Susan La Nasa hopes to walk down the aisle soon, but not in the Prince William and Catherine way. In the "pretzels-or-peanuts" way.
I caught up with La Nasa last week at an information session run by Mesaba Airlines, which is hiring new flight attendants. Good lord, I thought. Is there any more thankless job today than having to deal with ... us ... 30,000 feet in the air?
We, who feign surprise that our suitcase won't fit into the overhead bin (OK, that's me)? We who thrust lanky legs into the aisles and bark at airport security people and refuse to power down our electronic devices or return our seatbacks and tray tables to their fully upright and locked positions?
Wouldn't working on a chain gang be easier? I needed to find out.
So there I was, proudly passing the "reach test" (thus proving my capacity to open the overhead bin) and then, dang, I got politely booted out by the moderator who explained that only those serious about a future career as a flight attendant could sit in.
Fortunately, the chipper La Nasa called me later in the day with good news. She'd been asked back for a second round of interviews. Her enthusiasm was palpable. Suddenly I was 12 years old again, flying all by myself for the first time. The plane was wide and clean and, while just one-third full, took off anyway, and everybody got a meal. A meal! The stewardesses, as we called them then, were dressed in smashing, boldly colored suits. One asked me if I might like to sit in first class. Flying was the coolest thing in the world.
La Nasa reminded me that it still is quite the privilege and miracle. She grew up in a "poorer-than-middle-class" home, one of seven children. She never felt poor but, looking back, realizes that her parents didn't fly. La Nasa didn't board a plane until she was a young adult. "Exciting," she said.
She thinks working for an airline would be exciting, too. "I have a lot of energy," La Nasa said. (She does.) "They want somebody happy, bubbly." (She is.) "Plus, you can fly fairly cheap. If I stick with it for 10 years, I can retire, then still fly." Her friend, a ticket agent for Delta Air Lines, told her to go for it.
The Mesaba people liked the sound of La Nasa's voice during her recitation of the seat-belt shtick. They liked that she had customer service experience, too, also known as the capacity to work with cranky people. La Nasa worked in a department store for 10 years, first selling an uppity clothing label.
"Some customers who came in were just terrible," she said. "Horribly rude." She moved to housewares. "One gentleman actually made me cry," she said. "I went into the back. I couldn't take it anymore. At least I could walk away."
I point out that it's difficult to walk away on an airplane. "I'll try to deal with it, you know," said La Nasa, of Little Canada. "They train you about how to defuse situations, what to do when you have different kinds of passengers."
She might take a cue from another flight attendant who demonstrated creativity last week on a Southwest Airlines flight when stuck on emergency row instructions. "She gave me the mike to help her out," tweeted a helpful passenger named former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
But that's the fun stuff. With the color-coded alert system gone, airport security officials now expect us to be their eyes and ears to danger. That seems a swell way to make edgy flyers even edgier. And guess who they'll take it out on? She who says, "I'm sorry, but those toilets are for first-class passengers only."
I wouldn't blame La Nasa if she reached for that overhead bin, crawled up inside and latched it shut. But, guess what? Mesaba hired her. And guess what? La Nasa is over the moon.
She begins her grueling five-week training May 23. Her starting wage is $16.47 an hour.
So, please. If you see La Nasa walking down the aisle toward you, smile. Be polite.
And power down.
Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 firstname.lastname@example.org