A lot of institutions have a strong tribe mentality. But The Indian High School in Dubai has the strongest sense of tribe I’ve known. IHS kids stick together with a kind of loyalty and camaraderie that’s otherwise characteristic of winning sports teams (us-against-the-world). I couldn’t hold my excitement in.
“When did you pass out?” I asked him.
“Oh my god, I was the 2005 batch too... No, wait. Not 2005... 2007,” I shook my head as if to shake off the confusion. “You’re two years my senior!”
The flight attendant seemed a little speechless. And probably a little better at holding back than I was. In response to my excitement, he just stared and nodded.
He started to name people—students who were then known for excelling in different arenas—to see if I knew them too. “He used to play football,” he said, naming a guy who used to be identified with the sport. “And as you know, IHS was the best at football.”
“We were the best at everything!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the guy on the aisle seat next to mine smiling. As a friend I later narrated this to pointed out, we were clearly "vibing".
The conversation flowed very naturally. We had officially met five minutes ago and were already reminiscing about stuff from over ten years ago. It was no different than chatting with a friend from school I might’ve otherwise known. Just a lot more surreal. A stewardess passed quickly, giving her kneeling colleague a dirty look. He went on to wrap up filling the form.
“So, this is your phone number?” he asked in a near inaudible tone.
I was so taken aback that it took me a few seconds to respond. “Yes.” But this is your Indian number; you’re going to be away for two weeks. You need to tell him.
“But when I’m in Delhi. Not while I’m on holiday,” I uttered slowly, simultaneously wondering whether I should've given out my Irish phone number. He nodded thoughtfully, and then gave me what seemed like a slightly disappointed yet polite smile, before getting up and going where the other attendants were.
I was trying to process what had happened. Did this guy just ask me for my number? I wasn’t even sure whether that’s what he meant, or he was just confirming it for professional reasons. It seems obvious now. But no one had ever asked for my number on a plane before.
Confused, curious and also hungry by then, I decided to gather more clues—as discreetly as I could. I saw him strolling through my aisle again and stopped him instinctively, just as I would a close friend among a sea of unfamiliar faces. “Excuse me, I know meal time’s over, but is it all possible for me to order a snack at this point?”
“We’re bringing snacks out in a few minutes, but I could still get you a pack of our savoury biscuits if you’d like?”
The situation seemed so delicate to me then that asking him for an extra snack felt like asking for a favour. I hesitated. “That’s fine, I’ll wait.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, with the now-signature empathetic expression.
“Yes, thank you.”
He patted my arm and walked away. My brain wasn’t functioning rationally anymore.
The snack (a tasty baguette sandwich) was brought out minutes later. A female attendant served me. A male was back to clear our tray tables. “Are you finished ma’am?”
“Yes,” I replied without looking. And to my shock, saw that it was him again as he walked ahead. It was then that I realised: this. guy. had. switched. his. service. zone. He had been standing at the beginning of Zone F when I walked onto the plane and past my seat. I was seated in Zone E.
I looked at him walking and noticed that he was very attractive. Tall, broad, handsome face, hint of a British accent—most likely a third culture kid. In other words, at first glance, my type. He was back to collect my blanket, and then my headphones. And then to hand over a glass of water to the man seated on my left, a bit of which he accidentally spilt on me. Trying hard not to embarrass him, I looked up a few seconds later, only to receive a frantic “sorry!” after which he hurriedly added “ma’am” with a suppressed giggle. I was giggling openly by this point.
I felt like I was back in school, not because of having met a former mate, but rather the teenagery high I was on. It was only a few minutes to landing. I spent them on cloud nine.
We touched down, and I realised I didn’t know his name. Didn’t ask; didn’t look at his name tag. Was it too late? Shall I ask? Shall I say bye? Shall I say thank you? Give him some encouragement to call me?
As I was gathering my stuff and preparing to step off the plane, I saw with my peripheral vision that he was standing right in front of me, almost-waiting. A couple of passengers were looking in our direction and all I could think was: Don't make it obvious. He'll lose his job because of you. I was caught between really wanting to thank him for the warm service, being friendly (what the heck, we went to the same high school) and not doing anything. Conflicted, I got off the plane without looking at him.
To my slight relief, I saw the entire cabin crew from our flight walk past as we were waiting for our luggage at the conveyor belt. Led by the pilot, all of them walked with army-like perfection—a strut that only comes naturally after having done great work. I turned around and smiled. He did the most respectable thing he could've in his situation: smiled without looking directy at me, blushed, and walked out of the exit gate.
*This is a true account. If you must know, the flight attendant didn’t end up calling me. I contacted every close friend from high school to see if any of them knew “an Emirates flight attendant, batch of 2005”. One sent me Facebook profiles of about twenty Emirates employees who also went to our school (he was none of them). One laughed her heart out before promising to ask around. A slightly bitter person suggested “he must’ve just been having a good time” and “met another pretty girl on a plane”. But the consensus among my close friends was that his professionalism must’ve held him back, and the only way I’d ever see him again was if I made some sort of a move. On another friend’s suggestion, I even wrote to Emirates Customer Service, complimenting “the staff on *flight number*, *flight date and time*”. Nothing came of it, as I had no hint of his name and that’s the minimum they require to deliver feedback to a particular member of staff. I did start to be a lot more prepared for flights after, though. And I'd encourage you to do so, too. The stakes may turn out to be a lot higher than you'd expect.