THEY - say time flies and I couldn’t agree more as I flip through the stamp collection on my passport from the past five years. This month marks my five-year journey as a flight attendant and it sure brings back many memories.
From flying to cities that I didn’t know existed, becoming a regular at many restaurants and bars across North America, facing challenges with medical emergencies at 35,000 feet, and mastering how to walk in heels after working 13 to 16 hour days. Those are just some of the things that come along with my flight attendant job.
Above all, though, the opportunity to work with a new crew of colleagues on every flight, along with interacting with hundreds of different passengers everyday is an experience I look forward to.
Sometimes I meet individuals who are so inspirational — it feels like I learn more from them during our short conversation than the knowledge I garnered in all my years spent in school.
Of course, there are the occasional days when I have to count down the minutes until that unbelievably ridiculous, miserable and ignorant passenger leaves the aircraft. But after those particular flights, my reasoning for indulging in a chocolate bar or glass of wine is always 100 per cent justifiable.
One of my most memorable flights happened four years ago. I received a call from Crew Scheduling requesting that I operate a flight to Tokyo. It was exactly one week after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, just 350 kilometres northeast of Tokyo. The earthquake caused a devastating tsunami that damaged nuclear reactors and the country was still understandably in chaos a week later.
My biggest concern, at the time, was the uncertainty of how the damaged nuclear plants would affect cities like Tokyo. By the way, the reason I was asked to jump onboard was because more than half the crew originally scheduled for the flight asked to be removed — they shared my fear of what might occur during the layover.
In the end, I agreed to operate the outbound flight to Tokyo, which was nearly empty — few, with the exception of business travellers returning home or volunteers going to help in the rescue, were travelling to Japan during those tragic days.
Because there were so few people onboard the flight, I had a chance to talk — comfort, really — some of the Japanese passengers.
I noticed a sad-eyed Japanese lady starring out the window and within seconds tears began running down her face when I asked if everything was okay?
“I’m going home and I’m so scared,” said the woman, who had been vacationing in Cuba.
The distraught woman told me she had received an email from her sister and that, while all her family members had been accounted for, the state of her own home was unsure. And, most importantly to the woman, her sister was unable to tell her if her precious dog, whom a neighbour had been looking after while the woman was in Cuba had survived the quake.
“This is the second time in my life that I’m experiencing a major earthquake in Japan,” said the woman quivering. “The first time it happened, my home was destroyed and I was only able to salvage a few things.”
While grateful her family members were safe, the woman was afraid her precious possessions — photos and momentoes from her global travels — might be lost forever.
Left: Helping comfort people on troubled flights is something that Lily has had to do. Right: The world is a beautiful place when you look at it through the window of an airplane.
I assured her that there will be more trips to come in the future and she’ll have plenty of new photos and momentoes to collect.
Like that woman, I have a cabinet at home filled with my travel memories — magnets, postcards, and unique Coca-Cola bottles from every place I visit.
I often think of that passenger when I look at my travel treasures and hope she’s visiting an exotic destination while making new travel memories.
The return flight from Tokyo was completely full.
We were bringing home Canadians who were left stranded in Tokyo for days due to so many flight cancellations. Many of the passengers told us how relieved they were to be going back to their homes, while sympathizing with the Japanese, so many of whom had been left homeless by the disaster.
When the plane touched down in Toronto, the passengers clapped and I could see many let out a sigh of relief.
Our company thanked us for showing the bravery to take the Tokyo-bound flight and we all felt that, in our own way, we had lent a hand during the horrific event.
Every passenger left the airplane that day with the most sincere “thank you” to me and the rest of the crew.
It was the least we could do.