Frugal flirting at 40,000 ft.

Are there ethics to scoring free booze mid-air? One flight attendant weighs in

BOBBY LAURIE  |  Special Contributor

COFFEE, TEA OR ME  |  Being an IFB (in-flight boyfriend) is OK as long as the flirting is harmless — beware the spurned steward.
COFFEE, TEA OR ME | Being an IFB (in-flight boyfriend) is OK as long as the flirting is harmless — beware the spurned steward.

The airline industry is nickel-and-diming travelers to death: We pay extra for checked luggage, carry-on bags, a window seat (or aisle seat!), early boarding and food. Back in the day, alcohol was the only thing you had to pay for.

And, if you handle it right, the one thing you might still get comped.

Flight attendants often use alcohol as a bargaining chip or a token of appreciation. They’ll offer it to someone willing to change their seat, someone whose in-flight entertainment system is inoperative, to compensate for a spill or as a way to say “thank you” (it’s very, very, rare).

Some passengers have become wise to cozying up to flight attendants for free stuff. And such boozy flirtations are common among gay men. While traveling, I came across this tweet by @MrSeventyTwo: “Boarding now. Gay flight attendant. Let’s see if I can get hooked up with free drinks.” I sent him a message: “So, it’s that easy huh?” He quickly responded: “Is flirting with gay flight attendants acceptable for drinks? Is it offensive? What’s a sure way to win their hearts over?”

That got me thinking, Carrie Bradshaw-like: Is flirting for Frangelico acceptable? Or would I trade a few moments of self-esteem for a mini-vodka?

As a flight attendant myself, I’ve fallen victim to frugal flirting. Once working a cross-country flight, I noticed a guy laughing with his two female seatmates and looking in my direction. When I reached his row to pick up his cup, I asked, “Are you enjoying yourself?” “No, but I would be if you stayed and talked with us for a bit.”

I did. He was cute and a captive of the middle seat. He complimented me a few more times until I had to get back to work. “I enjoyed chatting with you — come back and visit,” he smiled, looking in my eyes. Blushing, I asked if I could get him anything. “A vodka tonic would be great.”

I happily gave it to him free of charge. Did I stop at his row because he caught my attention? Yes. He actually had my attention and interest from the moment I saw him look in my direction. Did I offer him a drink because he was gay? Yes. Would I have offered to get him anything if he didn’t flirt with me? Yes, but I wouldn’t have given it to him for free. We engage passengers and they engage us in conversation all of the time. But he gave the illusion of being interested in me. (It was just an illusion — although he asked my number, he never called.)

This same situation happened to my friend Nathan. Nathan’s interaction with the frugal flirter went as far as him sitting down next to the passenger to keep the conversation going. A few drinks later, they exchanged phone numbers. The passenger sent a text message after deplaning but was never heard from again.

Investigating this trend further, I asked an airline passenger if he’s ever flirted with the crew for a free drink. “Yes,” he said, ”male and female.” He added that he believed the crew knew that he was only after a free drink.

So the question remains: Is this unacceptable or offensive? The consensus among my fellow flight attendants is that it is acceptable — with a stipulation. The passenger should make clear he just wants to be the flight attendant’s IFB (in-flight boyfriend) and not lead them on.  If you do want to make your flirtation more, well, grounded, exchanging numbers is OK … just be sincere.

Remember, though, that flirting will not always guarantee a free drink. Sometimes, it can land you in hot water. It’s sometimes difficult to balance tomato juice while serving during turbulence, and you don’t want it to end up on you.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Exploring spirituality, in Radical Faerie style

Pan-pagan group started as a gay-men-only movement, but has grown more inclusive with time

M.M. Adjarian  |  Contributing Writer

Dallas area Radical Faeries
IN THEIR OSTARA BONNETS | Members of the Dallas area Radical Faeries get in on the Easter Bonnet Parade fun with their own version of festive headgear celebrating Ostara, or the vernal equinox. (Photo courtesy Radical Faeries).

