Crew Life, Mile-High Selfies and Our Lasting Obsession With Flight Attendants

get-attachment.aspxAirlines take their reputation seriously. There are strict rules about what flight attendants like myself can and can’t do while in uniform.

When I first started flying 18 years ago, I was told I couldn’t eat, drink or chew gum while walking through the airport terminal. (I have no idea if that rule still applies or if the company ever tried to enforce it.) Off duty we aren’t allowed to drink alcohol at a bar or on an airplane if we’re wearing our navy blue polyester.

When we discard a work dress or blouse, we have to remove all the buttons and any airline insignia. If our uniform pieces are stolen, we must file a police report — God forbid somebody tries to impersonate us. Did you know there are nightclubs in Japan that allow patrons the opportunity to spend the evening with women wearing “a real life” flight attendant uniform? It’s why one international carrier sewed tracking numbers into each of its uniform pieces and require its flight attendants to return them once they stop flying.

I was reminded of this recently, when I shared some of this with a reporter looking to do a story about a “secret group” of flight attendants. When she first mentioned the secret group, my head started spinning. A secret group of flight attendants? How could I not know about a secret group of flight attendants?

I’m a flight attendant. I’ve been flying a million years. I wrote a New York Times bestsellerabout life as a flight attendant. So if there’s one thing I know, it’s what’s going on in the airline world — and yet I had no idea what this reporter was talking about.

“Crew life,” she clarified.

“…crew life?” I laughed. “You mean the hashtag crew life?” I thought she was joking. She wasn’t.

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Things Frequent Fliers Fear Most

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I wrote Things Frequent Fliers Fear Most for Conde Nast Traveler (April 16, 2014)

It’s not hard to spot a fearful flier when they’re making the sign of the cross right before takeoff. That or they’ll ask about turbulence instead of what’s for breakfast as soon as they step on board and I greet them in front of the cockpit door. Others will cling to the armrest for dear life and request a couple of vodkas to wash down the valium. Fearful fliers aren’t the only ones freaking out—frequent fliers can be ten times worse. So what do frequent fliers fear most?

1. COACH.  Nothing stresses out a frequent flier more than the possibility of sitting in coach. I’ve seen grown men stomp their feet like children when their upgrades didn’t go through. Next time you fly check out all the sullen faces in the first few rows of coach. That’s where they’re sitting. Their names are next on the list. They’ve got their eye on the prize and nobody is cutting in front of them. My husband has actually flown a few hours out of his way to connect to another city just to ensure an upgrade on an international flight.

2. MIDDLE SEATS.  By far the biggest fear for any flier, not just frequent fliers, is the dreaded middle seat. “Hey somebody has to sit there,” I told one passenger. “Not a frequent flier,” he replied. He had a point. Business travelers are the bread and butter for airlines. The problem is that there are so many frequent fliers, the airlines had to create another top-tier VIP level to separate the million-milers from the three-million milers. Might explain why one passenger brought along a few X-rays of his knee to prove why he could only sit in an aisle seat. Another passenger offered $100 to anyone in an aisle seat in front of him willing to switch.

3. RUNNING OUT OF OVERHEAD BIN SPACE.  Boarding, for a frequent flier, is like a military operation. It’s all about preplanning and execution. In other words, getting the bag in a bin. They’re already in position to board before the agent even picks up the phone to make the announcement. They know where their seat is. They know their bag will fit. They walk onboard, make that sharp right down the aisle, and zero in an an empty space like a…..? Very rarely are they talking or holding a Starbucks cup. They’re on a mission. Nothing will come between a frequent flier and his bag space. Ask a frequent flier to check a bag and they might lose it in front of everyone. Time is money. A road warrior doesn’t do baggage claim.

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Confessions of a nervous flier

get-attachment-1.aspxConfessions of a nervous flier originally appeared on CNN March 19, 2014

Tell the crew you’re scared, suggests flight attendant Heather Poole, author of “Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpad, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet.”

