Excerpts from a new book, Airborne
Compiled by The Finnair Committee of Eight
There are innumerable stories about flying, and as it has become an increasingly popular mode of transportation, reaching further and further into all corners of the world, these stories have become increasingly vivid. We often fly to destinations that have been shaken up by one disaster or another … natural or humanmade. In those situations, there always seems to be a member of the crew who can break the tension with a good story. In addition, when exhaustion is taking its toll or we are weighed down by uncertainty, joy and laughter give us energy. The ability to live in the moment, to give it all we’ve got, and to rely on situational comedy are our sources of strength … the wind beneath our wings!
The Captain and First Officer are in charge of the plane, which sometimes includes unwanted in-flight responsibilities like reining in the Rolling Stones or dispatching an aggressive snake occupying one of the plane’s bathrooms. Finnair
The stories in the book are like encounters on flights … brief and intense. Many people photographed in its pages are still actively flying, but there are others who have contributed fond memories from their professional experience as far back as the early 1950s. After all, the first domestic Finnair flight with a flight attendant was June 21, 1947, on board a Douglas DC-3 with fixed wing propellers.
In the early days, flight attendants’ duties were quite different from what they are today … picking up passengers from their homes on the way to the airport, stopping to buy meals to serve on board, weighing passenger luggage and mail to be carried. The mail always had priority, with an attendant or passenger having to leave an overloaded plane if necessary, rather than a bag of mail.
Helsinki to London was the first international route for Finnair, inaugurated in 1953. Finnair
Two Tales of Contrasting Celebrities
1. The Rolling Stones were on a flight from Helsinki to Stockholm. The band members couldn’t care less about the service, as they were busy amusing themselves by climbing over seat backs and just lying about. They wanted to sit in the very last seats for landing, and refused to fasten their seatbelts. Consequently, I had to tell the captain that the cabin was not ready for landing. He said he would teach them a little lesson, warning us to hold on tight. We approached normally, then the captain pulled the aircraft up at a steep angle. After that the band members sat down in their own seats and fastened their seatbelts.
2. We had been alerted that a person of high status, who did not want any special attention, would be seated in the first row. The passengers came in, and last of all, our VIPs. We shook hands, and they sat down quietly. Our VIP had a warm smile, and he was very interested in Finland and our work, as he had not met many Finns before. He admired the beautiful winter scenery outside. When we got to Zurich, Nelson Mandela thanked us for the kind service and conversation, and wished us a peaceful life and time at work.
The title is no exaggeration that this book contains well over a thousand amusing, poignant, often generous-spirited stories we can identify with, whether as a passenger or a flying professional. It is easy
to dip into and hard to put down. Here is a taste of the collection:
I was serving drinks on a flight to Paris, and when I got to an elderly couple, the man already had out a 20 Euro note from his wallet. “No need,” I said. “This is a scheduled flight; all beverages are complimentary.” “Well, in that case, give one for the wife as well!” the man replied. I made hers a double.
1969 was a very creative year for cabin crew uniforms, both designed by Kari Lepistö. Finnair
A middle-aged couple travelling to Asia had checked in too late to get seats together. The man was upset, and began a one-man, there’s-no-way-I’m-putting-up-with-this show. He insisted they get seats together, and since economy class was full, he believed they were entitled to an upgrade, snapping his fingers flamenco-style. The purser decided to upgrade two elderly ladies who were taking a long-awaited dream holiday, and then gave their original seats to the couple. The man didn’t seem happy, even though he got a seat next to his wife. The couple did not speak a word to each other on the entire 10-hour flight.
I was once working on the same flight as my mother, a flight attendant as well. I noticed that the passengers were giving us funny looks as we served them, but I had no idea why. Once we got back to the galley, my mother explained. Apparently I had been repeating the word “mummy” throughout the service … “Mummy, pass the ice please; Mummy, can I please have some lemon; Mummy, a coke please.” A group of European school children were on their way to China, and entertained each other by constantly ringing the attendant call bells, which we eventually had to ignore. When serving the meals a Swedish lady complained, “I’ve rung the call bell several times, but nobody came. You announced that you’re serving pasta with cheese sauce. Can you please make mine without the cheese?
