By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 11/7/2006 2:23:50 PM ET 2006-11-07T19:23:50

The senator was the last to board the flight. I was a passenger in the first class seat next to him. We had been waiting on him to close the doors and get on our way. The plane took off, and he and I had a couple of cocktails together and engaged in polite conversation.

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Before the meal service, a man from the economy section brought his 6-year-old son up to meet the great man.

“Hey, sonny, what do you want to be when you grow up?” asked the slightly inebriated lawmaker as he patted the boy on his head.

“I want to be a pilot or a senator just like you.”

“Well, you’d better stay in school or else you may end up being a flight attendant instead,” he said.

I almost choked on an ice cube.

This is clearly a guy who needs to watch what he says. Besides, he hadn’t eaten yet, and a flight attendant working the flight overheard the comment. I pondered the path his entree would take before it got to him.

We continued chatting through another cocktail. The pilot came out of the cockpit to use the lavatory. She was pretty, black and fairly young. I looked at the senator’s face and saw the scowl appear.

“You see that pilot?” he asked me, leaning closer. “The only reason she is up there is because of affirmative action.”

I could not believe that a man who is supposed to be a people person was talking like this. I don’t care how much alcohol he had had — there was no excuse for that kind of behavior. He was speaking to a complete stranger. I could have been a reporter.

The confidential chat came to a halt when he asked the question I had been waiting for.

“So what do you do for a living?”

“Actually, I am a flight attendant,” I replied.

He began to stir in his seat and I could tell he was getting uncomfortable.

“And the pilot,” I added, “is my wife.”

She wasn’t, but that ended the conversation. It was the first time I had seen a politician at a loss for words.

James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit his Web site or e-mail him.


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