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Out of the Blue

Mile-High couplings no treat for flight crew

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 1, 2002

People sometimes do strange things aboard airplanes. I watched one passenger clip his toenails in full view of fellow passengers, some of whom were struck by toenail shrapnel. Another man hung his wet underwear from an overhead bin as if it were a clothesline.

Once, an intoxicated woman crawled up the aisle, barking like a dog and biting passengers. And recently, an obnoxious male flight attendant sashayed up the aisle, shouting at sleepy passengers, "I'm the magic man! I'm the magic man!"

The magic man is no longer employed.

But these antics pale compared with acts of in-flight lechery -- the infamous Mile-High Club.

During one unforgettable flight from Los Angeles to New York, my bleary eyes suddenly swam into focus when two coach-class passengers let their passion get the best of them. In a row by themselves, they had sex, thrashing about. They were oblivious to the sidelong glances of my colleagues, who kept cruising the aisle to get a closer look.

The cabin was dark save for a few passenger reading lamps that back-lit the performance like tiny spotlights. With so few passengers, most people took advantage of the extra space and stretched across several seats, sleeping.

Staring from behind the rear bulkhead a few feet from the passionate couple, my colleagues and I heard muffled moaning. Suddenly our female flyer let out a shriek and collapsed into her friend's arms, just as startled passengers sprang upright.

Throughout 16 years as a flight attendant, I've witnessed -- and become aware of -- numerous inductions into the Mile-High Club. The liaisons are most common late at night, when lights are low, crowds are minimal and the threat of discovery is less likely.

Though some of those seeking membership use the relative comfort of a passenger seat, cloaked by blankets and pillows, many other passengers join the club in the plane's lavatory.

Though it would seem that only a pair of contortionists could make use of that confined space, it does offer far more privacy.

During one flight, I knocked on a lavatory door for nearly five minutes before a sheepish couple finally emerged. As they retreated to their seats, several passengers, many of whom had been waiting impatiently in line, broke out in spontaneous applause.

Aboard another flight, my colleagues saw a man and woman dart into a lavatory. Moments later, a passenger call button sounded. It sounded again. And again. And again . . .

Flight attendants finally realized that the call originated from the lavatory that the couple had entered. One of the two was apparently bumping, rhythmically, against the lavatory's call button.

Minutes later, when the chiming had finally ceased, the door opened, and the man and woman walked out. Standing before them was a group of flight attendants, who proffered a bottle of champagne.

Why are some people so eager to make whoopee in airplanes? Especially in an unaccommodating lavatory? As far as I can tell, there are three main reasons:

1. Alcohol. Some people will do anything when they're intoxicated.

2. Boredom. On long-haul flights, a mischievous few apparently need more than an in-flight movie to keep them entertained.

3. Relaxed dress code. In the early days of commercial aviation, standards of clothing were higher: Men wore suits and ties; women came aboard in smart dresses. A certain behavior went along with this conservative attire. Nowadays, it's not unusual for passengers to walk around the cabin in miniskirts, shorts, sweat suits, tank tops, flip-flops or no shoes at all.

I once saw a woman traipsing around the aircraft dressed in only a slip. When the light hit just right, you could see . . . well, you could see.

In 1998, aboard a South African Airways flight from London to Durban, South Africa, a business-class couple disrobed from the waist down and got busy in full view of other passengers. Mortified onlookers summoned flight attendants, who, despite their best efforts, could not get the couple to disengage.

Ultimately, the captain was forced to intervene.

The next year, a similar incident occurred aboard an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Manchester, England. Two business-class passengers, a 40-year-old man and 37-year-old woman, sat together and exchanged more than pleasantries.

Despite that they had been strangers before meeting onboard and were married to other people, they went at each other like inebriated college students.

Both were arrested at the Manchester airport. They lost their jobs, ruined their marriages and were ridiculed for months in the British tabloids.

Though most airlines deplore onboard coupling, Virgin Atlantic Airways once capitalized on the popularity of perpetually horny film hero Austin Powers (Mike Meyers). He was shown straddling the fuselage of a jumbo jet, and the caption read: "Virgin Shaglantic -- Yeah, baby."

Richard Branson, the airline's outspoken founder, once exclaimed: "We're not the type of airline that bangs on bathroom doors."

Whether it's banging on bathroom doors or prying apart business-class couples, flight attendants have to improvise their reactions to the event: Our in-flight manuals do not discuss the situation.

- Elliott Hester flies for a major U.S. airline. He is the author of Plane Insanity: A Flight Attendant's Tales of Sex, Rage, and Queasiness at 30,000 Feet (St. Martin's Press).

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