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Europe Has Two Toilets on the Ground and None in the AirPosted Friday, March 11, 2011, at 1:50 PM
I was working for a Cargo airline in the 1980's and 90's. I had several jobs throughout my career, but none as difficult as the Deice Manager. The Deice Manager was responsible for ensuring that that the aircraft were cleaned before each flight during inclement weather and didn't leave any adhering frozen precipitation before takeoff. The job also meant the Deice Manager represented the airline and voted within the confines of the SAE sub-committees guidelines in the US and the ISO standards in Europe; the SAE and ISO were standards and procedures that were followed for operating aircraft, consistency in fluids and standardized training.
It was easy for my bosses and their bosses to be arm chair quarterbacks after the operation was over and critique (yell) me because no one understood Deice and what was needed to make it happen. Man I hated that job, so in 1995, when I was told that I was going to start training a replacement for my job, I cracked open a bottle of Jack and watched the sun come up and go down. It went up and down a few times that day.
My replacement, Mike, was a well-liked, simple, honest man with a heart as big as the shirts he wore. Mike was rotund fellow from the Appalachian Mountain Region of Kentucky and carried a lot of weight within the organization; I mean a lot of weight. It took 3 acres of cotton just to clothe this man and he had to wear bell bottomed T-Shirts. To top it all off, Mike was bald and his head we perfectly round; you could have labeled the back of his head Brunswick and it would have matched............................I loved this guy. He could dish it out as well as he could take it.
Mike played some college football in Texas; it was one of the smaller conferences; they probably drew their plays in the dirt because he did seem to be longing for some common sense and battlefield education. Our first assignment together was to travel to the SAE/ISO meeting in Vienna, Austria. I assumed this would be his first trip on an aircraft, from the look on his face, I knew it was; since we were a cargo craft, we had to sit in the cockpit with the flight crew and follow below deck communications (no talking below 18000 feet) and were trained in the escape route. Our escape route was a small hole in the roof of the cockpit. We were flying on a 747. Most aircraft in our fleet would have door slides but the 747 used inertia reels that were attached to the inside of the aircraft. On escape, a person would grab a reel, climb to the window in the top of the fuselage, exit the window and push away from the aircraft. The whole idea behind the inertia reel is that is slows you down the closer you get to the ground (about 50'). Mike didn't look to comfortable with that idea and he looked even less comfortable with trying to grease through the exit access area of 3 feet in diameter. We looked at each other and knew he wasn't going to fit....................at this point we both stopped listening to the route plan because we knew that we had to land safely to make it, everything else was just a waste of time...............there wasn't any way we were going through the hole because Mike was the first in line. The rest of us would be stuck watching a pair of legs while the aircraft blew up. Mike and I prayed and strapped into our 5 point harness for the long ride to Europe.
After fixing the harness, I looked at Mike and noticed that he was colorless and looked quite putrid. After lifting off, mike stayed in his harness for approximately 1 minute. We were supposed to stay confined to our seats until 18000 ft. because all of the unexpected things can happen during that part of the ascent and descent. Well, Mike didn't make it. He quietly slipped into the head and I didn't see him again until I had to go get him (somewhere over Scotland) and reload him in the seat. He was green.
We had a three hour layover in London. While waiting on another cargo aircraft to ferry us to Cologne, Germany, we decided to get something to eat. Mike's color had improved but I didn't think he would want to be ordering, but he did; I knew he was hungry because he had given up everything on the plane. The closet café was a fish and chip place outside of the gateway, so we headed that way. Normal company per diem was $25 a day in the states and was quite different in Europe. Since the dollar was so weak (in the 90's), the per diem was $125 a day. I never told Mike that. Also, keep in mind that portion sizes in Europe are smaller than in the US. The Europeans think we over indulge (and we do).
I could tell from watching Mike order that he wasn't able to break down the exchange rate in his head; he looked like a monkey doing a math problem. Mike decided to forgo per diem and just order. Mike ordered a Cheeseburger, fries and a LARGE coke. He actually asked the waiter, "How do you say Coke"? The waiter responded, "Coke". I thought I was going to lose it. I told Mike that some things translate to all languages and since Coke was made in America and everyone drank it, he could just say Coke.
When the waiter brought his order, I could see the confusion on his face. The cheeseburger was open-faced without garnishing, the fries looked like something that your grandmother didn't mash all the way and the coke was served in a 6 1/2 ounce glass bottle with a glass on the side. Of course this portion size hasn't been served in the U.S. since the 70's, but it always seem to be the best tasting Coke size.
After eating we received the bill and I told Mike what his bill translated to in dollars. $26.45. Mike's lip started quivering and he looked up at me and said, "I'm still hungry". I told him I understood and told him that would have to hold him until tomorrow so he needed to make sure it stayed down this time. Stayed down, ha.......I knew that was coming up on the next ride.
When we got back to the gateway, the manager told me that the revenue flight had been canceled due to mechanical and we could ride with the morning cargo packages on the next outbound Leer to Cologne. I guess I need to explain a Leer; Leers were usually passenger aircraft that were built in the 70's and 80's to carry famous people around the world. Since the economy was down and the market was flooded with these fast, light creatures, some were converted to cargo aircraft. A Converted Leer means that the seats were taken out along with the toilet.
