Travelers Beware-Drug mules.

Travelers Beware-Drug mules.

I recently wrote about theft on an airplane and got so many responses.  Today I’d like to discuss another aspect of air travel many do not consider.  As flight attendants, we knew to look out for the warning signs of drug mules, excessive sweating, refusal to eat or drink, or acting nervous.  I recently saw a post on social media where a lady shared the story of her interaction with a drug mule.  I like to write short insightful pieces, but I had to share this as is. This story is not my story, but I am sharing it because it is accurate and does happen.

COPIED (As was written by the unknown author without correction)

If you travel by air a lot, beware of over friendly chatty seat neighbours.

 The older lady comes and sits next to me inside the plane. She asked me to help her put her bag in the overhead luggage compartment. But a gentleman sitting across quickly came through. (I am not very tall and the overhead luggage compartment is something I try to avoid at all costs.

Immediately she sits down she strikes up a conversation.  She was very pleasant and well spoken.  So we chatted all through the flight to Dubai.

Suddenly, when the pilot announced that we were now proceeding to begin our descent into DXB, my good friend ‘developed’ stomach pains.  Me with my good heart, I pressed the stewards button, and the stewardess came to find out what the problem was.  I told her my seat mate was not feeling well.  And this lady, she suddenly began to address me as ‘my daughter’. The stewardess told me that there was nothing they could do except give her some painkillers and wait until we landed.  The pilot announced that we had a medical emergency on board and advised us all to stay calm.  My new friend was crying and sweating like crazy.  And she refused to let go of my hand… everyone assumed we knew each other. 

So we landed at DXB and the same gentleman who helped put up her luggage in  the overhead compartment removed her luggage.  But as he removed the luggage, he advised me to distance myself from this lady and make it clear to the cabin crew that we were NOT travelling together. He was a godsend!

So indeed, the cabin crew came and asked me if we were related, I categorically told them we had met on the plane.  I didn’t know her at all.  So we began to deplane and as I said goodbye she kept begging me to carry her handbag. I was so torn… but the gentleman looked me in the eye and emphatically shook his head.  He passed me a note telling me to let the cabin crew handle her. 

So I exit the aircraft and leave my ‘new friend’ to wait for the wheelchair and be handled by the cabin crew feeling very guilty. 

As we waited for our luggage to come through, I hear this commotion. My ‘new friend’ was running, trying to escape the cabin crew, having gotten out of the wheelchair! She left the stewardess with her handbag and just ran towards the exit with the rest of her hand luggage! Luckily the airport police were faster than her.  They got hold of her and brought her back in handcuffs. 

This lady starts calling out to me.. my daughter… my daughter!.. how could you do this to me….. that’s when I caught on.  She was carrying drugs and she was trying to implicate me!

Luckily for me, the gentleman who had helped her with her luggage came forward and told the airport police that me and her had just met on the plane.  The police took my passport and asked her to reveal my full names if it was true we were travelling together.  By God’s grace, I had not even told her my first name! I was still asked to follow the police to a little room where I was questioned extensively.  Where did I meet her?… where did I board…  where did she board. Etc… And my luggage was extensively searched and dusted for fingerprints. 

They dusted all her luggage and my fingerprints were not found anywhere on her luggage or on her handbag!

I was let go with advice never ever to touch anyone’s luggage either in flight or at the airport.  So from that day, I don’t care how much luggage you have, you will deal with it yourself.  I will not even offer you a trolley to put your luggage on! Your luggage… your problem….  is my policy.  And if you can’t reach the overhead compartment, and I am the nearest person, please call the cabin crew because all I will do is give you a blank stare and then look away!

A lesson to glean therein for intending air travelers.

COPIED.

Just as I wrote about theft on the airplane, I could not have relayed the dangers of being too friendly more pointedly.  Travelers should be relaxed and have fun, be nice, but most of all, be cautious.  I hope this story opens your eyes a bit.

Behind the scenes- Airline agents

Behind the scenes- Airline agents

My last blog post tried to prepare travelers for the reality of Covid restrictions and holiday travel.  I want to focus on holiday travel and travelers’ role in the overall experience in this post.  We have all heard the horror stories of unruly passengers and the obnoxious behavior that affects many others.  Here are a few behind-the-scenes realities of airline agents I’d like you to be aware of next time you travel.  I hope your knowledge will make you a kinder traveler.

Airline ticketing agent.

This person is probably your first point of contact at the airport.  The ticketing agent checks your bag or handles any airline-related issue before you are even through security.  Ticket agents are responsible for ticketing, baggage, complaints, cancellations, lost luggage, weather delays, and other traveler problems.  They enforce rules made by the company, and they don’t personally make up rules just for you.  And yes, they can be fired for not following the rules.  So, when it comes to their livelihood or your demand, guess which takes priority?

Here are a few things I think they would like to tell you but can’t.
  • No, we can’t just give a free upgrade, it’s a computerized system, and big brother is watching.
  • Don’t be late and take responsibility for your poor planning and actions.
  • Saying no is not being rude. We are following the rules made by the company, not by us.
  • You get more with honey than vinegar. Treat me right, and I will do the best I can.
  • If you’re rude and yelling, do you think I want to help you?

Gate agents.

The gate agent is the person who, as the name suggests, works your departure gate.  If you have traveled recently, you may have noted that there is usually only one or two gate agents at the departure gate.  Due to airline cost-cutting, gate agents often work alone.  They must meet the inbound flight, coordinate unaccompanied minors and wheelchairs, answer passengers’ questions, clear the standby list, process upgrades, and board the plane.  If this seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is! Additionally, gate agents are also required to get the airplane out on time. This means getting every passenger onboard and seated before the airplane doors can be closed for departure.

