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IN TRANSIT : Flight Light

February 25, 1996|Mary Melton

The air is stuffy. You're playing a one-person game of Twister to get comfy when the combat boot of a fellow passenger uses your elbow as a stepladder to stuff his duffle bag into the overhead. You hope against hope to pass out soon for the hourlong flight. Then over the P.A. comes the first murmuring of the flight announcements. "Ladies and gentlemen," the anonymous female voice intones, "anybody lose a brown wallet in the jetway?"

The Burbank-bound plane, sold out with Vegas winners and losers, goes into a panicked scramble. Men reach for the back pockets of their slacks, women dislodge carry-ons.

"OK," the voice continues, "now that we've got your attention . . . ."

And so begins 26-year-old Southwest Airlines flight attendant Kimberlee Myers' rendition of the FAA-mandated safety regulations. With a knack for stand-up that she's been honing since she joined the airline eight months ago, Myers mixes fact with fancy to beat the safety-speech doldrums.

"In case you haven't been in a car lately, this is a seat belt," she starts the rapid-fire two-minute drill. "Your seat belt should be worn tight and low across your lips--I'm sorry, your hips. There may be 50 ways to leave your lover but there's only six exits out of this baby."

"In the event of a water evacuation between Las Vegas," she pauses, "and Burbank, your seat bottom cushion may be used. . . . Flight attendants are passing through the cabin to make sure that all seat belts are fastened, all seat backs are up in their most uncomfortable positions, and all that carry-on luggage you brought aboard and should have checked is crammed under the seat in front of you."

Myers, who lives in Hermosa Beach, signed up as a flight attendant with American Eagle after college. She moved over to Southwest last year because "I wanted to do the tennis shoe thing." Known for its casual attitude and attire, Southwest encourages its announcements to be lighthearted, as long as regulations are met. Myers knows she's not the first attendant with a midflight schtick--the now-defunct PSA was infamous for its shenanigans, such as serving hot dogs during World Series weeks and pointing out the San Andreas Fault--and she readily admits piecing together most of her material from other attendants' routines. Myers doesn't perform for early morning commuters ("They're not in the mood") or on flights out of Salt Lake City ("Too many kids").

"Folks, if you do feel like smoking, feel free to step out on our wing and enjoy our patio furniture and our feature film of the day, 'Gone With the Wind.' Although we never anticipate a change in cabin pressure, if one should occur, immediately stop screaming and pull down on the margarine cup to activate your flow of nitrogen--I'm sorry, oxygen. Place the mask over your big ol' nose and breathe like this. . . ." Over the speakers, Myers simulates the heavy breathing of an obscene phone call. (Her favorite part, she says.)

The formerly distracted masses on the Boeing 737 hoot and holler as they usually do. And it doesn't end with the safety regulations. Myers yells out "Wheeeeeee!" at takeoff, announces a 1992 Camry with its lights on in the airport parking lot, asks Row 17 to stop rocking the plane when turbulence pops up and makes a fake offer of Prozac ($6) with a soft drink.

"Humor lightens things up," says Myers, who's convinced the in-flight message comes across much better this way. "I've had comedy writers getting off in Burbank tell me 'You've missed your calling,' but I think I've found it." She even elicits some snappy rejoinders from the passengers herself. "Yeah, they'll ask me what kind of beers I have on tap."

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