“Mainstream gays have always regard[ed] the euphemism, ‘faerie’ [as stigmatic]” says Paul Singleton. “Many men find it countermand[s] their ideas of masculinity, which is far from actual reality.”

Singleton is a member of the Radical Faeries, an alternative gay men’s movement started in 1979 by pioneer gay activist Harry Hay and dedicated to the spiritual exploration of gay culture and identity. He is one of about 15 locally based faeries, a few of whom gather together every Saturday for “coffee, tea and communion.”

“We are the Nature People, the lavender tribe of the Rainbow Family, in harmony with the principles of peace, justice, freedom, sustainable culture and the sacredness of the Earth. We love ceremonies, focusing on group spirit, and oneness… And we like to be pretty!” says Steven Hanes, another member of the DFW Radical Faerie community.

Hay, who died in 2002, originally patterned the Radical Faeries after the women’s separatist groups of the 1970s and limited membership to men. But in more than 30 years of existence, the Radical Faeries have evolved — albeit gradually and with difficulty — towards embracing a more sexually diverse membership.

Some Radical Faerie groups accept people of all genders and orientations with the idea that anyone who identifies as a faerie is one. However, many older members still require gatherings to be male-only and the issue of inclusion continues to be controversial.

“As an oppressed people, gay men [have] had to overcome their own prejudices against women, bi, trans [and] intersex people,” notes Singleton, who at 28, is part of the younger generation of faeries.

The movement, which began in the U.S. but now has followers worldwide, has been described as pagan in spiritual orientation. While it does borrow elements of its basic philosophy from paganism, it also borrows from other faiths as well.

As such, it reflects the eclectic religious backgrounds of its members, who are anything from Catholic to Buddhist, agnostic to atheist.

Two other elements unify the Radical Faeries. One is that member relationships are based on the giving and receiving of mutual respect and empathy.

“We are on equal footing — there is no dominance of subject over object,” says Singleton.

This notion derives from Hay’s idea that homosexual relationships, unlike heterosexual ones, were based on longings for a companion that was identical — and therefore equal — to the self in all ways.

The second element is internal operation based on consensus rather than majority rule — a feature that Townley attributes to “Hay’s communistic roots.”

Dallas area Radical Faeries
FAERIE FASHION | Members of the Radical Faeries celebrate spring. (Photo courtesy Radical Faeries)

“[This] can present certain challenges in efficiency,” Townley admits. “If anyone chooses to block consensus, we will ‘talk the issue to death.’ … When we are through, there are fewer bad feelings — except perhaps exhaustion — but we all understand many differing points of view.”

The group’s emphasis on equality can also be seen in one practice — borrowed from Native American spiritual traditions — in which almost all faeries participate: the Heart Circle. As a ritual, the Heart Circle is an exercise in both speaking and listening, designed to foster greater emotional self-awareness and interpersonal empathy.

“We form a circle, pass a token/speaking stick/talisman and only the person holding the token may speak,” Townley explains. “We agree as a group that we will speak from the heart when holding the talisman and the rest of the circle will speak from the heart. … The token goes around until all have had their say.”

While not the most visible of groups in the Dallas spiritual landscape, the highly individualistic Radical Faeries do participate in festivals and celebrations — such as Witch’s Night Out and Winter SolstiCelebraton — sponsored by pan-pagan organizations.

And though not a service organization, the DFW Radical Faeries does have membership ties to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group dedicated to AIDS education and activism.

As a movement, the Radical Faeries exist to raise consciousness, especially — but not exclusively — within the LGBT community. By identifying themselves as “faeries,” members reclaim a word that has been used pejoratively against gays. And while not radicals in the sense of being extremists, they get the root of things, in this case, who they are as gay people.

“Spirituality is having a renaissance,” Singleton observes.  “People are sick of ‘fanclubs’ and are looking within to find themselves.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens