I have been flying for more than 20 years. Some holidays I have been required to work and on others I have volunteered because there is extra pay involved. I remember when I began with Pan Am I would always work on my birthday because I didn’t want to be alone and I thought maybe a female crewmember would give me some extra attention for a present. Hey, I was single and human, and it worked … usually.
But it’s the public holidays that seem to bring out the wackiness in people. Over the years, I have experienced or heard about some wild airport happenings around holidays, and I have always made it a point to write them down. Here is my list of the top 10 bizarre holiday airport sightings:
1. Santa was in full costume from his red satin pants to his flowing white beard, but he had a problem getting by security. He kept setting off the metal detector, and some of the presents in his sack had to be opened for inspection. He was detained so long that he missed his flight. Where was he going? No, not the North Pole but rather North Dakota — close enough and cold enough, I guess. But what happened to his reindeer?
2. On Thanksgiving, a man and his pet turkey caused quite a commotion at Boston’s Logan Airport when the bird flew the coop and escaped. I wasn’t there, but can you imagine airport personnel, police officers and an airport full of passengers engaged in a mass turkey hunt?
3. A man was much delayed at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (shocking, I know) one New Year’s Eve. He was on his way to a fancy celebration party with two cases of chilled Dom Perignon champagne, but it became clear he was not going to make it. When midnight approached, he got some glasses from the terminal restaurant, opened every bottle and enjoyed a very generous and expensive countdown toast with everyone within reach at the airport.
4. On July Fourth, a man was arrested for streaking through a Washington airport dressed only in an Uncle Sam hat and beard; an American flag extended from his — for lack of a publishable word — flagpole. I can’t decide whether this act was stupid, disrespectful, funny or all of the above. In any case, I hear his flag was at half-staff when they took him away.
5. One Easter Sunday at LAX, a couple was arrested for entering a secure area and performing lewd and lascivious acts upon one another. Was it because they were dressed as rabbits?
6. Each year, U.S. customs officials confiscate hundreds of trees and plants. Arbor Day is an especially busy day for them. I once flew in from London with a fellow flight attendant who got caught smuggling in a live rose bush. She was given a hefty fine. When she tried to use the Arbor Day excuse, the customs official pointed out that she had a bush, not a tree. She got cute and responded, “A rose by any other name is still a rose,” whereupon the official increased the fine.
7. Now, it wouldn’t be a true Labor Day unless a passenger went into labor on one of my flights. I was the purser when a lady went into premature labor. We called for a doctor who, fortunately, was able to stop the labor and give the baby some more time to develop. A month later, I received a photo of the baby and a card expressing gratitude. They didn’t name the baby after me because it was a girl — or so I would like to think. One small note: I, too, was born on Labor Day, though not on an airplane.
8. One Christmas, I was waiting at the gate for an incoming airplane when a little boy dashed by clutching a Santa hat, wig and beard. His happy squeals trailed behind him as he ran down the terminal and out of sight. Two minutes later, a scalped Santa galloped by, out of breath, searching for his top. He looked like a convertible caught in a rainstorm. The event brought cheer to everyone at the gate.
9. Crewmembers are permitted to dress in costume on Halloween flights. Most don’t participate, but some wear inoffensive outfits and a select few do go to extremes. I have seen clowns, devils, Disney characters, pilots dressed as flight attendants and vice versa. One flight attendant went too far when he changed into his costume in the airplane restroom and emerged as a terrorist. He was detained by security and was fired soon afterward. I guess you could say that his Osama bin Laden costume bombed. I find it strange that he actually thought people would be amused.
10. My favorite holiday sighting happened when I volunteered for the airline’s traditional “fantasy trip,” which stages a Christmas flight to the North Pole for seriously ill children. The kids boarded the airplane, taxied around the airport and arrived at a hangar decorated as Santa’s Village. To see the wonder and excitement in the children’s eyes and to help them forget — however briefly — their daily round of sickness was priceless. I cried silently the entire time.
We take a lot for granted in this life. Try not to. This holiday season, breathe deeply, love freely and laugh as much as you possibly can — simply because you can.