Pan Am had been in financial difficulties for several years before finally facing up to the fact the once proud leader of an airline industry was no longer financially viable. The bones of the once proud giant were still being picked over by industry vultures and I noted there were signs of former Pan Am markings on the United Airlines aircraft I was about to board for my flight from Singapore to Hong Kong. Obviously United had decided to join the corporate raiders.
United airlines had always given me good service, so I was surprised on entering to find my seat this old Pan Am craft had a run down and shabby appearance. The crew was just as helpful as usual, so my initial apprehension was put aside in the jostle to find space in an overhead locker.
My attention was diverted to a commotion in the aisle several seats back toward the entrance. One spiffily suited businessman was having a heated argument with a patient crew member. Two other anxious crew members rushed in for moral support as I watched. The argument apparently was about his assigned seat, and crew members were pointing out he’d requested that seat and that’s why he had to live with his choice. The aircraft was full!
This was not what the businessman wanted to hear. Yes, he’d requested this particular seat, but now he’d changed his mind. In his mind he was an important person and needed to have them accommodate him in recognition of his long standing patronage.
His voice droned on mentioning names in high places he’d report to. I admired the professional way the crew handled this difficult customer in spite of being sorely provoked. I’m sure they were secretly wondering why such an important man was traveling economy class with the rest of us peasants.
Now the rest of the passengers had managed to find their seats and were beginning to get restless. One burly fellow passenger stood up and gently but firmly eased the man down to his assigned seat to the obvious relief of the crew and watching passengers. But as soon as our burly hero had returned to his seat the troublesome businessman was back on his feet pacing the aisle looking for alternative seating.
There to his delight was a whole empty row backing onto one of the toilet blocks. He informed the crew member urging him to find his seat and buckle up this would suit his purposes, and went back to collect luggage from the overhead locker. This he deposited under the three empty seats and sat glowering at the crew. Crew members went into a huddle and glanced occasionally at the overhead lockers above the businessman’s head. After their brief conference they retreated to their take off positions. Was I mistaken, or were they wearing smirks of satisfaction?
Crew members did their safety demonstration thing as the aircraft taxied out to the strip for take off, and within minutes we were climbing steeply seeking altitude for our trip to Hong Kong.
Then something I’d never seen before on previous flights happened. I noticed from my centre aisle vantage point large drops of water developing on the underside of the overhead luggage compartments. Instead of falling on passengers in seats directly below they began to amalgamate and form a river flowing backward with great speed as the plane ascended steeply. An upside down river!
Now you’ll recall the businessman had selected the empty aisle backing onto the toilet block. End of the line for the upside down river! A steady stream emptied on him and his luggage, thoroughly wetting him before the plane eventually found its assigned flight altitude and leveled out.
The businessman was livid with rage. I’m sure he suspected the crew had left that row of seats vacant as they knew this old Pan Am plane had an unusual evil habit. But he’d forced his choice on them and I’m sure he’d be careful who he told his story to others. His fellow businessmen would get great pleasure out of his misfortune. I’ve discovered friends enjoy learning about your embarrassing moments.
As soon as the plane had leveled out and set a course for Hong Kong a crew member appeared innocently with drinks on a tray. She indicated surprise to find a shivering businessman drenched and subdued. With clucking noises of sympathy she found towels and dabbed here and there mopping up the wetness. She asked equally innocently if he would like to change seats. There was a subdued nod of agreement. Crew members moved the towel covered businessman, and his wet luggage back to his assigned seat where he sat without a murmur for the rest of the trip.
What about the rest of the passengers you ask? Well there was a lot of laughing and a great deal of pointing for a while, but eventually they grew tired of the fun and went back to their headphones and magazines.
And what was my reaction? A big high 5 for the United Airlines staff! Fortunately they mothballed the old Pan Am planes soon after, but I was careful to avoid that particular row of seats on all future flights in remembrance of that entertaining fiasco.
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