Alaska Air is obsessed with the size and shape of people’s carry-on luggage. The announcements start to set my teeth on edge. A first announcement at the gate invites passengers to check their roll along cases at the gate. A trickle of older passengers trundle forward, supported by their bag handles. A blonde gate agent eyes other potential cases with a slight narrowing of her eyes. I sashay forward confidently and she seems disappointed when I hold out my first class ticket, which guarantees my bag a place. I travel with only hand luggage and hate to have to battle other passengers who stand against the carousel edge like it’s an about-to-open free buffet counter.
I try to juggle a phone camera, a main camera and two bags as I move down the jetway to the plane. Do we call air stewards air stewards any more? The air steward was a lithe man in his late 60s with very carefully coiffed mid-grey hair. He was wearing both a medical face mask and a plastic shield that he had attached around his forehead. I stowed my cases and started to sweep the pile of crumbs off my seat. The air steward leans towards me, saying ‘shub-gub-shammelly-tekku?’. My eyes betray my confusion. He pulls aside his under-mask, ‘what drink do you want after takeoff?’. I plump for a hot tea with milk. I start to brood on the fact that I could have had a gin and tonic, but it’s not yet 11am. I need to do some filming in Spokane and gin makes my eyes go red from the first sip.
I settle into my front row seat, reaching for my phone in the little seat pocket only to find an open baggie of half-eaten mango. Clearly the kind of bag in which cabin staff had a lesser interest. Alaska Air 990 is being prepared to take off from Seattle to go to Spokane WA. There’s a man beside me, neat beard, black mask. He’s wearing grey khakis and a matching set of grey bowling shoes, the kind that lace all the way to the toecap. He has found another man, vaguely a colleague, at whom he can broadcast all of his Optometry Sales secrets. ‘The Board was thrilled with our in-chair sales figures this quarter and want me to come out East’. His aisle-neighbour’s eyes are starting to roll.
I turn my gaze through the low-down 737-800 window, looking for clues as to why we haven’t pushed back yet. Two women outside have their masks under their noses and are standing against the luggage loader. One is nonchalantly picking her nose as a second luggage truck edges forward. Her fluorescent tabard reads ‘Magee Air Services’.
The torrent of passengers slows to a trickle and roll along cases are being refused entry to the aircraft. One man is being rebuked by a crew member for trying to board with a large suitcase that clearly had a bag tag on it. The older air steward crouches behind them and appears to have wedged a telephone handset between his plastic shield and his under-mask. He starts to make an announcement, ‘plebe canoo pless smol baks unther the sit in fronnayoo’.
Mr Grey Pants has started to adjust his manhood as his conversational chum is feigning a nap across the aisle. He sets his grey bowling shoes up on the carpeted bulkhead wall to gain better purchase. I think he’s just looking for attention.