Photo of the day: With the government shutdown, airports have had to look outside of the TSA for security personnel
Photo credit: Heather Poole
Caption credit: Minimus.biz
The following interview originally appeared on Vishal1mehra.com October 7, 2013
First things first, what motivated you to travel, and become a flight attendant?
Heather - When I finally realised life was about amazing moments and new experiences, I knew what I wanted to do. I’ve been a flight attendant for almost 18 years now.
As a flight attendant you often have a first hand view of people traveling to and back from their trips. What has been some of your most memorable travel and flight experiences?
Heather - My favourite trips tend to be the ones that were totally unplanned. I’ll never forget deciding at the last minute to hit the road with a colleague from work on a Friday afternoon. This was almost twenty years ago when I worked a regular 9-5 job on the ground. We drove from McAllen, Texas to Monterrey, Mexico for the weekend. We ate goat (a first), listened to guitar music under the stars, spent the night in a cottage on a mountain, and woke up early the next morning in the clouds. As a flight attendant, the nicest and most memorable layovers for me have more to do more with the people I meet than anything else. Once we landed late Christmas Eve in Bermuda. The man who picked us up at the airport and drove us to the hotel every week invited the entire crew over to his house on Christmas day for dinner. It was such a nice thing to do. This after having spent many Christmas dinners stuck at an overpriced hotel buffet
We know you work for a major American airline, do you have a favourite airline, if you’re allowed to answer this question
Heather - Can I say my airline? I mean come on, they hired me! (After our competition didn’t.) I can’t tell you which carrier I work for because I’d like to keep my job, but it’s one of the big ones. And with that I’d like to thank all the frequent fliers who’ve helped me keep my secret. It’s got to be the worst best-kept secret in the world.
Also, I hear Cathay is pretty freakin nice. One day I’ll fly on them
Any preferred airport?
Heather - My favourite airport is Miami. Not to be confused with my favourite route! Because the NY-Miami is my least favourite route in the system. But as far as good food and people watching goes, you can’t beat Miami.
And what about your favourite aircraft type? I bet it will be a Boeing
Heather - Yep, I’m going to be sad to see the 767 go. I’ve worked that aircraft more than any of our other wide-body airplanes. I guess you could say I feel most at home on it.
Here’s what I’ve been working on….
God this is bad, real bad, worse than bad. I mean did we? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. What I do know is I have to get out of here and quick! But when I try to move I can’t because my legs are tangled in the sheets. No way do I want to disturb the guy before I have a chance to get my thoughts together. Not ready to face reality, take responisibilty, I slowly lean back into the pillows, careful to keep the bed still. Holding my breath, I try not to hyperventilate, not to panic, not to freak out. What the hell happened last night?! Think, Nicole, think!
I remember the bar, a hole in the wall kind of place on the Upper East Side that caters to airline personnel by offering buy-one-get-one-free drinks to anyone with crew ID. A way to entice those without crew ID into the place. There to celebrate a coworker’s birthday, I flashed my badge at the bartender and half jokingly ordered a gigantic apple martini with an investment banker on the side. After one (or two) very strong drinks, I found myself on the dance floor doing the electric slide. (Yes, I have a sick obsession with disco, even when I’m not drunk.) It was when I slid to the left, I made The Announcement. Oh God, The Announcement, why did I make That Announcement?! That while I may have been the dry humping queen of Queens, I’d only had sex with six different men in my entire life. They were all different men, totally different men, I swear. That’s when, at least I think it’s when, First Officer Meyers did what he always does after he’s had one too many. He placed both hands on my breasts and squeezed.
Okay it’s important to point out, at least it’s important to me to point out, that the only men I typically allow to squeeze my breasts are either in love with me or have the potential to fall in love with me. I’m not a believer in free squeezes. In fact the only action my boobs have seen in the last few months came from a distinguished gentleman seated in 3B who awoke with a start just as I was leaning over him to fix his neighbor’s reading light. Well that’s if I don’t count my gynecologist, two year-old nephew, and some drunken perv on the subway last week. Unfortunately the only drunk perv last night seemed to be me. And for the record, so I don’t come off like some ho, some drunk and slutty disco dancing ho, the only reason I allowed First Officer Meyers to squeeze my boobs for what some might consider an awfully long time was not because he had a lot of fantastic things to say about my B-cups, though it did warm my heart, but because he was drunk and gay and dating my best friend Sean.
“Girl, you need to loosen up and have some fun,” I vaguely remember Sean saying, snap snap snapping his sassy fingers in front of my flushed face. We all slid to the right. “For Christ Sakes,” he said, lifting a knee and clapping. “Try taking a walk on the wild side sometime!” That’s the last thing I remember before it all went black.
