A couple of weeks ago, while I was emptying the airplane trash bins, one of the bags split open and spilled a brown, milky liquid down the front of my skirt.
“Ewww…” I shrieked. “Garbage juice!” That’s what’s I call the rancid liquid that pools at the bottom of the airplane trash bins. The airplane galleys aren’t equipped with sinks and so every half drunk cup of coffee or can of beer gets emptied into the trash, which, after an eight hour flight, can make for a rotten combination. From the smell and consistency of that flight’s garbage juice, I figured it to be a blend of coffee, cranberry cocktail and spoiled milk. And it was now running down my stockinged feet and forming a puddle at the bottom of my 150-dollar heels. Niiice.
“Now don’t you have a fun job.” This came from the pilot, who was observing my work from his post outside the cockpit door. He was being sarcastic of course, but I knew from the sympathetic look he gave me that he didn’t meant any harm by his comment. He was giving me the same pitying look I used to reserve for bathroom attendants and garbage collectors. That “Dude-your-job-sucks-and-I’m-so-glad-that’s-not-me” look. Which is funny that I used to think that because now, well, that IS me. Garbage collection and toilet cleaning are two of my job duties as a customer service agent.
What? Did you think that a customer service agents only responsibility was tagging bags and scanning boarding passes? Nope, when I’m not checking people in or boarding the plane, I’m actually cleaning it. I vacuum up cracker crumbs, restock tissues, pull bubble gum out of the seat pockets and yes, even empty the garbages and wipe down the lavatory toilets.
In fact, since I started back in August, I’ve picked up chunks of vomit off the airplane carpet, scrubbed blood off an airplane seat and mopped up crap (yes, real CRAP) off of the bathroom floor. Just last week, I was emptying the lavatory trash when a diaper tumbled out of the bag and onto my arm.
It’s been a humbling experience, that’s for sure. And I’m not going to lie and tell you that the indignant thought, ‘But I have a college degree! What am I doing here!?’ hasn’t wormed it’s way into my head on more than a few occasions. Because it has.
It’s tough trying to maintain some measure of modesty and dignity when you’re on all fours, wearing a dress, and trying to wedge yourself under an airplane seat so that you can vacuum up someone’s forgotten Chinese Chow Fun.
But it’s been educational, too. In the same way that working in a restaurant sheds a whole new perspective on your dining experience (as in don’t anger the waitress or she’ll spit in your food!), working in the airline industry has permanently changed the way I view flying.
I will never, for example, step foot into an airplane bathroom without my shoes on ever again. Prior to working for an airline, I optimistically assumed that because because the airplane floor looks clean that it is clean. The truth is that if the airplane lavatory is cleaned at all (because sometimes in the rush to get the flight out in time, that part is skipped), it’s only given the cursory 10 second wipe down. In fact, although the planes are technically cleaned each and every time they’re parked overnight at an airport, they’re only THOROUGHLY cleaned about once a year.
That means that the seat you rest your head on during that red eye probably has remnants of a previous passenger’s pink eye. Or drool. Or head lice. I’ve heard horror stories from customer service agents from other airlines (not my airline, mind you), who reuse the blankets without first sending them out to be washed, or flight attendants who use the ice trays (the same ice they put in your Pepsi cup), to store their food. And I’ve been told to never drink coffee on an airplane, because the coffee pots never get properly washed with anything other than the lav sink water.
Although I’ve never been a germ-a-phobe, whenever I’m flying and I see a passenger tip-toeing into the lav in their socks or eating off the tray table as if it’s a sterilized, freshly-washed plate, I want to shake them.
Because if I’ve learned one thing from cleaning planes for a living, it’s that airplanes are dirtier than a locker room. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.