It's no secret I absolutely loathe flying any American-borne airline. I've carefully laid out my reasoning before, and anyone who has flown both foreign and domestic airlines agrees that the States' carriers are far inferior to the rest of the world's carriers. It's pretty hard to argue when you consider the fact that Jen and I got fresh sandwiches on our hour-long TAP Portugal flight between Lisbon and Madrid while my parents got shitty snacks on a five-hour flight between Baltimore and Las Vegas.
So when Jen told me we'd be flying United to Lisbon and back from Madrid, needless to say, I was less than stoked.
And needless to say, United lived down to expectations.
At first I thought it wasn't going to be so bad. In fact, I took it as a good omen that seated between me and Jen was a gorgeous male model/National Guardsman/personal trainer who was pretty entertaining. In fact, we even shared the same expectations of United; when the flight attendants came by and gave us cheese and crackers, he asked if that was our dinner.
Surprisingly, it wasn't. And equally surprisingly, the flight attendants were nice and friendly. I managed to sleep for a few hours, even when one of the attendants dropped "breakfast" (a brick-like packaged croissant) next to my head. Relatively refreshed, Jen and I managed to crush the sightseeing on our first day in Lisbon, and I considered the flight to Portugal not bad. I might even go so far as to say it was decent.
If only I could say the same about the flight home.
It started with one of the security agents in Madrid asking me in Spanish if I spoke Spanish...repeatedly. I said "un poco." He shook his head and said "You must practick." I don't know if he was trying to flirt, but look dude, I don't disagree and I just wanted to get past him so I could find time to get coffee and pee before the flight. Us Americans are woefully behind our European counterparts on the multilingual abilities front. But let's be real -- I was LEAVING Spain, not entering it. Unlike the hot model, this was a bad omen.
So was the lady who accosted Jen to tell her her stress fracture boot meant she would live with undiagnosed pain for the rest of her life.
And sure enough, it was immediately clear that our flight home (2.5 hours longer than the flight to Lisbon) would not be as pleasant as our flight there. The seat pocket in front of me was falling apart. The women in the row across from me would not shut up about how the piece under seat in front of THEM was falling apart too, complete with exposed wires. Not wanting to deal with them, the flight attendant managed to get the pilot to come back to check it out. One of the women was clearly practicing her Spanish and kept insisting on talking to everyone in Spanish -- even the American pilot who jammed the thing back together and responded to her "Gracias, gracias!" by telling her to try not to kick it during the flight.
But the worst part of all was a terrifying flight attendant with a chip on her shoulder for no apparent reason. I mean, obviously she's one of those people who hates her life. And don't get me wrong -- I know flight attendants don't have it easy. There are all manners of idiot people who fly day in and day out. But if you pick a job in the service industry, it's pretty much just a baseline expectation that you not be a dick about it. If you don't like being nice to stupid people, do what I did and get a job hiding in a cube and reading books all day (I hated waiting tables in college).
Now, we'll call the terrifying flight attendant "TFA" for ease of use. She was sour AF. She didn't smile. She didn't say "you're welcome." And she actually pushed Jen out of the way when Jen was going to the bathroom.
Early in the flight, she was muttering something angrily about "I'm a flight attendant" as she pushed her cart up and down the aisle. I didn't know what it was about until a few minutes later when she was straight up SCREAMING at a Spanish woman as if the woman was a child.
"STOP IT. DON'T PUT YOUR FEET UP THERE!! WE DON'T CLEAN THOSE! THAT'S DISGUSTING! PEOPLE EAT OFF OF THAT!"
Apparently the woman had put her feet up on the tray table. Of course, I have many questions about this starting with how did she even do that??? Is she a contortionist? We were seated in steerage which isn't exactly generous on the leg room situation. Secondly, United doesn't clean the tray tables? I'm not really surprised, but thanks for announcing that to all of us, you dumb fuck. Clearly, she had already had a tiff with this woman, but wasn't there a better way of handling this? Like, maybe, not yelling at her in front of EVERYONE on the plane but simply telling her to take her feet down? TFA yelled "you're a flight attendant yourself. You should know better!"
And then the woman got up and started yelling back at her in Spanish. TFA clearly didn't speak Spanish, and the contortionist didn't speak English, so they just went on yelling at each other in two languages while the rest of us watched. TFA angrily muttered that she would be calling the police to meet us upon landing. Of course, I figured this was an empty threat, because after all, it might be gross, but putting your feet on the tray table and calling someone a bitch in Spanish aren't crimes.
