paperwork, passengers, and the power of color

There are many challenging professions in the world.  Brain surgeon.  Chemical engineer. Calculus professor.  Playing first string in the Philharmonic Orchestra.  And on and on it goes.

But flight attendants?  They deal with a particularly unique work environment.  How many people face a job where they’re sealed into a small space with their customers for hours on end, plus required to maintain composure through elevation changes, turbulence, and belligerent passengers?  Not me, that’s for sure.

I can’t begin to imagine the stories they must amass over a year’s worth of travel, but I’m fairly certain one Delta attendant went home in July with a doozy about that time my kids got farmed out to the closest black folks.

We were traveling out of the country which for some reason always involves paperwork.  Lots of paperwork.  Forms I don’t 100% get because we already killed several forests working out way through the passport and Global Entry systems, but they have a funny way of not letting you in a country if you don’t jump through the hoops so the last twenty minutes of a flight are always spent frantically filling in tiny boxes.

The flight attendants have the honor of passing out this endless stream of paperwork, repeating over and over, “one per person” or “one per family” depending on the form.  Always with the same patient expression, the same tolerant answers, never once snapping “oh, for the love of God, WEREN’T YOU LISTENING WHEN I SAID THIS TO THE TWO ROWS IN FRONT OF YOU?!”  It’s actually pretty impressive.  And things were going smoothly for our attendant right up until the time he reached our section of the plane.

Just to give you a mental picture, our airplane had rows with two seats on the right side and three on the left.  We were on the two seat side with T-man and Bear sitting in front of us, counting down the minutes until we could get off that blessed plane, when the attendant began distributing forms.

He was moving down the aisle, handing out the one-per-person forms, when he caught sight of my obviously underage children sitting together.  He glanced around and spotted two grandparents sitting nearby on the other side of the plane, two grandparents who were black. I’m betting you can guess what happened next.

The attendant instinctively linked the four of them together and was in the middle of asking the grandparents if T-man and Bear were with them when we realized what was happening.  The look on his face was classic when the two white folks sitting behind the kids raised our hands to claim them – there was a millisecond of shock quickly erased by that smooth professional face they must teach flight attendants in training.

I’m hoping he didn’t kick himself too hard once he got to the back of the plane; I mean, I can see how it happened.  I also hope he took a moment to internalize the importance of not jumping to conclusions.  Live and learn, right?

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