The Runaway Cart

An amateur flight attendant gazes out of the emergency exit window at the sunset, while sitting in the jumpseat of an E-190 plane. The clouds make formations of mountains and crevices that are a comparatively impressive, but softer Grand Canyon. She’s on initial probation, with two months remaining, and not yet jaded by the view. The first chime signals that her services are needed.

“Okay, honey,” an old colleague drawls, “You wanna be in the front of the cart or back?” The woman starts unlatching bins needed for drink service.

“Front,” she says. The newbie glances down at the woman’s flat-soled shoes and tells herself to take note on that. The girl is ending a long day in mid-heeled pumps. It would be more than difficult to pour drinks while walking backward- with or without turbulence. In her partner’s 40 plus years of experience, she’s acquired many job hacks to make flight attending easier.

Making their way down the narrow aisle with a beverage cart, she is careful of the loose limbs, stray bags, and stretching passengers in their path.

“Watch your foot… Excuse me, watch your elbow…”
She accidentally brushes against a passenger who is startled awake. “I’m so sorry, sir,” the girl says.

The two of them are moving quickly through the chore since there are only sixteen commuters on a 97 maximum capacity flight. As flight attendants, only 10 percent of their training was on customer service. The other 90 percent focused on minute safety detail – from the direction of door handle rotations to which overhead compartment contains the AED defibrillator.

They have been going back and forth from Boston and LaGuardia since sunrise. Finally, they are finishing up the fourth leg of the day and looking forward to the fifth leg back to the Philadelphia base. The girl returns her cart to its cubby and secures the latches and brakes. Stepping into the restroom, she quickly applies the signature red lipstick and adjusts her compression stockings.

A bell chimes, signaling the initial descent. They’re twenty minutes out. Picking up the microphone, she looks at her script.
“As we prepare for landing, be sure your seatback is upright and tray tables are secured. If you have any items to discard, please pass them to us as we come through the aisle.”

Once all trash is collected and stowed, two bells sound to prepare for landing. It is time to take their jump-seats. The senior flight attendant is in the front near the cockpit and newbie straps in, in the back galley. The lights and noise levels dim. She puts her hands palm-up under her thighs, tilts her head back on the rest and does her silent review. “6 exits… 2 over the wings… Okay, now, what are my commands?”

A hefty man in his thirties is sitting in the last row on aircraft right. He will be her able-bodied passenger to assist if there’s an emergency. Before taking the jumpseat, it is the rear attendant’s responsibility to do one final galley check of all cart locks and latches. One step missed…

She looks back at the hefty passenger and catches movement to the right of her gaze. The plane’s descent has jarred loose the 150 to 200-pound beverage cart. She lunges and grips the handle with the tips of her fingers as it creeps out of its compartment. Her seatbelt imprisons her. She fiddles to unlock it with her free hand. Strain shoots up her right arm to her shoulder, then to her neck, as she silently holds on.

She loses her grip and quickly unbuckles out of the jumpseat. The drink cart has made it halfway through the cabin and is picking up speed. None of the passengers seem to notice. The cart goes in a smooth and straight line until it tips forward onto its door.

It slides.

It tumbles twice.

Unlike most plane models, this aisle indents at First Class, putting a passenger seat right in the path of the runaway cart. The longest minute of the young woman’s life is now realized by everyone.

Ultimately, the beverage cart clears 30 rows before making its final destination into the back of seat 3D. Whiplash from this passenger, a man with a bruised elbow, minor damage to a hand-rest, and a completely demolished cart. Almost simultaneously, everyone turns around and questions the flight attendant with their eyes. There is no script in the blue book for this one.

Shakily, she picks up the intercom phone.

“Everyone, please remain calm and seated. Raise your hand if you need a bag of ice.”

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