The Flight Attendant
is a 2018 thriller by American author Chris Bohjalian. The novel follows flight attendant Cassandra “Cassie” Bowden as she wakes from a drunken blackout in a Dubai hotel room to find that the man in bed beside her has been murdered. Unable to remember whether she is responsible, Cassie tries to cover her tracks to get away. Hailed as “the ultimate airplane book” by The Washington Post
, The Flight Attendant
is the twentieth novel by Bohjalian, who is best known for 1997’s Midwives
, an Oprah’s Book Club selection which hit the top of the New York Times
Cassie wakes in a Dubai hotel room with a thumping hangover. No stranger to the morning after, Cassie, a beautiful flight attendant in her late thirties, enjoys her job for the perks: partying and anonymous sex in hotels all over the world. She is about to fumble for her clothes and some painkillers when she realizes that something is wrong: “It may have been the body’s utter stillness, but it may also have been the way she could sense the amphibian cold. But then she saw the blood. . . . She saw his neck, . . . how the blood had geysered onto his chest and up against the bottom of his chin, smothering the black stubble like honey.”
Panicking, Cassie tries to piece together her memory of the previous night. The man in the bed is Alex Sokolov: Cassie met him on the flight to Dubai. After some flirtation on the plane, Alex invited Cassie to dinner. After dinner, they were joined by Miranda—apparently Alex’s colleague. When Miranda left, Alex and Cassie went to bed together, and that is the last thing she remembers.
Searching the hotel room, Cassie finds a broken vodka bottle, spattered with blood—apparently the murder weapon. Could Cassie have attacked Alex with the bottle? She cannot rule it out.
Cassie puts out the “Do Not Disturb” sign and tries to clear away all the evidence of her presence in the room. She showers and returns to work, distributing pieces of the vodka bottle in different trashcans along the way. A friend and colleague, Megan, asks her whether she went to Alex’s hotel: Cassie denies it. The plane is delayed without explanation, and Cassie fears that the authorities are coming for her. When the plane finally takes off, she weeps with relief.
However, by the time she returns to America, the FBI is investigating Alex’s death. Interviewed by agents, she denies knowing Alex. Her union rep advises her to get a lawyer.
The FBI uncovers security camera footage from the hotel, showing Cassie arriving with Alex and leaving alone. Cassie becomes the FBI’s prime suspect. Tabloid newspapers dub her the “Cart Tart Killer.” Cassie hires a lawyer, Ani Mouradian, to whom she admits the truth. Meanwhile, Cassie recovers more memories of Miranda, the woman who joined her and Alex on the night of the murder. She remembers Miranda drinking an incredible amount of vodka without getting drunk. One day, working on a flight to Rome, Cassie spots Miranda in the security line.
The novel switches to the point of view
of “Miranda,” real name Elena. A Russian intelligence officer, her superiors are angry with her. Not only did she allow Cassie to live, but the assassination of Alex Sokolov has also proved a waste of time: the information Elena has retrieved from his computer is of no value. Elena’s boss, Viktor, tells her to find Cassie and kill her, in case Cassie learned important information from Alex.
Elena follows Cassie to Rome, intending to carry out the assassination there. However, Elena is a double agent, secretly working for the CIA. As she travels to Rome, she becomes convinced that her cover is blown, and Viktor intends to kill her as soon as she has assassinated Cassie. On arrival in Rome, she contacts her CIA handler, who orders her to bring Cassie to Washington D.C.
Elena waits for Cassie in her hotel room. However, a Russian assassin is already in the room: he murders Elena and lies in wait for Cassie.
Cassie arrives with her friend Enrico. The assassin incapacitates them. Cassie recognizes her would-be killer as Buckley, a man she has recently begun dating in New York. “Buckley” takes Enrico’s gun, planning to kill them both and make it look like a murder-suicide. However, the gun explodes in his hand, and “Buckley” decides to fake his own death and defect.
Back in America, Cassie enters witness protection and begins working for the CIA. The ending of the novel jumps forward a year, to find Cassie transformed. Sober and responsible, she is the mother of Alex Sokolov’s baby daughter, Masha.