Service with a smile is expected on every flight, with every passenger, no exceptions! Finnair
I caught a tall, well-built Russian man leaning against the wall outside a lavatory smoking a cigarette. I was about 5 ft 5 in high heels, yet I boldly approached him with a cup of water to extinguish the cigarette and said in English, “It’s not allowed to smoke here. Please extinguish your cigarette.” He smiled and blew smoke rings in my face saying repeatedly in Russian, “I don’t understand.” A super-charismatic purser, whom half the men feared, arrived on the scene. She held out her hand and said in English, “Your passport, please.” The man dumped his cigarette in the glass, pulled out his passport, and began speaking fluent English. I’m pleased I got to witness someone learn a language so rapidly.
Pre-ordered Meals Designed for You are available in Business Class on intercontinental long-haul flights from Helsinki. Finnair
It was spring during the SARS epidemic, and the crew wore face masks. A passenger commented, “I guess there’s no need to smile now that you have those masks on.” A steward on the flight borrowed my lipstick, and painted a smile on every mask. The passengers were pleased.
A passenger was dissatisfied with the vegetarian meal he had pre-ordered, but luckily he had brought something along to eat: a ham-and-cheese sandwich!
And then there are the jet lag stories:
At the supermarket immediately after a long international assignment, I found it irritating that my husband constantly ran away with the shopping trolley when I tried to put something in it. Finally, I realized that the man I was following was not my husband, and my own beloved was staring at me in shock from the other end of the aisle.
Once after a Bangkok flight, I went straight to pick up my children from daycare, only to find that they weren’t there! They were sick, and my parents were at home looking after them. “Right, I knew that!” You should have seen the expression on the teacher’s face.
Flight crews spend up to a third of their nights per year at hotels in various corners of the world. Much appreciated perks to offset the jet lag and absence from family include sampling ethnic cuisine, exploring unfamiliar cultures, sightseeing and shopping in challenging but stimulating destinations like Hanoi, Vietnam (above) and New Delhi, India (below). Photo Credits: (Delhi) Finnair; (Vietnam) ©iStockphoto.com/laughingmango
There are so many stories involving lost crew bags – not lost by the airline but by ourselves. Fortunately, there’s usually a responsible first officer to keep an eye on everyone’s luggage, and locate it when you don’t recognize it or even remember having it with you. At home, friendly neighbors usually return a suitcase when you leave it standing alone in the parking lot or driveway or apartment building lobby. After a long overseas flight, I forgot my little daughter at the bank and was nearly home when I realized what I had done. I drove back, and there she was on the rocking-horse where I’d left her. The bank teller looked horrified and I didn’t tell my husband until ten years later. My daughter wasn’t in the least bit traumatized, later becoming a flight attendant herself. She says that she remembers it but wasn’t worried because she knew I’d come back eventually … I always did.
In June 2012, a Finnair retro Airbus A319 Silver Bird and crew in retro livery. Finnair
This book is the perfect gift for working or retired pilots and cabin crew professionals who will laugh and nod at almost every tale recounted. It is also a great read for anyone who spends a lot of time travelling by air, offering a new appreciation for those who serve hundreds of delightful or demanding passengers daily in their chosen profession.
Airborne, Tales from a Thousand and One Flights
Compiled by Riitta Kiiveri, Tony Pokkinen, Noora Kunttu, Pirkko Saari, Christina Strandberg, Meriitta Ahtikari, Kati Kaivanto, and Lene Malmström
£25.00 + shipping, 240 pages, in English
published in 2012 by Atar Publishing Ltd (Finland)
ISBN-10: 9526757750 or ISBN-13: 978-9526757759
Available through Amazon UK.
The profits from this book are donated to the Finnish Central Association for Mental Health, to be used in the prevention of mental health issues among children and adolescents. Finnair cabin crew members chose this charity by majority vote.
A worthy footnote: According to Europe’s Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre, Finnair is the world’s safest airline flying anywhere in 2012. You cannot do better than that!