When people ask me about the craziest things I've seen as a flight attendant (which usually happens the minute they find out what I do for a living), I'll usually share stories about passengers who get naked or attempt to open the emergency doors in flight. One passenger actually did both! For the record, this is physically impossible to do at 30,000 feet. Or I'll mention the first class passenger who kept coming into the first class galley after having not that many Jack and Cokes to eat other passenger's leftover food out of a dirty meal cart. Or the passenger who got hit on the head by luggage - and then threatened to sue the airline because the injury had affected her psychic abilities. I've even seen a woman attempt to store her baby in an overhead bin. Passengers seated nearby didn't seem to mind.
To be fair I also have some funny flight attendant stories. One of my coworkers boarded a flight carrying a vacuum cleaner. I don't know what disturbed me more, the wet and Marge Simpson-like beehive bun or watching her try to cram the full size Hoover into the first class closet. Another flight attendant I worked with was determined to save every single plastic bottle she collected over the course of a three day trip. She looked like a glamorous homeless person dragging the loot inside a gigantic clear plastic bag through airport terminals nationwide.
To me, the interesting thing about all these crazy stories is this: what I think is weird never sounds strange to those who work on the ground. For instance, once a passenger asked if she could borrow my dental floss. Never mind the word "borrow," as in she might give it back. Right now you're probably thinking to yourself, what's the big deal? I hear that all the time. But tell me, is there any other place on earth where someone feels comfortable enough to ask a complete stranger if they can borrow something from their toiletry bag? The same goes for just taking things. I would never dream of walking into someone's place of business and grabbing something off his or her desk to keep as a souvenir.
I've had thousands of passengers borrow pens and never give them back. Some have taken newspapers and magazines lying on top of my tote bag. I guess it was the big red CREW bag tag that made them think it was okay. Thankfully no one has ever taken my uniform blazer. One of my colleagues actually found his standing in line at customs! Another had to inform a passenger that airplane blankets don't usually come with arm and neck holes. Even our food isn't safe. When another flight attendant I know turned her back for five seconds to make someone a drink, someone stole grilled chicken sitting on top of her salad, the one she had covered with a plastic lid! Two of the three strips were discovered in a passenger's hand, five rows away from the galley. Once, I had a passenger steal my breakfast sandwich from McDonalds right out of my jump seat. When I tracked the guilty party down, he didn't seem all that shocked to learn he was eating my egg Mcmuffin. Sure, he apologized...but he also continued eating it! Not that I wanted it back by then.
I come across a lot of strange behavior on the airplane. A business class passenger having a melt down over turkey sausage touching scrambled eggs. A famous singer sending me running for several cups of tea because there were "black thingies" (tea leaves) floating in the hot water. The woman who wanted me to discard one cube of ice because she had asked for three, not four. Although at least she wasn't one of the ones who complain about their ice being too cold (Seriously)! The strangest thing about all this is I'm used to it. It's just another day at work at 30,000 feet. When an elderly women yells at me for talking too loudly to other passengers, then later on in flight asks me to help her get her bra on, I just shake my head and help her put on her undergarments in the lavatory. This is normal. What's not normal, however, is telling a flight attendant she has nice legs, and then asking if you can lick them. Seriously, what are we supposed to do with that? It's almost as weird as the dental floss.
Heather Poole is the author of "Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet."