Browse Topics

Services

Programs

Hope and Safety in the Air
An Essay by Hollis Gillespie

audio Listen to Gillespie's essay.

Nov. 15, 2001 -- People say it's because I'm a flight attendant that I'm obsessed with safety. But even before I got my job and way before all these recent air tragedies, I'd always dutifully put up my tray table and turn off my CD player and narc on people who don't put their bags in the overhead bin.

One time, the guy next to me tried to tell me these rules were not about safety -- like they were just arbitrary commands to keep us occupied because our fates were inevitable in the event of a crash anyway. "Why bother with safety?" he said. "It's not about safety." He said it like there'd be no hope.

But I, myself, am different. I can't help but hope. So I counted the number of rows to the closest exit in order to feel my way through the smoke-filled cabin, if necessary. I didn't mess around. And now neither does anybody else.

It surprised me at work the other day. It saddened me how rapt the passengers were with my safety demonstration before takeoff. Here they were, the passengers, sincerely interested in how to operate the emergency handle on the overwing exit. They pulled me aside on the way to my jump seat to ask me to specify their closest escape. One even wanted to know where the fire extinguisher was, because he wanted a weapon "in case things got out of hand." All this made me miss the self-absorbed, completely contented passengers who used to ignore me because they thought nothing could faze them.

"Why do you think eight-track tapes are so collectible? It's not like people play them. No, they value them as tokens from the past, relics from a world where they once felt free from all these fears, little reminders that they once used to run through the back yard barefoot."

Hollis Gillespie

Those passengers seem so innocent now and so lost to history. I wonder if I can ever recapture them, because it's not just our youth we try to resurrect as we change over the years, it's our feeling of safety as well.

Why do you think eight-track tapes are so collectible? It's not like people play them. No, they value them as tokens from the past, relics from a world where they once felt free from all these fears, little reminders that they once used to run through the back yard barefoot.

Now I'm looking for reminders at work, reminders that I used to perform safety demonstrations in front of passengers so certain the flight would go flawlessly that they didn't bother to look up from their magazines to watch me. But now they watch me. And actually it's not so bad, all those faces turned to me, all those eyes following my movements as I point out exit doors and oxygen masks and flotation devices. It's not so bad because I can see it in almost every face turned my way. "We have hope," they are thinking.

There have been seven major plane wrecks in the span of eight weeks. There is war and there is awfulness in the world right now, and the passengers still have hope. They cherish it like a surviving thread of light that leads straight back to the magic of their past, back when they had buttered toast for breakfast and friends circling outside on bicycles, back when we all felt safe, so don't tell us it's not about safety -- it's all about safety.

Hollis Gillespie is a flight attendant and a writer living in Atlanta, Ga.