Here are a few things I think they would like to tell you but can’t.
  • We can see everything about your ticket, including how much you paid, when and where you paid. Lying about how expensive your ticket was or that it was a first-class ticket is pointless.
  • On an oversold flight, we do have the discretion to move passengers to first class. However, the choice is usually automated and based on fare price or elite status. In rare cases, your behavior or the way you are dressed helps inform my decision.
  • My boarding time decision depends on plenty of factors. Is the airplane clean? Does it have enough crew members? Does air traffic control have a hold on the boarding process? There are many other reasons, and staring at me or crowding the boarding area will not make the decision faster.
  • We are accountable for getting the flight out on time except in the cases of weather or a mechanical delay.
  • The computer system shows how many people are connecting and their chances of making the flight. Delaying the flight for just a few passengers is often not an option as the airplane must be at its destination at the designated time.

I know that traveling is stressful for passengers, but it is also stressful for the agents who work with hundreds of passengers daily. The airport is fast-paced and hectic, and there is rarely time for bathroom breaks.  Give grace and practice kindness to your agents next time you travel.

If this has made you think differently about your previous airport experience, let me know.

Travel envy.

Travel envy.

Having traveled both professionally and personally, I can certainly attest to the travel envy often directed to me even though unheard and unseen but very present.

As an international flight attendant, my job took me all over the world. It was not uncommon for me to fly to unique destinations such as Paris, London, Buenos Aires, Bermuda, or Madrid within the same month. At the same time, I was still a mother and a wife and had to contend with all that those roles entailed. I quickly learned when trying to establish a relationship in the community, to gloss over my job. Mentioning destinations seem to bring on the envy of travel and I would quickly say “I’m a flight attendant” and change the subject as many seemed to hear my destinations as a brag. I would get responses along the direction of “oh how nice” or “that’s wonderful.”

It was not unheard of to get responses like “what about your kids?” or “how does that work with your husband and kids?” With my explanation that it was just a job like any other, I would inevitably get the response “it must be nice!” To me, that was the code for travel envy. I quickly learned in conversations to say that I was “going to work” or “going on a work trip.” Always conscious to never say a destination.

As an ex-pat in Europe and Asia, there were plenty of opportunities to travel in those areas. Thankfully I had learned from my professional travel experience to not discuss my travel plans in depth when having conversations with family and friends. Here too, the refrain “it must be nice” was also heard.

It was an honor and privilege to be a flight attendant for over twenty years and to fly to so many unique destinations. However, it was also a job and many times after long haul flights, the only part of the city seen was the hotel room. My personal travel was quite different as destinations such as Bali or Bangkok were planned with itineraries and time to complete them all.

I can certainly empathize with the travel envy now that Covid has canceled so many travel plans for me. But I know as long as I travel, there are many others whose dream of travel is unmet. So, I am very careful in discussing my travel plans and limiting or tailoring those discussions to the audience.

Have you ever experienced travel envy? How do you handle it? Does my story strike a chord? I’d love to hear your take.

5 must have items that stay in my carry-on.

5 must have items that stay in my carry-on.

As an avid world traveler who has done this both professionally and personally, my carry-on is always semi-packed. Here are my tips and advice on the 5 items I consider must-haves and should always be in my carry on.

1. A lingerie organizer bag (details on another blog post). The one I use has two sides, one for clean underwear and the other for dirty. You never want to get them confused!

2. An electronic organizer bag (blog post coming). With people being so connected it is so inconvenient to lose connectivity and most hotels do not provide enough power outlets for the technology we use in our daily lives.

3. A toothbrush which in my opinion is even more needed than the electronic organizer. Many people pack this in their suitcase but with the chances of your luggage being lost, I like to always have this at hand.

4. A medicine bag with items like Tums, ibuprofen, cold medicine, etc. I tend to also have eye masks, face masks, prescription medications, band-aids, Neosporin, alcohol pads, and such (more on another post).

5. Finally I always have a small makeup bag with the basics like mascara, lip moisturizer, lipstick, makeup remover cloths, toner, and face moisturizer. These are always found at beauty supply stores and pharmacies in travel sizes.

You make have other priorities for your carry-on. If so, what are they? I’d love to find out.

Covid travel or not?

Covid travel or not?

This was not my first trip since the outbreak of Covid 19, but with the resurgence and travel advisories against Thanksgiving travel, I had lots of inner struggle with my travel plans.

My first trip during Covid was the long trip back from Asia and it was a struggle trying to decide whether to stay in Asia or return to the US. As my youngest had braved Covid on her own for several months, I decided it was time to return home and be there for my daughter (see motherhood blog). As I was now in the US and only 3 hours away from my mom rather than 24, I planned my Thanksgiving travel. There was certainly a bit of angst as New York had been designated a hot spot.

However, my trip was a choice I felt I had to make. Having been an ex-pat for many years and not seeing my mom in a while, I looked forward to this visit. I had planned this trip well before the resurgence of covid concerns and realities. With a recent unexpected death in the family, I struggled with the thoughts of missed opportunities. Should I reschedule my trip? Covid was so unpredictable I wondered whether any other timing would be optimal for covid travel.

It is said that most family gatherings are at funerals and I struggled with the thought of canceling my trip and missing a positive family experience. Still and all, I am a prolific traveler, and I honestly missed the travel experience and was looking forward to the trip. I chose to keep my travel plans but wondered how much of my decision was a want and how much was a need. No one can predict the future, and my choice could be seen as unnecessary and risky. It could also be seen as a perfect time to choose family while they are around, rather than grieve for them or the missed opportunity to create memories.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences if you’ve had to make a similar choice. What would your choice be? Covid travel or not?

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