There’s somethin’ about ‘Mary’
As potatoes go, this one burns a bit. Most of us have an image of those that represent our various airlines and the ideal that we expect from them. I suppose more than a half of our Cabin Crew (Flight attendants) these days are women; mums, wives, sisters and lovers. They come is all shapes and sizes and there’s the rub, there are those who may be considered by some to be the wrong size or shape to be doing the job. Sad but true. It is not that they start out like that, food is plentiful aboard, exercise is not. Add to that transit through life and the physical and emotional strains that flying imposes, and it leads us all down a pathway.
I arrived on our crew bus one day to fly to Nigeria. The Cabin Crew were all present, smiling and friendly. Sitting squeezed in amongst them was Mary. Mary had obviously been flying for a while, probably starting a little before I did and in some ways she had not weathered particularly well. Being the the senior member of the the cabin staff she rose and and greeted me warmly. I swallowed my surprise, shook hands introducing myself and my colleague – standard stuff.
First impressions count in our game, at least that’s one of many mantras suffused into us either by experience, wisdom or our CRM teams. My first impression of Mary was mixed to say the least. I asked myself how on earth a member of our prestigious company’s customer service team could be allowed to face the public wearing a uniform stretched to the limit of its capacity? It was in a way dispiriting to see someone looking this way in our line of work. Nevertheless we had a job to do and we forged ahead with the usual round of briefing, establishing relationships and preparing ourselves for flight as a crew.
At this point that other training and what perceptive powers I had managed to accumulate intervened. There was something about Mary, her lively wit and vibrant personality indicated that at the least we would get on well, she would probably contribute something worthwhile to our operation. Life is like that isn’t it? – if you allow time and space the world will gradually reveal itself, even through many inches of skull bone might get in the way sometimes.
As the flight unfolded it became apparent that Mary was exceptional in her abilities, at that point she had probably forgotten more about humanity than I am ever likely to learn. One of our team described later how she worked the cabin and our customers with a talent that left the rest of the crew behind. They came to the flight deck chuckling over their ‘Mary’ stories during the flight enabling us to form better picture of this personality.
During pre-dinner drinks at the hotel in Abuja Mary let slip that she was retiring, this was likely to be her last trip. Although she was just below retirement age, her mother was unwell and needed the help of a dutiful daughter. I asked her what she would do without an income until her pension arrived with a mother to support. Characteristically she chortled out loud, “Oh don’t worry about me luvvie, I have two companies to run and job offers from another two, one of them from my very first boss in the publishing business.” Apart from being (then) an exceptionally talented Cabin Service Director, she is very astute business woman with a pin sharp brain.
There were tears at the car park when we made it back to London, Mary didn’t want to go and the very camaraderie that had kept her flying for thirty years caused her great distress with it’s departure. Nigeria isn’t my favorite place but I am grateful for that trip. A fortunate encounter with Mary revealed two truths, one known, the other new to me. The known – never trust first impressions; as powerful as they can be they are often unreliable and given reign, they could get you into a lot of trouble. The other – we need more people like Mary, in whatever package they arrive.
Happy retirement Liz! XX