As a cabin crew member, I thought I’d seen it all. Then this family boarded the aircraft.
Mum, dad, their teenage kid, and grandad. Grandad’s best days were behind him, it would be fair to say. Needed all his family’s help to walk down the aisle. He had shades on, and was wearing gloves, a big long-sleeved jumper and a scarf wrapped around his neck and mouth. It was a hot day, so we did find his attire odd, but whatever.
They got to their row and started trying to get grandad settled. Aggressively. Grandad was standing over his seat, but he didn’t seem to want to sit. The family all had their hands all over him, attempting to force him down into it. It was a real struggle. His legs were just not bending into the sitting position. We were finding this all hard to watch, especially as grandad seemed so submissive about the whole thing. So, a couple of us went over to see if we could help. The family resisted this strongly. Didn’t want us anywhere near grandad.
Anyway, it didn’t take long for us to discover that grandad was as dead as a fucking door nail.
A considerable commotion ensued, of course. At one point, the family got themselves in such a state that they neglected grandad. He started to topple over and one of the other passengers had to catch him.
The flight got cancelled because of grandad. A full flight. Absolute carnage. After the dust finally settled, we established that grandad hadn’t woken up that morning. The family were, of course, devastated and just wanted to get home. They weren’t up for paying the fees and doing all the paperwork to get the body shipped. They figured his return ticket was already paid for, so why waste it?
I often think about that family during the hours before we met them. Discovering him in his bed. Coming to that decision and devising their plan. Getting him dressed. Getting him into the car and through the airport terminal, then guiding him through security like a ventriloquist dummy.
I never know whether to laugh or cry.
Since then, whenever a customer is being difficult, I just smile at them. In my head, I’m thanking them for being alive.