Caution: celebrity onboard
by Stephanie Shaw
There are many rewarding aspects to being a flight attendant, including discount travel benefits, scheduling flexibility, and the ability to see the world. But one of the most intriguing aspects of the job for me has been the chance to serve celebrities.
Celebrities need to travel, just like everyone else. Although some have their own private jets, the majority resort to transportation via regularly scheduled flights. A popular misconception is that celebrities, especially sports teams, will often charter an entire airplane for purposes of maintaining their privacy. Although this is sometimes the case, it is the exception rather
than the rule. Sports teams and rock bands generally fly with the traveling public, and many times they can be found sitting in coach class!
With over 23 years of flying experience, I have had the opportunity to meet countless celebrities traveling on my flights. Some have been good experiences, some bad, and some downright ugly. Just a few of the celebrities I have met include: the Boston Celtics basketball team, the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) basketball team,
the Boston Bruins hockey team, the New England Patriots football team, the Texas Rangers baseball team, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Dan Rather, Mike Wallace (of 60 Minutes), Billy Ray Cyrus, Three Dog Night (band), David Carradine (Kung Fu), Mike Tyson, Frank Guiford, Regis Philbin, General William Westmoreland, Ted Kennedy, and the list goes on and on.
I have memories of many celebrities who were very polite and understanding of my job as a crewmember. If the celebrity is assigned a seat in first class, we usually know ahead of time, either from the passenger list or we get a warning from the passenger service agent. Not all celebrities are recognizable either. Oftentimes they look very different in person than they do on the
silver screen or on your television. They usually are dressed down so as not to attract attention, and they very often want to be left alone after they board.
Part of my job is to ensure that celebrities onboard are not harassed by autograph hounds or people who just want to talk because they feel a certain celebrity is their best friend.
Who is Larry Bird Anyway?
One of the more memorable occasions of serving celebrities happened during the 1986 Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals. The entire Boston Celtics basketball team was traveling back to Los Angeles and I, not being a sports fan of any type, had no idea who the players were. The captain called me up to the cockpit and asked if I could get an autograph of Larry Bird for his son. I told him that I
did not know of Larry Bird, which he found incomprehensible. He told me to go back and ask another flight attendant to point him out. I went back to the cabin and thought it would be more efficient to make an announcement. I nervously picked up the PA and said, "Would Larry Bird please identify himself by ringing the Flight Attendant call button on the overhead." At that point,
the entire team, other flight attendants and all the other passengers onboard broke into laughter and applause. I was totally embarrassed, because it was obvious that everyone but me knew who Larry Bird was. As it turns out, he was so amused, he ended up signing the autograph and sending it up to the captain!
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
Another memorable experience involved Jay Leno. Jay had boarded our flight early because he was sitting in first class. The "C" flight Attendant was helping me with the boarding duties when Jay came onboard. He caught her by surprise and she immediately began screaming, "I canít believe itís really you! My boyfriend absolutely worships you! He watches you every
night!" Mr. Leno, seemingly caught off-guard looked at his watch and said, "Where is he now? Do we have time to call him?" She and Jay Leno then rushed off the aircraft to find a phone (this happened during the pre-cell phone era). Apparently the boyfriend wasnít home so Mr. Leno politely left a message about flying on his girlfriendís flight and
how happy he was that her boyfriend was such a fan.
My Achy Breaky Heart
Iím not a real country music fan, but I will listen to it occasionally. But the day that Billy Ray Cyrus came onboard, I was converted. It seemed that Mr. Cyrus (of "Achy, Breaky Heart" fame) was traveling with his entourage to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. He boarded our flight in Nashville, sat in first class, and was extremely courteous.
During the first-class service, I asked him where he was heading and he said, "Weíre doing a concert at the biggest Casino in the world." Since I was based in Boston, I was quite familiar with Foxwoods, having been there several times. I responded, "Thatís Foxwoods. I donít live too far from there." Mr. Cyrus then asked me if I would like to go to the
concert. Of course, I took him up on it and he took my name and asked how many tickets I would need. The next night, I ended up taking my parents, brother and husband (5 of us) to the Billy Ray Cyrus concert. The complimentary seats he had reserved for us were at the "will-call" booth and were
located in the front row. It was a great night!
My Celebrity Wall
Meeting celebrities is a very rewarding experience. Since I usually carry a camera with me, I now have a special wall in my home, which I call my "celebrity wall." There are many photographs of me at work alongside many celebrities, most of whom I never would have had a chance to meet if
I weren't for this job. Those of you who elect to pursue a flight attendant career will also get to enjoy this seldom discussed aspect of the profession--and build your own celebrity wall.
Stephanie Shaw is a flight attendant with over 23 years experience with a major airline.
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