Friday, April 16, 2010

The Gate Keeper

"Can you watch the bathroom door please? The bathroom door lock broke down.” The solitary flight attendant of flight AC7978 asked me in a sweet sounding French accented voice.

First time I heard such a request in more than a million miles of air travel. I looked at her with surprise questioning her request. My quizzical looks did not deter her and she continued.

“You just have to tell the passengers if the bathroom is in use. It is a small plane with a single bathroom so we cannot close it. I will announce on the intercom too. It is just in case someone did not pay attention. We will be stuck here for hours if I call for maintenance crew. It is a short flight anyway. ”

Mentioning possible delay in the departure did the trick. Seated on the rear most aisle seat of small fifty -passenger plane, I was pleased with the on-time departure announcement. Immediately after landing on Raleigh Durham airport, I had to drive to Fed-ex office to mail my passport to Chinese consulate for visa. Not landing on time would mean missing my chances to Fed-ex the paperwork and jeopardizing my upcoming foreign trip.

Reluctantly I agreed to guard the door and the plane was in air within minutes.

As soon as the solitary flight attendant turned the seat belt sign off, my duties of door sentry began. From the row number three, a woman with unkempt hair walked to the bathroom. I hoped no one else would need to use the bathroom at the same time. I was wrong. Just a few minutes later, a six-year-old boy with his mother approached the bathroom.

“There is someone in the bathroom,” I mentioned politely.

The women understood but decided to wait standing right near my seat. Few minutes passed and she sighed. Few more moments passed but no sign of anyone coming out from bathroom. The young boy became impatient.

“Mom, I really have to go,” he said.

“You just have to wait,” the mother replied nicely.

More time passed and yet no sign of person coming out from the bathroom.

“Are you sure there is someone inside?” she asked me.

“I am sure.”

“Who is it?” she asked maintaining politeness.

“I would not know. It is someone from the front,” I replied.

“It is a problem to travel with children on small planes with one bathroom,” she spoke to herself and I decided to ignore her.

Without any other choice, the mother and the son continued to wait becoming more impatient with time.

Twenty minutes later, the bathroom door opened and a completely changed woman came out. With brushed hair, elegantly applied makeup and wearing a strong perfume, she appeared like a model ready for a shot. The boy found his way to the bathroom quickly while his mother stared at the woman angrily. The person sitting next to me restrained his laugh but whispered,

“Women need makeup even to drink coffee in the plane.”

Surprisingly the mother heard it. Her annoyance shifted from the woman walking to her seat to the whispering man. I almost smiled at his statement but the mother’s glare stopped me and I managed to appear ignorant to his statement.

While the mother collected her words to confront the whispering passenger, just at that moment, we heard a loud sneeze followed by “Oh Jeez.” Apparently, the strong perfume made a passenger sneeze. The timing of sneeze and serving of coffee matched or mismatched. The coffee spilled over his shirt. The flight attendant moved the serving cart and let him come towards the bathroom. But, the boy was still in the bathroom.

“She spoiled my expensive white shirt,” he talked to himself blaming the flight attendant.

“Flying is no fun these days,” the waiting mother sympathized with him.

“I paid 80$ for this Ralph Loren shirt,” he continued.

“Try bleach or take it to a good dry cleaner,” she suggested.

“The airline should pay for it. It is her fault,” he said.

“I won’t bet on it. Airlines are charging for blankets now,” she reminded him the dire
economic state of airline industry.

“Look at the bathroom door. The lock is broken too”, he agreed with her and continued, “I am still going to try.”

When the boy and mother settled on their seats, the “coffee man” made futile efforts to remove strains from his shirt in the bathroom. With paper towels on his shirt, he returned to his seat grudgingly. The man sitting next to me could not resist laughing and said, “I can buy the same shirt for 50$. This is an interesting flight.” Though I agreed with him, I managed to ignore him one more time.

