She was the last one to board the plane. Of course she had carry-on luggage and the bins were full in first class. But I hopped up and helped her rearrange to fit her bag. She thanked me profusely – uh oh, a talker. I speak for a living, and I must admit, when I’m flying to work, I talk to no one. It’s my down time. I’m borderline anti-social.

But she wasn’t. In the short time it took us to pull away from the gate and taxi to the runway I learned that she spoke 5 languages, was born in Munich but moved to the US when she was four, lived in Philly, Naples and now Seattle. Her husband’s a lawyer, does tons of pro bono work. She left her cell phone at home (I let her use mine before take-off) to call said husband to remind him to cancel her hotel reservation for today. Then I learned she was flying to Philly to obtain a signature on a legal document from her father who, sadly, is blind. She reads 15 books a week, had read three the night before and thinks our current Pope is one of the smartest. Her grandmother has a crush on him and when he comes up in conversation she shakes her head and says in her German accent, “Vut a Vaste!” 

She learned nothing about me other than I’m a good listener and know how to nod my head and smile at the right time. 

Luckily she stopped speaking at take off. Whew. Put the dark glasses on, ear buds in, blanket covering every inch of her body, she quickly became a quiet cocoon. My favorite kind of traveling partner.


Until breakfast.


We had the usual choice, hot breakfast (omelette) or cold breakfast (fruit plate). I think it was how the flight attendant described it “hot” or “cold”…..and we’re headed to Chicago at 6am that made everyone order the eggs. 

Apparently there were not enough to go ‘round so she was back telling my chatty seat mate that she was very sorry, but would she mind getting a fruit plate. This gal looks at me like……”SHE gets eggs and I don’t….” Sensing this the flight attendant reluctantly explained that the food is doled out based on miles flown (I’m pushing the one million mile mark – give me the hot stuff). 

This is where she turned from Chatty Cathy to (insert sinister music) Airline PassengerFrom Hell (now insert Psycho shower scene screech).

“I will NOT eat the fruit plate. I am not a big fan as I had that LAST week and it landed me in the hospital!” Woah. Snap! 

The flight attendant, who was very empathetic asked her if she contacted United after that incident, ”They don’t care,” she replied.

I got my eggs. Happy.

Minutes later, she punches the Flight Attendant button. Oh no……..”Um, excuse me, may I get a glass of water WITHOUT ice” she exclaims after turning up her nose. “I don’t do ice in my beverages.” 

After I was finished with my breakfast (intently watching the stupid movie so she would be less likely to talk to me) the button gets pushed again. Now she would like to purchase one of the snack boxes (available to those in coach). 

Okay, now here’s the only thing I think they did wrong – they charged her the $6 for the snack box. 

But it gets better.

She pulls out the Hemispheres magazine, flips to the snack box page description and starts pulling out all the items and comparing them to the picture. Button on again. Very patient attendant is back….”These items are not what are promised on page 189.” Again, very sorry, would she like to try a different one. And off she is sent to get a different box.

And now the seriously scary seat mate leans over and whispers to me as the weary worker walks away, “She has no idea how much trouble she is in – I have been hired by United Airlines to secret shop First Class.” 

It kept going – my tea’s too cold. I need five sugars and two creams for each cup and keep them coming…..I was exhausted.

I don’t know how I feel about secret shoppers to tell the truth. I’m passionate about good service but this felt wrong. I feel you have to earn good service. There’s a certain minimum requirement to be a decent patron. When you cross that line to beeeoootch…..well, as a supervisor, I will allow the smile to droop, the orders to be fulfilled, the worker to show up. United does not pay their workers for this abuse. I couldn’t take it.

I knew this gal would have to use the restroom and that’s when I did it. I told the flight attendant she was being shopped!! Really. She just chuckled and said, “Well, I wondered what was going on. She seemed really pleasant at first and then all hell broke loose.” 

Is it time to review your secret shopper program?