With every trip up and down the aisle, TFA was grumbling about her, visibly pissed every time someone requested a drink other than water. She shouted "elbows in!" every time she came down the aisle with no regard for people, like myself, who were trying desperately to be unconscious for the majority of the flight. And when it was time for lunch/dinner, I had to wait for another flight attendant to make a request that would surely send TFA through the emergency exit with a furiously exploding head.
You see, at some point last year, I made a comment to Jen that her vegetarian airline meals, usually pasta, were better than my nomnivore meals. Shockingly, this was not the case on United. Good intentions at hand, when Jen booked our trip, she put me down for vegetarian meals on our flights. When the flight attendants came by and (literally) chucked our vegetarian meals at us first, I opened mine and stared at it in a Zquil-hazed state of shock. Across the middle seat, I heard Jen start to laugh uncontrollably.
"It's...an onion sandwich. They gave us onion sandwiches!"
Literally -- and I DO mean literally -- it was a stale roll with some cold, soggy red onions and AN single pale slice of tomato inside of it. I had seen the purple and assumed eggplant, but no. It was onion. ONION. I started laughing too. I wish I had been a fly on the wall when some genius United "chef" was like, "I know! We'll give the vegetarians onion sandwiches!" Seriously though. WHO IN THE HISTORY OF THE FUCKING WORLD WOULD THINK TO "COOK UP" AN ONION SANDWICH?! No one -- vegetarian or otherwise -- wants to eat fucking onions on a sandwich. OK, I mean, caramelized onion, goat cheese, arugula...THAT sounds good. Limp red onions on stale bread? NOPE.
I had been on the plane for 7.5 hours with half a donut in my stomach since that's all I could find for breakfast in the limited time we had in the Madrid airport. I knew I had about 2.5 hours ahead of me at Newark before my train came to go home, and then at least a two hours on the train. I had to eat something. I looked at the "sandwich" with determination and took a bite.
But I just couldn't.
I knew I had to ask the flight attendants if I could have a non-veggie meal. As previously mentioned, asking TFA wasn't an option, so I asked the next one that came by. I explained that Jen had "accidentally" put me down as vegetarian but I wasn't, and would it be possible for me to get a regular meal?
With no small amount of sass, she told me it was a full flight and maybe if there was something left, I could have it. She said she would let me know. I waited...and waited...and finally decided she had forgotten me. So I asked another flight attendant, and she said "Oh, is it bad?"
I couldn't even answer her with a straight face. It's an onion sandwich, what do you think?
Finally they found me a turkey sandwich and informed me they had actually served it to someone else. But the package was unopened, so I took it anyway and eagerly awaited the end of this shitty flight and all of its horrors.
But once we landed, we were told not to get up. You know why?
TFA ACTUALLY CALLED THE FUCKING COPS ON THE CONTORTIONIST AND HER BOYFRIEND.
The cops were talking to them, asking them to leave so they could "have a little chat." They didn't speak English, and they didn't move. TFA angrily yelled for her Spanish-speaking colleague "They won't get off the plane!" The Spanish-speaking flight attendant explained everything to them and they calmly got off the plane.
As you might imagine, the police clearly gave zero fucks that this lady put her feet on the tray table. So later on our way through customs and baggage control, this couple was well ahead of us every step of the way. All TFA succeeded in doing was getting them ahead in line and delaying everyone else who had connections to make.
To round out the nightmare trip nicely, the customs agent at home was like the brother from another mother of the security guy who told me to practick my Spanish in Madrid. Now, for some reason, I always get nervous at customs. I'm so dumb and sleep-deprived I start to irrationally worry that I might actually answer a question "wrong" and accidentally get detained. So I rolled up to the guy and gave him my passport, probably looking shifty as fuck, and of course, I couldn't figure out if he was trying to flirt with me or scare the living crap out of me. Or maybe he was just really fucking bored.
"Where did you visit on your trip, Staci?" he says, smirking.
Lisbon and Madrid.
"What did you do there?"
Uh, you know...vacation?
[UM, BACK OFF WITH THE JUDGMENT, BUDDY.]
No, with my friend (points to Jen, Jen waves awkwardly).
"Welcome home, Staci."
[Breathes sigh of relief, both at the end of the interrogation and at the fact that Newark isn't actually "home."]
Jen and I made our way to the Newark "air train" shuttle to get to the train part of EWR. Each shuttle was packed, and we had to wait for a few in order to get on one. As I made my way up to try to get on one, some douchebag was like "Uh uh. We're first on this one. We've been waiting." I looked at him in disbelief and said "EVERYONE HERE HAS BEEN WAITING."
In the States for less than an hour and already yelling at strangers.
Farewell, beautiful vacation.