There was no way to prepared for what was about to happen. Little did I know that in a few hours I would have an experience that would go down as one of my most memorable days.
I checked in as usual for my LA flight at 7:30 in the evening. This was a “red eye,” because we departed from Kennedy Airport in New York at 10:15 pm, and basically flew all night trans con, arriving in LAX at 1:30am Pacific Time. For me, it was really 4:30 am.
Celebrity sightings were not all that unusual for people in my line of work. As a flight attendant, I spent quite a bit of time 33,000 feet up in the air for several hours with famous celebrities, like my fellow crew members. We saw some pretty amazing things in the cabins of those planes. We got to experience many celebrities up close and personal. I know Paul Newman drank Budweiser. I served him several. Former tennis star, Ivan Lendl used to ask for Coke, no ice. I’ve met numerous well-known people: Billy Jean King, Bryant Gumbel, Jackie and Ted Kennedy, (and many of the Kennedy clan), Julio Iglesias, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Geraldo Rivera, Joan Lunden, the list goes on…
Ditto for the music business. Backstage working or just hanging out with artists and athletes like Gloria Estefan, Kenny G, Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, Wyclef Jean, Sinbad, Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Santana, Grammy reggae-rapper Sean Paul, Stanley Clarke, Joe Sample, Alex Bugnon, Phyllis Hyman, (she is resting in peace, now), Michael Franks, Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder, Bill Cosby, Patti Labelle, Brook Shields, Michael Bolton, and so many more made it easy to experience a few special moments you will always remember.
A very distinguished, tanned Hollywood type boarded the Lockheed L1011 this particular evening. I recognized him right away as the host of what is now the longest-running daytime game show in history. It was Bob Barker. Soon after, actor Tom Poston of “Mork and Mindy” and the “Bob Newhart Show” came aboard. They spoke to each other and took their seats in first class, the cabin I was working for this flight.
After take-off, the flight went along rather smoothly. Bob Barker sat right in front of me, as my jump seat faced seat 1A. The first passenger seat on the entire plane. That’s where Bob sat.
TV personality and game show host Bob Barker was also an avid animal activist. The 19-time Emmy Award-winner explained to me that he was a vegetarian, (since 1979), and inquired what was on the menu for dinner. Barker was smartly dressed, looking like he was on his way to emcee a Miss USA/Universe Pageant, like the many he hosted from 1967 to 1987. Barker carved out a very successful career that began with his radio show.
I didn’t get off to a good start with the executive producer. He had to nix the chicken and declined the salmon with sauce. The bread had sesame seeds, so no bread, either. He didn’t eat anything. It was going to be a long five hours.
Meanwhile, Tom Poston was exchanging a few pleasantries with a couple of passengers, and enjoying his meal. Calm as a cucumber. Affable and friendly as can be.
Crossing the Rockies, about half-way through our flight, one of my crew members approached and asked me to step into the galley. There, I got the news–we had to prepared the cabin for an emergency landing!
It took a minute for that information to sink in. During my almost 10 years of flying, I have been involved in seven emergency situations. This was only number three. Each time you are very concerned, experience doesn’t make it better. I wanted to talk to the captain, but he needed his space to work on things and figure out a safe way to land the “bird.”
When the announcement was made to the passengers, some became frightened, quite understandably. Already frustrated over dinner, Bob Barker stood up in first class and declared there was no emergency. I was working with another flight attendant in the front cabin. We looked at each other wondering what to do. I shot a glance over at Tom Poston, as if he could help us.
I walked over and asked Mr. Barker to take his seat. He replied that we were scaring the passengers.
My colleague and I began to demonstrate the bracing positions. Barker tuned me out. Poston couldn’t do anything, (God rest his soul). Try telling the “Come on down!’ game show king he’s not grasping the seriousness of the situation.
Finally, the captain came on the PA to brief the passengers. He was upfront, explaining one of the engines had a fire. We would be attempting to land with two engines, which could be done. After the captain spoke, Barker settled down.
On the captain’s command, every passenger and crew member aboard that LA flight got into the bracing position to help protect us in case of severe impact. I was glad to see Bob in his.
Thanks to God, the pilot landed that plane safely! The passengers cheered. I looked up at Bob to make sure he was OK. Still looked as handsome as ever. I don’t think he was too happy with our airline that day, though! He had a rough ride. Everyone did. Even my nerves were shot!
I said good-bye to the TV star, apologizing for everything. He managed a “good-bye,” then exited the plane. Tom Poston gave me a smile as he bid farewell and stepped into the Jetway.
Years later I discovered that Tom Poston and Bob Barker both trained as pilots, Barker in the Navy and Poston in the Army Air Corps for World War II. Barker never saw any action because the war ended before he could get an active duty status. Tom Poston won several medals for his combat bravery, serving in North Africa, Italy, France, and England. I wondered why he remained unfazed by our emergency with calm concern. I saw him speaking to the passenger next to him, in a gentle, reassuring manner.
I will never forget the five frantic hours I spent with a plane load full of folks and two TV stars. Sadly, Tom Poston passed away on April 30, 2007. I thought of our LA flight when I heard the news.
Bob Barker continues to be that charismatic talk show host with personality, making appearances on Rachel Ray and Late Night with Dave Letterman. In 2009, Barker was the guest host for WWE, (World Wrestling Entertainment), Raw, in Rosemont, Illinois.
Drama in the skies with a dramatic TV host. Literally sitting on the edge of our seats. Hanging on a wing and a prayer. This celebrity encounter will forever rank as one of the highest on my list of life’s most intense moments. Moments I shared with a couple of TV stars.
For more on Tom Poston go to his website here.
Learn more about Bob Barker here.
biography.com, imdb.com, tomposton.com