It's All About the Beer

          Running an airline is a complex matter.  Equipment, fuel, logistics, baggage, passengers, regulations, safety, human resource issues. . .each is enough to challenge the most experienced team of consultants.  Putting enough beer on an airplane, or keeping the beer on the airplane cold—that shouldn’t be a struggle for English speaking adults, right?  Wrong!!! 

Delta’s MD-80 series were the worst.  Their stowage was apparently limited, and it was not uncommon, particularly on late summer afternoons, to experience a beer crises in coach.  It got to a point in the summer of ’94 that, upon boarding a MD-80, I would routinely ask the senior flight attendant if they had plenty of beer and whether they would start the beverage service from the rear or the front.  

On the MD, the galley was in the rear, and it was the Lead Attendant’s choice whether to push the cart to the front and work back or work from the rear forward.  The more practical of the two was to start from the front, since the biffies were in the rear. Starting cart service in the rear blocked bathroom access to much of the coach section for a large portion of the flight.  By starting in the front, passengers with a need could see the rolling blockade coming and handle matters accordingly. 

The starting point of service was important because, if one’s seat was back aft and they started forward, it was going to be a dry flight, and vice versa. 

I recall on one occasion, I was traveling with Susan Deeney, a business associate, from Philadelphia to Atlanta on a warm summer evening. Our seats were in the very rear of the coach section.   I asked the flight attendant upon boarding whether they had an adequate supply of brewskies and whether they would be starting service from the front or rear. Her answers were both wrong.  She indicated that they’d all but sold out of beer in coach on the inbound and they’d be starting our service from the front.  I asked if they would be getting any more beer aboard, since we would be at the gate for another thirty minutes. She indicated that this flight wasn’t “catered” in Philadelphia—in a word, “no.”  

Taking action in exceptional circumstances was something that, apparently, they never thought to do.  Perhaps making customers happy was beyond their perceived scope of responsibility.  Or maybe they thought it was OK to run out of supplies.  She dismissed the matter, explaining that “all that stuff is handled by in-flight-services and there isn’t anything we can do.” 

I walked back up the jetway to the gate counter and asked the agent to page the Station Manager or, in his absence, whoever was senior Delta manager on duty.  When he got to the phone, I explained that I was simply a good customer trying to help them do their job, noting the impending out-of-stock.                                                                               

   I asked if having no beer on a two-hour flight was an acceptable situation, or if it was unreasonable for me to expect that he, as SkyChef’s customer, ought to be able to flex his customer-muscle and direct his vendor to get a supply of frosty cold ones to gate E-7 in the next 20 minutes.  Remember, all those little trucks with the scissors jacks have radios and they can zip around the ramp at will.  It’s not hard to get beer to an airplane when you’ve got a fleet of manned trucks within two-minute’s access to a virtual liquor store.  He thanked me for the call and said he’d see what he could do. 

We hadn’t quite leveled off when the chime sounded and the flight attendants rose from their jump seats, commencing their service preparation.  The one with whom I’d spoken earlier came down the aisle, her hands cupping five or six cans to her abdomen..  Reaching our row, she extended her beer-laden arms, saying, “I don’t know who you are or what you did, but this is all the beer on the airplane and I’m supposed to give it to you.” 

I’d failed to solve their problem, but at least Mrs. Deeney and I got ours, and the price was right.     


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