Looks like I finally took that walk. Too bad I can’t remember it.
Oh sure there’ve been times, plenty of times, I’ve wished I were that girl, the walk-on-the-wild-side-kind-of-girl, the kind who’s not afraid to do what she wants when she wants with whomever she wants just because she wants to. But for reasons even I don’t understand I care too much about what people think of me. Of what I think me! I’m a good girl, a nice girl, a girl who doesn’t get drunk and sleep around. (Though it does sound kind of exciting, doesn’t it?) Okay, okay, so I may have had that almost one-week-stand last year with the Dutch medical sales rep from Curacao in Amsterdam. That was different. It was totally romantic. It took place in a foreign country. It just didn’t count, okay!
Too bad this one might.
A partial lifting of the ban will encourage use of all electronics in airline cabins, from the moment boarding begins. And while some scientists may be O.K. with tablets and readers rather than phones because of how such transmissions may affect the cockpit, these battles shouldn’t be fought on the front lines — in airplane cabins where proven safety procedures can save lives. “I don’t have time to argue the whys and hows of the policy,” says Heather Poole, a flight attendant and author of Cruising Attitude. “The press never mentions how these PEDs might affect evacuating quickly when time is critical.” Since departures and arrivals are so critical (most fatal accidents do not occur during the “cruise” portion), and since even the worst crashes have become increasingly survivable, the need for all passengers to stay alert and aware is critical. It’s not the time for one more Tweet.
Heather Poole, a veteran flight attendant for a major U.S. carrier, said it doesn’t happen often, but she has been tipped on flights.
She sees the practice most frequently on Las Vegas routes. Most passengers who try to tip are in economy class, she said.
“It’s company policy not to accept tips. That said, it’s always appreciated when a passenger makes such a nice gesture,” said Poole, the author of “Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet.”
“Normally, I’ll turn it down at least three times, but if someone continues to insist that I accept a tip and then shoves it in my hand or pocket, I might take it. At this point, I feel like it’s almost rude not to.”
A regular passenger on the New York-Los Angeles route once gave the crew gold hoop earrings during Christmas, Poole recalled. Most tips consist of “a couple of singles,” but there’s been a time when a passenger presented $50, she added. Many people might be shocked at how little some of her colleagues make, Poole noted.
The median annual salary for a flight attendant was $37,740 in 2010, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, though an entry-level position might start at $16,000.
“A nice letter means more than a lot to a flight attendant,” Poole agreed. “In (the) airline world people are quick to complain, so a few kind words really do go far. Sometimes those letters actually affect our careers.”
Saying “please” and “thank you” also makes an immediate difference because flight attendants don’t hear those words very often these days, Poole added.
“You wouldn’t believe how much a passenger with nice manners stands out on a plane,” she said.
My first Op-Ed. Los Angeles Times, A25. They changed the title from “flying the less-friendly skies” to “Turn off your cell phone means turn it off” in the paper. I liked the original one better. It’s more in the spirit of the piece. And yeah, the handcuffs got cut out.
Long ago — I’m talking in the 1960s — “stewardesses” were taught how to walk up stairs in heels and how to blow out a match after lighting a passenger’s cigarette. They were issued pillbox hats and little white gloves. Their glamour was a big part of the allure of airline travel.
But when passengers reminisce about those good old days, I remind them that barely anyone could afford to fly then, and then I might point out a colleague and say, “Remember the stewardesses back then, the ones in hot pants and go-go boots? Well, there’s one right over there. Still flying.”
Hard to believe, I know, but these days flight attendants are allowed to grow old and gain a little weight. As long as we can still fit through the exit window, buckle our seat belts without an extension and, most important, pass the yearly training, we can fly as long as we want.
I’ve been a flight attendant for a major carrier for 18 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes in that time. But nothing changed my job more than 9/11. Since then, at yearly training we focus more on safety and security than service. We’re taught karate. We talk about throwing hot coffee at lunging terrorists and other things I’m not at liberty to discuss. “This is not what I signed up for,” I’ve often heard veteran flight attendants mumble during class.
At the same time, with turmoil in the industry and rising fuel costs — and, more recently, with the recession — airlines are more focused than ever on the bottom line. Flight attendants have taken multiple pay cuts. We’ve watched days grow longer and layovers grow shorter. Sometimes, with only the minimum required eight hours behind a hotel room door, it feels like there’s not enough time to eat, sleep and shower.