May's Maiden Flight
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
This is the second creative piece I wrote during the short time I spent attending a creative writing class. For this story, all the action had to take place on an aeroplane. As with my first story (Frank's Folly), I had a week between classes to write this one.
Trigger alerts: Comments that could be considered racist are included in this story.
When I first noticed May—I don’t know her real name, but to me she will always be May—she was standing addressing the flight attendant in the entryway of the plane. She was dressed in a red knitted twinset with a double strand of freshwater pearls around her neck. She wore a red and black tartan kilt, and on her feet were a pair of red leather lace-up shoes; the kind with chunky heels. She was struggling to carry a large tapestry valise. She stood out amongst the other passengers who were mostly dressed very casually.
“Good morning!” said the petite lady in front of me.
“Good morning! Can I see your boarding pass, please?” asked the attendant.
“Well, then, good morning, May. Can I see your boarding pass?”
“No,” said the lady, “What I mean to say is that it’s ‘May I see your boarding pass?’ not ‘Can I see your boarding pass?’” May explained.
“Oh, I see,” said the attendant. “May I see your boarding pass, please?”
“Certainly,” said May, smiling righteously as she flashed the boarding pass in front of the attendant’s face. The attendant smiled back, and, to give credit where credit is due, didn’t blink an eye.
I made my way to my allocated seat, bumping and being bumped by others as everyone jostled to negotiate bodies and luggage in the confined space of the aisle. When I’d finally managed to squish my overnight bag into the brimming overhead compartment and take my seat, I noticed that May was seated in the row in front of me on the opposite side of the aisle.
As the engines whirred noisily, the pilot and flight attendants went about their routine preparation for take-off: checking seat-belts were worn low and fastened tight; all luggage was stowed under the seat in front or in the overhead lockers; window shades, seat backs and tables were up; cross-checking and arming cabin doors; and demonstrating the safety procedures. As the plane rumbled slowly toward the runway the flight attendants sat down and buckled themselves into their seats. I noticed that May had a white-knuckled grasp on her arm-rest.
The noise of the engines increased as the pilot pulled back on the throttle, and I could feel myself being pushed back into my seat as the plane left the ground and headed into the crisp September sky. I was glad to be getting away and I looked forward to a calm flight, and a two-week break from my hectic life.
At the grind and thunk of the landing gear being returned to the undercarriage, May unclipped her seatbelt, leapt from her seat, and screamed, “Saints preserve us! An engine must have fallen off!”
The nearest flight attendant called out in an authoritative voice, “Return to your seat! Return to your seat! The seatbelt signs are still on!” May looked about her, and, realising that all the other passengers were sitting calmly in their seats, albeit that they were staring straight at her, she turned slowly, sniffed loudly, stuck her nose in the air, sat back down, and replaced her seatbelt. The passengers around her were all glancing at each other, rolling their eyes. At least one openly giggled.
When the seatbelt sign was switched off, the flight attendant came immediately to stand beside May, and asked her what she’d thought she had been doing, leaping out of her seat. May explained that she’d been concerned for the safety of other passengers if an engine had fallen off and had thought she should alert the cabin crew to the problem. The flight attendant calmly explained to May that we were in no danger, and that, in the unlikely event that something untoward should happen to an engine, the pilot would be the first to know, and that there was nothing May needed to do but remain calmly in her seat and let the flight staff go about their business.
“Are you a nervous flyer?” asked the flight attendant, kindly.
“How ridiculous,” snapped May. “How could I be a nervous flyer? I’ve never flown before.” She appeared indignant at the attendant’s suggestion of nerves. The attendant patiently explained that all passengers must remain sitting in their seats with seatbelts fastened while the seatbelt light is on.
As the plane continued its ascent, my ears popped with the change in air pressure, and I heard a baby a few rows in front of us begin to cry. I felt for the child with its earache, and for its parents trying unsuccessfully to calm the crying, which grew louder.
May looked about, and, seeing a flight attendant, waved for him to come over. “Young man, please stop that child from crying,” she demanded.
“I’m sorry, Madam, but that’s not something I’m able to do,” the attendant responded, politely.
“I’ll thank you to refer to me as Miss, not Madam,” said May.
“I’m sorry that the child’s crying is disturbing you, Miss, but there’s really nothing I can do,” said the attendant.
“Well, I never,” said May. “I must say the standard of service on this flight is very poor. Very poor, indeed.”
“I apologise, Madam … ah, Miss, but this really is out of my control.”
Just then an announcement heralded the imminent arrival of the refreshments trolley. When the trolley made its way to the row ahead of me, I heard May ask for a glass of white wine, telling the attendant, “Given all that I have had to put up with on this flight so far, I believe I’m in need of a drink.”
She surprised me by drinking the whole glass down in three audible gulps and, before the trolley had a chance to get more than a couple of rows away, she called out to the attendant requesting another glass. May was making good headway on her second glass, when she looked across at the man in the seat in front of mine, who was of African descent. She peered at him quizzically, then said in a bright voice, “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like President Barak Obama?”
I winced, and an instant hush ensued as everyone around May took in what she’d just said. The man looked directly at May, shrugged, and said, “All you Whities look the same to me, too.”
“Well, I never! How rude!” exclaimed May, affronted. She turned away and finished off the last of her wine. To be fair to the man, he looked absolutely nothing like America’s past president.
At this point, May let out a large “Burrrrrp!” She unfastened her seatbelt and made her way unsteadily toward the toilet near the cockpit, grasping the back of each seat as she passed. She was gone some time.
I’d picked up the in-flight magazine to browse, but my eye caught May returning down the aisle. She looked a sight. Her face was ashen, hair askew, and she sported a large, wet patch on the front of her twinset. From the look of her I’d say her wine had made a return journey. When she flopped back in her seat, one leg stuck out into the aisle, and I could see that her white stocking was wrinkling around her ankle.
Within minutes, May’s head had tipped back and, mouth wide open, she began snoring loudly.
Apart from the chainsaw noise of May snoring, and the baby’s crying, the rest of the trip was uneventful.
The plane circled the airport several times before we were cleared to land. May was oblivious as we taxied to a stop at the terminal. She didn’t notice the movement around her as people began to pull their luggage from the overhead compartments and make their way off the plane. As I left, I overheard one of the attendants on the phone asking security for assistance to remove a drunk passenger.
I was looking forward to my holiday beginning, but I was prepared to wait a few minutes in order to see what happened to May, so I hung around in the terminal. I watched as May was escorted into the building in a wheelchair. She was still clinging to what little dignity she had left, waving her arm like a police officer directing traffic and telling the security officer to “Please proceed to the baggage collection area, young man,” with a distinct slur.
I gathered up my overnight bag and headed off to catch a bus into the city, musing to myself as I went that a woman, no matter how well-spoken or dressed, is not always a lady.
The response of the flight attendant to May leaving her seat was developed from an incident I witnessed while flying recently. The racial incident was developed from one described online by a witness to a similar conversation.
In creating May's character, I feel that I may have been overly influenced by the character of Hyacinth Bucket (played by Patricia Routledge) of the British television sitcom series, Keeping Up Appearances (Clarke & Snoad, 1990–1995). If you know of Hyacinth, you will probably have noticed the resemblance. Despite my concerns, the other class members thought it was an amusing tale. I hope you got a giggle.
Clarke, R. (Writer), & Snoad, H. (Director). (1990–1995). Keeping up appearances [Television series]. England, UK: BBC.