It is quiet in the cockpit. Cruising flight in domestic airspace requires little more than the monitoring of instruments, and the occasional radio transmission to air traffic control, which observes our every movement on radar. I am not lulled into complacency, however, as I know all too well it is at this point in the flight that passenger troubles often begin to emerge. The sharing of these adventures during quiet times serves to reduce the monotony of cruising flight and, not inconsequentially, experience is gained in how to safely resolve onboard disagreeableness.
I am humming “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” quietly to myself, with my head turned to the left, looking out the cockpit window so the first officer cannot hear. The sky is blue, the morning air quiet. Life is good.
BANG! CRUNCH! A flight attendant has entered the cockpit, slamming the door behind her and crashing on the jumpseat behind me. I am incredulous that 110 pounds can make so much noise. I turn around and see the tears that are about to rain on my parade.
“Are you OK?” I ask, knowing full well she is not.
“God, I hate kids,” she bawls. “They’re having a food fight, and I am not going back.”
“Oh my,” I said. Though a much stronger reaction was on the tip of my tongue, I held it in check. “Perhaps I better go back there and straighten things out.”
I remembered we had boarded 40 pre-adolescents in Dallas, bound for a summer camp near Denver. While several adults had seen to their boarding, and more were to meet them in Denver, there was no adult accompanying them. Apparently my company felt that four flight attendants were more than enough to handle 40 rowdy kids and the 30 or so other paying passengers on our B-727. It was Saturday. Our four flight attendants were fairly new. None were old enough to be any of our passengers’ mothers.
As I slowly got out of my seat, the first officer put on his oxygen mask, a procedure required when only one pilot is at the controls. I knew I had to do something that would make a strong impression on the little rascals, so I put on my coat and hat and tried to make myself look like some Third World military dictator. Slipping into the serenity of first class, I could sense the chaos occurring just behind the curtain separating it from the rear cabin.
Throwing aside the curtain, I stomped into the maelstrom of economy class. I stood before them, feet apart, balled fists on my hips and a scowl on my face. The sight of an authority figure, be-hatted with lightning bolts, multiple stripes on my sleeves and adornments on my chest had a startling effect. The noise stopped. It got so quiet you could hear the sound of a banana cream pie sliding down the cabin wall. Then plop! It landed right at the foot of a pre-adolescent male armed with a creamy chocolate cake he’d prepped to launch across the cabin against his well-armed adversary five rows away. The debris of battle hung dripping from the seats. Turkey sandwich-shrapnel littered the floor. A few deadly chocolate chip cookies had left their mark on the cabin ceiling after ricocheting off the head of a hapless enemy. Pulverized potato chips were ground into the carpet by the advancing army.
“YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO CLEAN UP THIS MESS,” I roared in the most commanding voice I could muster. “OR I WILL TURN THIS PLANE AROUND, RETURN TO DALLAS, AND YOU WILL ALL BE ARRESTED.”
I left the economy cabin as commandingly as I arrived. But passing through first class, I couldn’t ignore the adult laughter and I broke up. In answer to one gentleman who jovially said, “You tell ‘em Captain,” I said: “That’ll hold the little bas…er… rascals!”
The flight attendants passed out wet towels, walls were scrubbed, floors swept up as best they could, and silence was the tone for the duration of the flight. I sensed that they were not sure if they were going to camp or to jail.
The camp director met the flight in Denver, and our formerly tearful flight attendant explained all that had passed.
Several months later I received from our public relations department a stack of apologetic letters written by each one of our pubescent perpetrators. I laughed long and hard as I read each very sincere apology probably done under the coercion of the Camp Director. Each letter, individually written, contained a common theme to all of them, best expressed by the one that started out like this.
“Dear Captain Bill: We are sorry we messed up your plane. I DIDN’T DO IT BUT I KNOW WHO DID.”