At some point in the career of a super stew, especially one based in New York, you are bound to have a celebrity onboard one of your flights. Most of the time it’s a routine and inconsequential conversation between the gate agent and the lead flight attendant stating that there is going to be a VIP onboard. The lead flight attendant usually passes the info along to the rest of the crew in the pre-flight briefing. Often the celebrity is escorted on board, along with their entourage. And believe it or not, many times in an attempt to go unnoticed, they simply board with the rest of the passengers. This of course, does not usually work and causes lots of staring, whispers and questions by other passengers. A super stew has only to glance at the passenger manifest in search of a name that stands out, or fulfills the identity of who they suspected it might be.
So it’s a little different when you find yourself in charge of not only keeping this person safe in the skies, but also protecting their anonymity while in your care. It’s not that you are forbidden to request an autograph, or a photo. But I always felt that there must be some perks to this job, and I was going to take advantage of every one of them. Sometimes you’re like, “Hmph, so that’s what (insert name here) looks like in real life- not so special.” And then, there’s the occasional secret jumping up and down behind the curtain in the galley rant: “Oh my God, it’s (Insert name here!)!” Composing myself before returning to the aisle and in the public eye. I have experienced both of these situations, but more of the former than the latter.
The jumping up and down and secretly freaking out incidents are lots of fun! One of these events occurred on a Super 80, when Matt Dillon boarded the flight. I was like, “It’s freakin Dally from The Outsiders people!” I was a little star struck. He was one of my teen heart throbs. Mind you, there is not a lot of room for any shenanigans in the tiny first-class galley on that plane. After waiting on him for most of the flight, I found him to be very down to earth and felt comfortable asking him for a photo. He was gracious enough to cram into the tiny space for a photo with me. As I hopped around giddy with excitement, I remember him saying to me, “Calm down.” Later that night after we had landed in New York, I wasn’t sure which was more disturbing, the wine stains on his shirt, or the fact that he asked for one of my co-workers number. He actually called her before the crew even deplaned!
On another occasion I had the pleasure of Benicio Del Toro on a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Not that he is your typical object of infatuation, but I admire his acting very much. I found myself standing next to his seat requesting an autograph. After the initial ice breaker of, “I really admire your films” I felt a little awkward just standing over him as he signed his name. What should we talk about, the weather? It was my big moment to say something really witty, and I got nothin!
One of my nicest celebrity encounters was surprisingly, Pamela Anderson. She traveled alone with her first son, Brandon, who must have been almost one at the time. She boarded the flight from JFK to LAX before the rest of the passengers, and sat in the middle two seats in first class on the 767 that day. Wearing a simple pink t-shirt, jeans, and no make-up, I recall thinking, “Wow, she is still really beautiful.” And nice. She was really nice, and soft spoken. I was not working in the first class cabin that day. I remember walking through the cabin during the flight, and she was actually sitting on the floor with the baby on a blanket, in front of her seat. Upon our arrival at LAX, I found myself assisting her as she waited for the VIP escort. She had her hands full, along with the baby. I opened my arms to him and he came right to me. So there I stood, holding Pammy’s baby, while she gathered her belongings. He was fine for a few minutes and then, he started to fuss a little. As she gathered him up, she said, “She may be pretty, but she’s not mommy.” And they disappeared with the VIP escort, leaving me to ponder the thought, “Did Pamela Anderson just call ME pretty???”
Each flight attendant has their own mental list of criteria in which a passenger becomes a total nuisance. On my list, you will simply see: Pauly Shore. Not that you would expect him to have any class at all, but I am here to tell you, he does not. Completely obnoxious, ringing his call button every five minutes for the most insignificant reasons. Throwing his fast food garbage everywhere. The entire area around him looked like a total pigsty. My co-worker wanted a photo with this jerk, so I obliged by taking the photo. This particular flight attendant was a heterosexual male. As they posed for the picture, Pauly Shore thought it would be funny to position his hand in an effeminate way, I guess to act “gay” or homosexual, even though my co-worker was neither. I could not wait until that flight ended.
Another very unpleasant celebrity encounter was with Larry King. He is just as crotchety in person as he seems on T.V., only worse because now you’re stuck with him for five to six hours. No, thank you.
My favorite celebrity encounter was with Tony Curtis. What a gentleman! He was traveling with his wife. I had to tell him what an honor it was to have him on our flight. I mean, this guy was in movies with Marilyn Monroe! He’s a legend! He literally kissed my hand, after writing his autograph, which reads: To Emily, A pleasure at 30,000 feet!” R.I.P Mr. Curtis.
I met many celebrities in my years as a super stew. Some good experiences, some bad, but definitely all memorable. At the end of the day, you realize, they are all just people too when they’re standing (or sitting) there in front of you. They take off their shoes, and their feet stink. They eat fast food. They are not as tall, beautiful, handsome, or charismatic as they look on the screen. They sit on the floor with their kids. They have wine stains all over their shirt. They are not really who we think they are. Sometimes that is a pleasant surprise, and other times it is not. Comedian Steve Harvey said to me during a lengthy conversation on a flight once, “On the airplane, you are in the spotlight (meaning, the crew members). You are the stars”.