned, for example, to head straight for the stairs at the back of the plane after several catfights with parents and other entitled types over trying to get the bulkhead seat. I didn’t mind the catfight part (kind of like it, actually), I just realized that you can exit as fast from the last row as the first, while avoiding the discomfort of the front row where you face the Easy Jet flight attendants head on and feel obligated to engage in small talk. And I do feel obligated because I can’t help feeling sorry for them. They never seem to get to spend the night anywhere they fly—surely the main perq of being a flight attendant—but rather just do a couple of out-and-back short hauls each day. I am pretty convinced they get commission for the tat they peddle on the plane (scratch cards for gods sake!), which makes the job more or less the equivalent of working in a 7-Eleven in the sky.

My father was an airline pilot so as a kid, standby gods willing, I got to fly Pan Am first class, complete with cloth napkins, mini salt and pepper shakers, and multi-course meals. Things are different now. Next time you fly Easy Jet from Berlin to Bristol, turn around and see who’s sitting in the back row. If it’s a woman eating Mini Cheddars and drinking a mini plastic bottle of South African rosé on the rocks, chances are that’s me.


A Christmas Story

When my sister and I were little girls my father brought us a Christmas present that has become the stuff of family lore. It was an Olde English Sheep Dog named Greta, purchased from the pet department at Harrods and transported back to us in Florida in the cockpit of a Pan Am 747 where my father was serving as the engineer. What is remarkable about this gift is neither the dog nor how it was dispatched to us, but just how uncharacteristically spontaneous and joyful a portrait it paints of the man both capable of conjuring up this plan and pulling it off (obviously in days of laxer airport security): a man purportedly my father. Greta was a good pet, but we keep the story alive in my family mostly because we want to know this man.

As long as I can remember, my father’s main hobby has been watching the stock ticker tape roll by on CNN. Occasionally as children we were introduced to other pilots, many of them ex-Navy like my father. These men had a penchant for Corvettes, speed boats, and second wives. They seemed like another species. Despite having chosen a job that allowed him to travel the world, my father’s interest in the cities he was visiting – Karachi, Delhi, Paris, Beirut! – never seemed to extend much beyond a (admittedly self-reported) glass of milk in the hotel bar. During the period when he was hitting a lot of Middle Eastern routes my mother got a few rugs and my sister and I got some bootleg tapes of U2 and Huey Lewis and the News, but I suspect this was more the result of a sympathetic stewardess than my father’s own initiative.

Greta was never really a dog made for south Florida. She got fleas, her hair fell out, and when it thundered, as it often does on a summer afternoon in Florida, she hid under a side table next to the couch. When I was about twelve or thirteen the time came for Greta, long crippled by arthritis, to be put to sleep. My mother had taken my sister and me to our grandparents’ house in California for a few weeks of summer vacation, leaving my father alone in Florida to do the deed. He was distraught when he called us after having put her down. I took the phone at the desk nook built into my grandparents’ kitchen and, after listening briefly to his teary retelling of the afternoon’s events — intended to assure me the dog went peacefully and was in a better place — I began to sing the Meow Mix song, a popular advertisement for cat food in the 1980’s. I had moved on. I wanted a cat and would torment my parents with the Meow Mix song from then until the time Cleopatra, a bitchy one and a half year old Siamese cat I found through an ad in the Fort Myers News Press, was purchased for me for $20 from a couple who mysteriously didn’t want her anymore. It was, upon reflection, not a good lesson for an adolescent to learn about what you do when someone old and sick dies (replace it) or you don’t like someone anymore (sell it).

I like to think I made it up to my father when I gave him my dog a few years ago when we moved from Los Angeles to England. I say gave when I really mean insisted he take her. It shouldn’t have been a hard sell. After all, my father had loved having a dog and it was ridiculous that it had taken him twenty years to get another one. He had taken up no new hobbies since retiring unless you count the Internet, which he uses daily to log on to his Charles Schwab discount brokerage account. (The hint provided by the fact that his house abuts an eighteen hole golf course has not been taken.) Now he spends all his time cooking the dog bacon then taking her out for urgent walks because she can’t really digest human food. These days when I call it’s all about the dog: the lizard she chased through the patio screen, what she ate, defecated, bit. There’s still no sign of a globe-trotting bon vivant who buys his children live Christmas presents from Harrods and sneaks them back across the Atlantic in the cockpit of a plane. It’s just a man and his dog.