I looked at the time. We are almost there and no more door sentry duties. I started solving my favorite Sudoku puzzle and right then a man in suit walked to the bathroom. He tried to lock the door. It would not lock. He tried repeatedly. Finally, he gave up and looked for flight attendant.

“The bathroom door would not lock,” he said angrily to the flight attendant.

“Sir, we made the announcement,” she replied in a monotonous yet professional manner.

“I did not hear any announcement” he continued, “How can you fly with a broken lock?”

“Sir, we did not want to hold the flight at Toronto,” she tried to explain.

“I cannot use the bathroom without locking,” he declared.

“Sir, we will watch the door,” she tried hard.

“No. I cannot use the bathroom like it. I will complain,” he said and walked back to his seat.

My neighbor laughed again and said, “He is a southern snob. Keep waiting. Who cares? We want to reach home on time.” This time I acknowledged him and laughed with him. Simply speaking, flight 7978 felt like the shortest flight I ever had.

(Author’s note: - This is a fiction based on actual incidents. Readers please see if you can isolate facts from the fiction and put in the comments. Thanks )


NRIGirl said...

Thank you for sharing, A! It was good through and through - made me laugh out loud several times...

I guess you being the Gate keeper is the fictional part in this story... I wouldn't think an Airline would dare asking a customer for such a service...

Is that right?!

Amrit said...

NRIGirl, thanks for comments. The flight attendant did ask for watching the bathroom door. That part is actual. But good try :)

Anjuli said...

Oh man, I was sure the entire story was true!! ha ha- I've been on such flights before- where truth is stranger than fiction. So you were really the gate keeper- then maybe the man having the coffee spill on him was part of the fiction- OR...wait wait...could it be your chatty seat partner might have been fictional- and possible the other events were all accurate :)

Anonymous said...

Good narration..was interesting start to end. I think the last guy could not be that stubborn. He would have cribbed all those words and used the bathroom at the end..

sm said...

great narration

Nisha said...

Till last line, I was under the impression that the story was true !!

Nice weaving of incidents into a story.

Amrit said...

Anjuli, Satish, SM, Nisha

Thanks for the comments. I am glad to read the comments.

Most incidents are real. I will disclose the fictional part in a few days. :)

R. Ramesh said...

thanks buddy:)

R. Ramesh said...

very interesting piece..buddyyy...most of the time i reach the loo and end up talking with the pursers and airhostesses..while travelling in trains, i stand near the gate and enjoy talking to copassengers..well life is a journey indeed..yr narration is good boss..hey.i might have given the headline: makeup in the toilet..hehhe

Nisha said...

Will wait for those 'few days'. :)

Amrit said...

Nisha, Anjuli, Satish, NRI, Ramesh, SM

Thanks for encouraging comments. It keeps me going.

Nisha, Anjuli, NRI and Satish,

All incidents mentioned are actual but they happened on different flights - not on the same flight. I just connected them together in a story.

I think most of you guessed that anyway.

Thanks once again.

R. Ramesh said...

thanks a tonne buddy:)

Anonymous said...

Nice story

R. Ramesh said...


SG said...

Toronto to Durham non stop flight? No way. A small 50 passenger plane from Toronto to Durham? No way. Short ride from Toronto to Durham? No way.

Amrit said...

SG, Thanks for the comment. Check out internet for Air Canada AC 7978. can give the exact details of the seats. Checkout of 13C.

I have done this flight multiple times. Toronto to RDU.

That part is factual. I have already added in comments the fictional part.

SG said...

You are correct.

Readers Dais said...

Thats a cool one,
so u were responsible for peoples....errr.....u know....
did a gr8 job eh!
reading ur post was fun :)

Anonymous said...

yup..I am becoming a fan of ur posts.. you have a good sense of humour.. thanks buddy

Black Walnut Pearl said...

This was nice! You really took me from T to D as the gate keeper:) Journeying through your blogs.