Funny business in the sky

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April Fools’ Day has arrived, giving me the opportunity to write about a topic that is very dear to me: practical jokes.

Let’s face it: Nothing beats a little practical joke in the workplace to brighten up the day. It just so happens that my workplace is at 35,000 feet, and while safety is the flight attendant’s No.1 concern, we all need an occasional release. Sometimes we have the right crew and circumstances to let loose.

There are milder capers like sticking a sign saying “CREW USE ONLY” on the back of a cute flight attendant, or rolling the butter balls in coffee grounds and serving them to the cockpit as chocolate truffles. We make instant dribble glasses by piercing holes in the plastic containers, and sometimes we serve the coffee cold. After exhausting the run of mild pranks, we tend to move on to the more intricate ones. Here are some of my favorites.

1. Flying blind
Quite a few years back, there was a pilot who was famous for his sense of humor. His favorite prank was to wait until all passengers were on board, and then enter the plane through the rear door wearing his uniform and dark sunglasses — and carrying a white cane. Staggering around and acting as if he were blind, he would eventually make his way to the cockpit. This act would have most of the passengers roaring with laughter but left a few silently fearful. His other antic was to emerge from the cockpit during the flight in a panic, holding a handful of nuts and bolts and letting them drop to the floor. Finally, one complaint too many from an unamused passenger put an end to his comedy routines.

2. Landing gear
A couple of pilots wanted to have fun with a new flight attendant, so they told her during the flight that there was a problem with the landing gear. The flight attendant was instructed to go out to the middle section of the cabin and jump up and down a couple of times in hopes of dislodging the wheels. It was hilarious at the time, but one of the pilots got suspended for it.

3. Life vest
Once, back in my Pan Am days, a couple of us got together and inserted a live air cartridge into the demo life vest of a junior flight attendant. When she pulled down the handle during the safety demonstration, the vest suddenly inflated, startling her so much that she screamed and wet her pants.

4. No leg to stand on
On one flight, a passenger told me that he had a mechanical leg and wanted to know if it was OK to operate it during taxi and takeoff; apparently, the owner’s manual instructed the user to notify the cockpit upon boarding. I was sure it was OK, but I checked with the pilots anyway. They looked in their manual and told me they needed to know the model, make, year built and serial number, so I got that information from the customer. I started to get flustered when the pilots told me the leg needed to be checked into the cargo compartment. When I tried to explain this to the passenger — as delicately as possible — he smiled, wiggled both his legs, and told me to turn around. The flight attendants and the cockpit crew were standing in the aisle laughing, holding up a sign reading “Gotcha!”

5. Lemonade anyone?
I placed a small cup of dry lemonade powder above a fellow joker’s seat. When the plane landed and the pilot hit the brakes, the cup tipped over, covering his black hair with the golden powder. When he realized what had happened, he laughed for a second and then headed straight for the nearest lavatory, where a large cup of water had been carefully propped atop the door. He got drenched as he entered, causing the powder to harden into a lemonade helmet.

6. Cell phone announcement
The victim of the above prank repaid me by announcing my cell phone number as the new “Air Travel Help Line” during his onboard announcements. I received more than 200 phone calls and a big bill at the end of the month.

7. Naked cockpit
This joke got a couple of pilots fired. The captain’s girlfriend was working up front, so the pilots decided to pull their greatest prank by completely disrobing in mid flight and then requesting their meal. Unfortunately, by the time their meal was ready, the girlfriend was working the rear section. Let’s just say that the other flight attendant did not have the same sense of humor.

8. Safety card
A small joke we sometimes play is to put a silly or embarrassing sign inside the safety card of a briefing kit; when the flight attendant opens the card during the safety demonstration, the passengers read it and usually laugh. We did this once to a young crew member named Vicky. The sign read: “I’m lonely. Ask me out.” The passenger directly in front of her did just that. Fourteen years later, they are still married and have three kids.

9. Rude consequences
A very rude and insulting female passenger complained constantly through an eight-hour flight. I was working the flight with a friend who ordinarily wouldn’t tolerate this type of behavior, so I was amazed when he complied with every single one of her requests, apologizing at every turn. He even presented her with a bouquet of flowers from first class at the end of the flight. I didn’t get it until we passed the passenger in the customs hall, where she was being searched and yelling at the customs officer. Apparently, flowers almost guarantee a bag search at customs, and somehow, someone had changed the combination locks on both of her carry-on bags. Subsequently, she missed her connecting flight. Shrewd but brilliant.

10. Gotcha!
Many years ago, I would play a harmless prank on the flight attendants while they performed the safety demonstration. I would stand at the back of the airplane and act out a skit, strip or do anything that would make the flight attendant laugh. I once did this to my wife, who at that time was my girlfriend, playing it up until she was no longer able to continue. Two weeks later I received a letter of charge from the FAA for interfering with a safety function onboard. An FAA official had apparently witnessed my prank. A hearing date was scheduled, and I faced suspension and possible termination. I was guilty as charged, but I put on a brave face for my girlfriend on our next flight together. After 10 hours of worrying, I finally showed her the letter on the layover. She giggled and pointed out that the date on the letter was April 1. She kissed me and whispered into my ear: “April Fools!” It was at that moment that I knew I was in love.

Wouldn’t you know, my wife and I are expecting the arrival of our new baby boy on April 1. I can only imagine the pranks yet to come.

Happy April Fools’ Day!

James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, “.” For more information about James, visit his Web site or send him an e-mail.