“If we know you’re scared, we’ll go out of our way to be reassuring if the airplane does encounter a few bumps,” says Poole, via e-mail. “We’ll update you on whatever information the captain passes along to us regarding delays, mechanicals, weather or turbulence. I’ve gone as far as to sit in an empty seat beside someone and hold their hand.”

Poole, who’s been a flight attendant for 18 years, suggests passengers who hate turbulence sit close to the cockpit — the front of the plane isn’t as bumpy as the rear. Passengers can also download the MyRadar app to track the bumpy weather.

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Bag Check Rules

4079981298_37ce535983_nFollowing Up on Bag Check Rules by Joe Sharkey originally appeared in the New York Times on March 17, 2014. Here’s an excerpt…

And Barbara Quinn is skeptical about the “strangely misshapen” sizer boxes that are used to measure bags, which some other readers said don’t readily accommodate odd-size bags that are otherwise of reasonable size, like some backpacks.

So let’s not forget traveling musicians. A violin, viola or saxophone case does not fit in the standard sizer, for example. “My son is the violist of an internationally renowned string quarter. He travels about twice a month, all over the world,” said Judy Amory. It would be folly to consign a valuable, fragile instrument like that to the checked-bag system. “Musicians are an obvious category where one-size-fits-all simply cannot work,” she pointed out.

And of course, consider flight attendants, referees of the bag wars as they mediate passenger disputes and often physically hoist and pound bags into crammed overhead bins.

Heather Poole is a flight attendant for a major airline who wrote what I consider one of the most amusing books in the flight attendant memoir genre, “Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crash Pads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet” (2012). The bin wars are “my biggest peeve,” Ms. Poole said:

“I’ve had passengers actually take someone’s bag out of a bin to make room for their own bag, leaving the other person’s bag in the middle of the aisle for passengers behind them to step over. It’s out of control.”

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Talking travel with Peter Greenberg

Peter Greenberg

Miracle airports, bathroom selfies, flight attendant pet peeves, the mile high club – fine Purell and hazmat suits!  I sat down with Peter Greenberg to dish about multitasking passengers, beverage cart charades and why I hate the 757.  Ya know, travel.  This is a show you don’t want to miss.

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How to Pick Up a Flight Attendant

ImageHow to Pick Up a Flight Attendant originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler February 12, 2014

I’ve been a flight attendant for a major U.S. carrier for more than 15 years, so if there’s one thing I know besides uncomfortable seats and bad food, it’s men. Really it’s people. That said, I met my husband somewhere over Illinois on a flight from New York to Los Angeles. These days the skies aren’t quite as friendly as they once were. No joke—it’s probably easier to pick up a fully loaded beverage cart than it is a flight attendant today, which is why I offer the following tips.

1. MAKE EYE CONTACT. And say hello! It’s shocking how many people don’t return my greeting, let alone my gaze, when I say good morning during boarding at the aircraft door. Often I feel like I’m talking to myself. Sometimes I’ll even answer my own questions. This is why passengers who are kind, courteous, and say “please” and “thank you” really stand out.

2. DON’T SHOW ME YOUR BAG TAG. If you have to tell me your frequent flier status, you’re probably doing something wrong. Listen, everyone has status. Everybody’s important. It’s why the airlines had to create another top-tier frequent-flier level to separate the million milers from the three-million milers. Differentiate yourself from the masses. Compliment me.

3. HELP A PASSENGER. Nothing catches my eye more than somebody who goes out of their way to help another passenger, especially when it comes to getting overstuffed bags into the bin. Right away I know this is a good person, a person who helps their fellow man without expecting anything in return. Extra wine, water, pretzels for them.

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Horrible Passengers

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From little kids to belligerent drunks, flying on an airplane can be a high pressure situation.  In case you missed it, here’s a link to my interview with ABC’s 20/20.  Imperfect Getaways.

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