Learning that I’m a legend at Air Astana29 may 2014, 13:39
I learned the other day that I’m famous at Air Astana.
Actually, let me rephrase that. Infamous might be better.
I recently took an Air Astana flight from Astana to Frankfurt, where I would change planes and go on to Los Angeles.
Because the flight to Frankfurt was less than half full, the flight attendants were able to serve the passengers beverages and dinner, then have some time to themselves.
That’s when I struck up a conversation with Air Astana purser Dauren Kirgizbyev.
Dauren flashed a friendly smile and asked how I was doing, and I said fine.
Then I told him I knew his big boss, Peter Foster, the president of Air Astana.
“Would you like to know how I got to know him?” I asked, and Dauren nodded.
“I wrote a blog a couple of years ago about my attempt to get a flight attendant to upgrade me to first class,” I said. “My last name is Foster, and I told the flight attendant I was Peter’s brother. Peter loved the blog, and we became friends.”
Dauren looked at me with astonishment, grinned and said: “So you’re the guy.”
“You know that story?” I asked.
“Everyone at Air Astana knows that story,” he replied.
My chest swelled with pride. I finally had proof I was a legend in my own time.
Before I relate the rest of my conversation with Dauren, let me tell those of you who don’t know the trick I tried to pull on Air Astana two years ago.
It also came on a flight from Astana to Frankfurt. But unlike the recent flight I was on, the one two years ago was chock full.
I was really tired before boarding the flight and desperately wanted to sleep. But I doubted that would happen in a jam-packed Economy Class section.
As I was walking down the aisle to the coach section, however, I noticed some empty seats in first class.
That got me thinking about the day in Tokyo years earlier when my friend Bill Glaza, the public relations director of Northwest Airlines’ Far East operation, upgraded me to first class on a flight I was taking to an important conference in the States.
I was a journalist in Japan, and it’s always smart for a PR guy like Bill to do a favor for a journalist. And Bill was a consummate PR guy – so a flight attendant came to me in coach class and told me I’d been upgraded..
First class was super. The flight attendants fussed over me as though I were a royal, the food was terrific and there was space between seats to stretch out my long legs. Ah!
Day-dreaming about that day in air-travel paradise, I motioned to one of the Air Astana flight attendants..
“Miss, my brother is Peter Foster, the Air Astana CEO. He was supposed to book me in first class, but he didn’t,” I said. “Would you please put me in first class, as he wanted?”
To try to lend credibility to my contention that Peter was my brother, I dropped my Financial Times in the aisle. I made it look like it had slipped out of my hand, although it was the calculated act of a con man.
You can’t miss the Financial Times, with its distinct salmon color. I figured that flashing a copy of the esteemed British publication would help me convince the flight attendant I really was the brother of Peter Foster, whom everyone in Kazakhstan knows is a Brit. After all, it would go without saying that Peter’s brother wouldn’t read just any old trash.
But the flight attendant, a petite Kazakh beauty who appeared to be about 22, looked doubtful. So I decided to show her my passport.
“See, here’s my name – Hal Foster. I’m the journalist and professor. Peter’s my younger brother. The family is awfully proud of him, you know – he’s really made good with his career. But I’m going to have to admonish Peter about this mistake with first class. Either he’s slipping, or his secretary is. Tsk, tsk, tsk.”
The flight attendant looked at the passport for only a moment, squared her shoulders, leaned down to me and whispered: “Nice try.”
It was such a funny response that I wrote a blog about it. The blog came to Peter’s attention, and we’ve been friends ever since.
Now back to my recent Air Astana flight with Dauren.
Dauren Kirgizbayev. Photo courtesy of Dauren Kirgizbayev.
I was curious what Air Astana staff thought about my attempt to get an upgrade to first class. So I asked him about it.
“I was surprised,” he said. “I wondered what kind of guy would try to do something like that.”
He didn’t use the phrase “what kind of cheeky guy,” but that was probably what he was thinking.
I told him I’m a bit of a joker, that I believe life should be fun – and he responded with a grin.
When he first heard the story about the guy trying to cajole his way into first class, he said, he thought the Foster who was involved might be Norman Foster. Norman is the renowned British architect who designed the Pyramid, the Khan Shatyr and other Astana landmarks.
I told him Norman Foster wouldn’t have needed an upgrade, that his talent and fame translate into him being “in the chips,” as the Brits would say. Unlike me, Norman Foster can afford first class. He would have been booked into the flight Valhalla from the start.
I then asked Dauren about himself.
Although he’s Kazakh, he grew up in what is now Uzbekistan.
He earned a degree in English at the Uzbek State World Languages University in Tashkent in 2004,and did other work before joining Air Astana three years ago.
He said he loves working at Air Astana because it gives him a chance to “communicate with various kind of people, knowing other nationalities, their minds, their way of thinking, their culture.”
I could see this as we talked. He was one of the friendliest flight attendants I’d met in a long time – from any airline.
Dauren quickly spread the word among the other members of that flight crew that I was the guy who had tried to talk his way into the first-class upgrade.
As I left the flight, the rest of the flight attendants flashed big smiles at me.
One of them, who was standing next to Dauren as we passengers departed, actually chuckled as I passed.
“He must have told you about me,” I grinned.
“Yes, he did,” she said, and she smiled and shook my hand.
She was clearly enjoying meeting the guy behind the story that everyone at Air Astana knows.
As I headed into the Frankfurt terminal to catch my next plane, I was in a great mood.
“Thank you, Air Astana. Thank you, Peter,” I was thinking.
“Thank you for making me a legend in my own time.”