“I Thought He Didn’t Have Any Teeth, How Is He Supposed To Eat The Beef?”

Filed Under: American, Travel

I flew from Beijing to Dallas yesterday. I was looking forward to a smooth and quiet flight. Up until 24 hours before departure, my friend and I were the only ones booked in first class. Go figure the flight the day before canceled (and for that matter yesterday’s Chicago to Beijing flight was again delayed by 15 hours — American’s 777s really are unreliable).


The first class cabin ended up full, with eight operational upgrades and four non-revs.

Upon boarding, we had quite a contrasting first class crew. The purser was super senior — she had ~45 years seniority, and was in the top 100 or so seniority for the entire company. Meanwhile the Mandarin speaking flight attendant in first class, Aisha, was on her first trip ever.

So the purser was doing everything she could to show the new hire the ropes, and the contrast was hilarious/adorable. The senior one was sort of abrupt and more efficient than a machine, while the junior one was constantly smiling and friendly, but was struggling with the service and still learning.

If the boarding process for this flight didn’t cause the new hire to quit, I don’t know what will.


“I thought he didn’t have any teeth, how is he supposed to eat the beef?”

There were four senior Chinese passengers, and they didn’t speak a word of English. And even though they were non-revs, I don’t think they had flown much before based on how they were acting.

They kept getting up when the seatbelt sign was on. The purser said “Aisha, tell them to sit down.” They refused “Aisha, come over here. Tell them to sit down now.”

They ignored her. “Aisha, tell them that if they don’t sit down we will kick them off the plane.” Aisha got a bit wide-eyed, since she had just finished training and was trying to be super professional, so clearly that isn’t a threat she’d voluntarily make.

Poor Aisha. She was trying to be friendly to them, but it just wasn’t going anywhere.

Then we started taxiing and one of the same passengers tried to get up to use the bathroom. The purser yelled “SIT! SIT! SIT!” Then she physically tried to get her to sit down. She didn’t respond. “AISHA COME HERE NOW, she won’t sit!” Then she was back in her seat.

A few minutes later, while we’re taxiing, the husband walked through the galley to the other side to sit down on the his wife’s “buddy seat.” At this point the purser lost it.

Towards the end of our taxi the purser took meal orders, and she’d have Aisha take the orders for the Chinese passengers while she stood behind her waiting to write them down.

“Just ask him what he wants for his main course, we’ll serve them everything else to keep it simple.”
*Aisha talks to guy in Mandarin*
“He says he wants beef.”
“Beef?!?! I thought he didn’t have any teeth, how is he supposed to eat that?”

The above is just the tip of the iceberg, though suffice to say it made for a really exciting flight.

“I hope we don’t crash”

An American guy swapped seats with one of the four Chinese passengers so that they could sit together. That was nice enough of him, but as he switched seats he told the purser “I hope we don’t crash,” while giggling. The purser gave him a death glare. Who the hell says that?!

Then he sat down across from me and said “you better be careful, I’m going to be watching some crazy $hit on my laptop.” He rattled off the name of some “gaming” thing, and when I looked at him like he was from another planet, he said “how do you not know what ________ is?!?”

Then he looked at my friend and said “can you believe he doesn’t know what________ is?!?” He got another blank stare. I simply responded with “well, I’ll be watching Real Housewives, and that can get pretty graphic as well sometimes, so you’ve been warned.” He gave me a blank stare.

Does anyone know what he’s actually watching?!

Then while we taxied out he listened to some music, and was basically setting up his own drum studio, as he’d use his fingers to “fake” play the drums while bobbing his head as if he’s at a rave. And then periodically he’d turn around, look at me, give me a high five, and then giggle.

During the taxi out the purser came by to take his meal order.

“What do you want to eat?”
“Have you looked at the menu I gave you earlier?”
“There’s a menu?”
“Yes, here it is”

She opened it to the right page, he held it for a second, and then he put it down.

“Could you look at the menu so I can take your order, please?”

He continued to just stare into space.

“Could you look now? So, I can, like, take your meal order… now?”

Suffice to say that was about a five minute process.

Bottom line

By the end of the flight we were best friends with the crew, simply for being amused by the entire situation. I told the new hire she did a great job and that if she made it through this flight she can make it through anything.

And while the purser was a bit abrupt, I walked away having a great respect for her. I can only imagine what she has seen in 45 years.

Fun times!

  1. He is watching Vikings, I can make out Floki in that pic, he is one of the main characters.

  2. yes, it’s Vikings you can see Floki and Rolo quite clearly.
    if this show had gay sex it would be the best tv program ever! you should check it out. they often go to battles totally shirtless.

  3. I have a working knowledge of Mandarin and I would’ve LOVED to hear the conversation between Aisha and the Chinese pax.

    Senior “Worked here for too long I don’t give a fuck anymore” purser vs. Old “I’ve been alive too long I don’t give a fuck anymore” Chinese passengers. Oh God the live tweet would be amazing.

  4. Welcome to flying to China. It’s different. I’m guessing as I don’t really know, but I think the general flying population does not have a similar “flying culture” as we do in the US or other parts of Asia even. When I went to China, flying by myself, every time I got up to go to the bathroom or take a stretch, I came back to find someone sitting in my seat. Literally every time.

    Nothing in this story surprises me. Except that you don’t know what Game of Thrones is.

  5. Ben how can you tell that a passenger is a nonrev vs an op up vs their elite status?

  6. I have the same question as Alexander, how could you tell the Chinese passengers are non-rev?

    Interesting trip report, but I’m glad I’m not on that flight.

  7. I’ve been living in China for 4 years and that’s the exact behavior on EVERY flight I’ve ever taken to any country originating or ending in China. There are always stories in the news and blogs (Chinese and expat) about this behavior too … So, while I really enjoyed your post and found it hilarious, it’s definitely par for the course when flying to mainland China

  8. The Vikings !
    I will be going to Beijing with my 6yr. old next week. Tuesday I think. I will bring a little gift for the flight attendants for all the crap they have to put up with. I HOPE that the people like me that fly coach 90% of the time and have an opportunity to sit in business class they will see that we are less demanding and a hell of alot understanding. I personally would have told the pilot to drop the plane 5000 feet on a 20 degree turn to show why the Faster your Seat belt Sign is there !

  9. He is DEFINITELY watching Game of Thrones. Thats why Lucky heard “Gaming” and that’s what he is watching.

  10. Dude game of thrones is probably the most popular show on TV right own. Come on. It’s also on tons of IFE systems…That’s actually how I got into it.

  11. Try flying AA’s MIA-LPB-VVI B757. People urinating in the galley or taking dumps in the air sick bags because the 2 lavs are taken. Drinking directly from the full size bottles bought in duty-free. The expression in the faces of the mostly Chilean crew asking God to take them out of their misery soon.

    I’m curious to know the rationale of an airline to place someone who does not speak the destination’s language as the purser. I hope she knows in case of an emergency her inability to lead the masses will only invite chaos and trampling over her body.

  12. Curious to know what happened to AA 88 on 5/12. It looks like AA 89 made it out on 5/11…was the cancellation a mechanical?

  13. @ JoeMart — That’s perfectly normal all over the world, and that’s the point of having a language qualified flight attendant in each cabin. Not sure what that has to do with safety, though? All English PAs were immediately followed by Mandarin ones from one of the language qualified crew.

  14. Dee- You don’t even need to fly to China to experience this kind of stuff. There’s an area of Queens, NYC called Flushing. It’s way more like being in China than any “Chinatown” I’ve ever been in. No one waits in lines. Starbucks is full of people who didn’t buy anything and brought their own food. And don’t dare getting up from your chair to get some sugar. Even if your stuff is still there to keep the chair, It’ll get moved in ten seconds. The upside is that you can do a Chinese buffet lunch for $4.

  15. Neat story, Ben, and thanks for sharing. These pax were obviously unaware/oblivious/didn’t give a damn about safety ( theirs or others’).
    But it DOES give us a useful insight into other cultures (especially one reader’s comments about Flushing, NY).
    Turning the tables, what seems perfectly normal to westerners must also seem bizarre to members of other cultures.
    The lesson is, I think, that we (westerners) should also open our eyes to the fact that the world is a vibrant, varied place, and we can learn so much from traveling in and spending time mixing with peoples whose lives are very different from ours.
    Thanks for sharing this eye-opening take!

  16. Goodness the indignities you suffer flying around the world!

    Thankfully, this blog serves as a constant reminder of the people (and credit cards) you encounter.

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