Just sniffin' around...
For Flight Attendants, No Liquids and No Glamour
It's not just the passengers who are inconvenienced...
ABSOLUTELY no liquids or gels, that’s the rule. No, wait. Now you can have gel-filled wheelchair cushions and gel-filled bras. But no toothpaste or other squishy stuff. And no liquids except breast milk and infant formula. Hey, what about my pen, which appears to be filled with either a gel-like substance or a liquid?
For most of us, these new security regulations, adopted after a seemingly imminent terrorist attack in Britain last month whose outlines are still vague, have meant that the last four weeks at airport security checkpoints have been merely annoying.
For flight attendants, it’s been just one more brick on the load.
“It seems to be a fluid situation that changes day to day,” said Janice Gorham, a flight attendant for American Airlines. Ms. Gorham did not appear to be making a pun in describing the confusion that even flight attendants have experienced over new carry-on rules.
Ms. Gorham has been a flight attendant for 33 years, since the days when the job had glamour. The glamour has faded, especially in the five years since 9/11 (when 25 flight attendants lost their lives). She isn’t bitter about that, but she has made her retirement plans and intends to be out at age 59.
Ms. Gorham, who lives in Southern California, works mostly long-haul flights: Los Angeles-London; Los Angeles-Tokyo; and sometimes Los Angeles-Hawaii.
“Long-haul flying used to be glamorous,” she said. “We had 36-hour layovers. You’d go from Chicago to Milan, stay at a beautiful hotel. You’d sleep and go have dinner, go to the Duomo and feed the birds, come back and relax, then work your way back home.”
Long layovers are history. “Now we do turnarounds to Hawaii. You don’t even get off the airplane — you go to Maui and wait till the last person gets off, then you find a row and lie down for maybe an hour till you have to get up and work your way back home.”
The new prohibitions on carry-on liquids and other materials have been especially hard on, and sometimes confusing to, flight attendants.
“They don’t provide meals for flight attendants anymore; we have to bring our own,” Ms. Gorham said. “But you can’t bring any fluids on board going back and forth to London. We used to buy these wonderful Indian frozen curries, but they’re banned because they become liquid when they’re not frozen.”
Ms. Gorham said she had real sympathy for younger flight attendants on shorter-haul domestic routes, dealing with a workday that can require multiple connections.
Flight attendants don’t usually check bags. If they can’t bring on liquids or gels, female flight attendants must do without cosmetics, and both female and male flight attendants have to do without necessities like toiletries and toothpaste.
“Now, I’m 56 years old, and I can pare my needs down to lipstick and blush if I have to, but when you’re 25 or 30 years old, you have mascara, you have your own shampoo, you got two or three other products,” she said.
Recently, flight attendants working domestically have been given a slide on the toothpaste-cosmetics prohibitions. But that isn’t written down on the T.S.A.’s published list of prohibited and allowed items (www. tsa.gov).
“As far as I know, it’s all hearsay,” Ms. Gorham said. “There were tens of thousands of flight attendants going back and forth between airports all day. A lot of these kids have eight-hour layovers. They have to brush their teeth; they have to wash their hair; and they can’t check bags on all these different legs.”
For years after 9/11, by the way, flight crews, including pilots, complained that they were being singled out for secondary screenings and pat-downs.
It still happens. Ms. Gorham said a long-haul pilot recently told her, after having his toothpaste confiscated: “You know, I could roll this aircraft over in a minute and nobody could stop me. God forbid I should want to brush my teeth.” Ms. Gorham has a few years left in the air, but she knows the best part is history.
“I love my job. It’s the only job I ever really wanted. I still love going to work,” she said. “But since 9/11, which were otherwise very productive years for me, I got a 25 percent pay and benefit cut, thanks a lot.”
“I had a very fine first 28 years. It’s a different world now and I’m a little mad about that. I used to think this job was very special, and now sometimes I think it mostly consists of walking down aisles with a gray bag picking up trash. So I know it isn’t special anymore, just as I know American isn’t going to give me a gold watch when I retire.”