Departures/Arrivals: Andy Brown Is Ready to Fix His Cologne-bound Plane if Anything Goes Wrong

Efrat Vechtel takes off her monkey suit after arriving from New York.

Andy Brown, 24, flying to Cologne

Excuse me, are you a pilot?

No, I am basically a flight engineer, but at the moment I am flying as a mechanic.

What does that mean, exactly?

Just what it sounds like: If the plane breaks down, I fix it.

Does that happen a lot on flights?

Not really. Most of the repair work is done on the ground. A flight mechanic does other things. He sees to all kinds of flight parameters. But that’s already a bit complicated. That’s why there’s a three-year internship.

Where are you flying now?

I live in Cologne, so I am going back there, though originally I am English. I came to Israel to repair a plane that broke down.

And were you able to repair it?

Yes, but it wasn’t so simple. There was a problem. A whole crew worked on it for six days.

What happened to the plane?

The plane had already taken off from Ben-Gurion airport and they started to fly, but then they had to turn around and make an emergency landing. No one was hurt. They landed safely. But they had to cut one engine. The truth is that there was some kind of air-conditioning problem.

Do you fly a lot to “heal” planes?

I am generally at my home base, in Cologne, but we do fly quite a bit. Sometimes, as in this case, I fly to a place where there is a plane with a problem. I generally arrive with my toolbox and work on the plane’s parts. But I also fly as a flight mechanic; we are needed mainly on the old planes. It used to be that there were three crewmen on almost all planes − two pilots and a mechanic − but it hasn’t been like that for years now. Technological and mechanical developments made that unnecessary. There are mechanics on the old models of the Boeing 747 or 727 that are still flying, but there is no longer a need for an airborne mechanic on the new models.

That’s somewhat reassuring for people who are afraid to fly.

People aren’t afraid of flying; they are afraid of crashing. But nowadays 99 percent of the flights go by safely. Everything is in order. There really is no problem. You can quote me.

But now I am afraid to fly on an old plane. How can I know the age of the plane I’m boarding?

It’s true that the older a plane is, the more chance there is that it will fall apart. But there is no way the ordinary traveler can know how old a plane is. You won’t know if it’s bad or good.

Let’s change the subject before I get a panic attack. How was your stay in Israel?

Very nice. Mostly we worked hard and in the late evenings we went out to eat. I had a very good time here. The whole crew went to restaurants and to Old Jaffa, and we sat by the seashore. I was in a lovely hotel that faces the sea. This job has its advantages. I wanted to visit the Tel Aviv Port, but didn’t manage. Maybe next time.

Will there be one?

You never know in my profession. One day you’re here, the next day you’re in Eastern Europe. I work at my home base, and if there is a phone call − “Drop everything and go to X this evening” − I go.

Doesn’t it prevent you from conducting a regular life?

It suits people who like to be on the go. I don’t have a girlfriend, for example. I think it would be very hard to conduct a family life in which you have such high mobility. I’ve flown about 130 times in the past two years.

What’s the most interesting place you’ve been to?

Afghanistan. A fascinating place. But I can’t really talk about it, because the airport I was at belonged to a military base.

What surprised you?

Israel isn’t what I thought. I had prior assumptions about this country, which proved to be totally mistaken. You hear a lot on the news about Israel, about the Middle East conflict, about the security situation, and I thought there would be police and army everywhere. It’s not like that, of course.


Efrat Vechtel, 28, from Tel Aviv, arriving from New York

Can I ask where you were?

I was in New York for less than two hours. I got on the plane, landed, went through passport control, checked in and came back.

You’re kidding.

No. The truth is that I had a terrific flight. I slept all the way back.

To get to New York and not look around − that’s abuse.

The truth is that I wrote a glum status on Facebook, but that’s how it is. I went for work. I am an airborne Kofiko.

Excuse me?

Look, here’s my costume. It’s a service provided by the airline on morning flights in the summer, when there are a lot of kids flying. We are four girls who do the Kofiko thing [based on the enduringly popular children’s books in Israel about a mischievous monkey]. One of us flies every day.

What exactly does Kofiko do?

I don’t do a lot. I meet everyone as they board. On the flight I hand out coloring pages, books and little gifts. Mostly I make the kids happy. I always dreamed of being a flight attendant, but I am too short. A flight attendant is 1.60 meters-plus. Kofiko is 1.60 meters-minus. It fits me to a tee.

Do you also perform for the children on the flight?

I dance a lot and jump around, but I can’t sing, because you can’t hear anything through the costume. The truth is it’s very challenging just to exhale.

It must be hot, too.

It’s incredibly hot inside, but only for me. Kofiko isn’t hot. He is from Hontoza. The truth is that the heat is not the big problem. The problem is Kofiko. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. His ears are huge, so it’s a little hard to get through the aisle with them, and I have to walk sideways so as not to bump into the seats. A lot of kids push Kofiko’s head to see what’s going on underneath. That can be pretty painful. But don’t misunderstand me; it’s a terrific job. I make people happy, and that is exactly what I want to do in life. That is my goal in acting.

How do people react?

During boarding everyone sees me and they are really enthusiastic. It’s fun. They say, “Kofiko, we were raised on you,” “Kofiko, can I have my picture taken with you?” A lot of Americans ask what it’s all about; they don’t understand what a monkey is doing on the flight. I explain to them that Kofiko is like Barney [the Friendly Dinosaur].

What do you do when you’re not being Kofiko?

I usually work as an actress at family events. Usually I am Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy birthday to you” to older adults. Eighty-year-olds love Marilyn. I go to auditions. Mostly all kinds of commercials. I act in student films and dream of doing something serious, like “In Treatment.” But I am realistic. It’s not easy to break into the industry in Israel. Mostly, I am a student. I take advantage of leisure hours on the flight back to write my master’s thesis.

What are you studying?

Psychodrama, at Seminar Hakibbutzim College − therapy through acting. This year I worked with a group of schizophrenics in a hostel for people with mental disorders in Tel Aviv. I teach them to act out the problem instead of only talking about it. People with mental disorders often have serious social difficulties, but if the whole process takes place within a group it makes it possible for them to share, become acquainted and get closer. I work with people who have lived together for 20 years but still don’t know one another. I know it doesn’t foment a major change in their life − schizophrenia is a severe illness and has no cure − but for me every small change is a meaningful victory. For example, there is one woman in the group who tells me that now she feels as though she might be capable of being part of a group that meets outside [the institution]. That is superb. My master’s thesis is about how group psychodrama contributes to creating friendship in a population that experiences isolation.

Are they good actors?

It’s a hostel for people who were artists. One woman there was the accompanying vocalist for a famous singer, there are painters and actors. They are very creative people. I hope that in the future I will be able to integrate this kind of work permanently into my life. I would rather work with them than moderate a show in some mall.

By the way, did you yourself read “Kofiko”?

Of course, though I have to admit that as a girl I was more into My Little Pony. What’s nice is that thanks to this job I met the real Noga [the daughter of Tamar Borstein-Lazar, author of the “Kofiko” books]. Would you believe she is now pretty old?