I thought to myself, "Oh, crap". I didn't say anything to Mike and we loaded on the aircraft. He noticed something wasn't right when the pilot told us to find a seat in Arabic and started laughing. Mike's head turned towards me so fast you could actually see vapor trails around the features of his profile; it looked like a Steven Segal movie in slow motion. I pointed to a place on the floor and said sit there. I explained it would only be a 20 minute hop and there shouldn't be any problems.
We weren't into the flight 5 minutes and we hit the worst turbulence I had been in, except for the Bermuda Triangle. The Aircraft dropped so fast that Mike's 400 lb. frame lifted into the air and slammed into the bulkhead. You know what I saw next.......come on, guess. That's right; I saw his cheeseburger, followed by mashed potatoes (no lumps this time) and a carbonated beverage. Mike was colorless; I wish I could say he was odorless.
After arriving at the Cologne gateway, a limo picked us up and took us to our hotel. We were to catch a ride out the next morning to board a train to Vienna, Austria. The limo ride to the hotel did not prove to settling on Mike and his stomach was still nervous when we arrived at the hotel. We got to our room and Mike made his first pit stop the restroom. He called, "JJ" after being there for less than a minute. When I walked in, there was my Appalachian buddy looking perplexed. I looked to see what he was staring at and noticed that there was a toilet and a bidet. Before he could say anything, I walked over to the bidet and pushed the button and he quietly leaned over the toilet and finished regurgitating. As I was walking out, I turned around and said, "You do know that is not a water fountain, right". And when he looked at me I knew he was confused. I explained what the bidet was for and I think he vomited harder.
I knew Mike wasn't going to be any good to me at the meeting or on the train so I contacted SAE to find out when the votes were. As it turned out, both votes that we were interested in were on the first day of the meeting. I called the gateway and arranged a round-trip flight (for one) to Vienna and cancelled the train tickets. The stay in Europe was supposed to be a two week adventure (with Mike adventure was not the word for it).
When Mike woke later in the morning, I explained the situation to him and told him I would return tomorrow night and I had already made travel arrangements home and we should be home within 48 hours. I also told Mike to stay in the room and order off the menu (charge it to the room).
After arriving back at the hotel after the meeting, I gathered up the rest of my items and Mike and we headed back to the gateway and another Leer jet (I didn't let him eat breakfast that morning, but I knew it wouldn't matter.....I saw him sneaking candy bars when I woke up in the middle of the night). I handed Mike a vomit bag that I had taken off the previous flight and thought this would be enough to get us to Stansted, England; it was, Hooray. We went directly to the gateway and the manager said that he could get us directly out on a non-revenue Airbus; this was a brand new aircraft and this scared the crap out of me and rightfully so. What do kids do with new toys -- they test them. And that is exactly what the pilot was planning on doing, so I decided to wear a headset just to listen in. Mike wanted one too, but I waved him off. He was nervous enough.
The pilot approached the runway and I heard him contact the tower. "Requesting Max altitude and Max Velocity within this airspace". The tower replied, "Wait flight 0999, confirming". The Tower responded a little later, "Go for max velocity and max speed". I looked at Mike's face and it was the biggest grin you could get.....what did he care he had a toilet. The first officer (right seat) turned around to ensure everyone was in the 5 point harness and then gave the Captain the nod. The Captain floored it. The fat on Mike's face started moving toward the back of the plane along with his head. His eyes were looking at me trying to speak, but he knew it was quiet below 18000 feet. The aircraft seemed to rotate after about 10 feet and shot straight up like a rocket. Mike's face was making shapes that I had never seen before and the colors he was producing were beautiful. We finally reached our ceiling at about 45000 ft. and leveled off. The flight at this altitude is quite smooth and Mike started to look peaceful, but unbuckled the harness and leaped to the head. He came out 30 minutes later.
He reached for the cooler. I waived him off.
He started to open a snack. I slapped it out of his hand.
The pilot asked if anyone was hungry. Just as Mike was starting to shake his head yes, he looked and me and he shook his head no.
As we began approaching our destination we began slowly descending and at 18000 feet the Pilot contacted the control tower for landing instructions; I'm still wearing my headset. The tower said you can circle and get in line 10 miles back (the tower likes to separate aircraft about 5 miles) or you can cut in front and descend quickly. I knew which one the pilot was going to pick and I was ready. The pilot banked hard right (the aircraft was between a 45 and 90 degree angle. I looked at Mike and he went completely gray and I noticed a quick vurp (vomit burp) and then it came out. The first Officer was screaming and the pilot slowly rotated back to normal operating parameters and landed the aircraft. After the aircraft parked, the flight crew started talking loudly (uh, screaming) to Mike and asked why didn't he tell them he got motion sickness (I was actually thinking the same thing)? And Mike blurted back, "If I would have known that I would be flying with the six flag's bunch I would have told you something. Hell, they don't make a pill for this crap".
Mike departed the aircraft. The flight crew started laughing, eventually. I didn't see Mike for about 3 days and we never talked about it again. We ended up going back to Europe later in the year; more on that story later. Oh, I did finally tell Mike about the per diem.
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