Tag Archives: Crew Life

5 ways delays are worse for flight attendants than passengers

889452754_8cc5241919This past weekend flights across the northeast United States and eastern Canada were cancelled en masse as a winter storm descended on the region. For the tens of thousands of travelers stranded or delayed, it’s a lousy experience that seems to have no end. But we know it isn’t any better for the pilots and crews scheduled to work the grounded aircraft. To get some perspective on the matter, we turned to Heather Poole, our favorite flight attendant/writer, for some insight on why exactly it’s so lousy for them. — Jason Clampet

You think you’ve got it bad?

Passengers aren’t the only ones suffering when a storm hits town and causes the airports to close. Here’s what happens when flight attendants get grounded.

We don’t get paid

Flight attendants are paid for flying time only. Time on the ground doesn’t count. I’ve been working as a flight attendant with a major carrier for 17 years and from time to time I’ll work an 11 hour day and only get paid for five of those hours. Happens all the time to more junior flight attendants.

How?

All that time between flights goes unpaid. The flight attendant greeting you at the boarding door is not getting paid. Neither is the flight attendant helping you find a spot for your bag. The time clock doesn’t officially start ticking until the airplane backs away from the gate. Needless to say delays and cancellations affect flight attendants just as much, maybe even more so, than passengers.

We can be reassigned to work for days

Once we’re on a trip, we’re at the company’s beck and call until we die or the weather clears up. When airlines are low on staffing, they can reassign us to work different flights as long as we’re legal. The FAA allows us to work a 16-hour duty day, but we have to get at least eight hours behind a hotel door at the end of the day. Between trips we get 11-12 hours off, depending on if it’s a domestic or international route or whether or not we’re on reserve or holding “a line” (schedule).

After flying six days in a row, the FAA requires us to take a 24 hour break. These 24 hours don’t always take place at home. Sometimes they happen at an airport hotel. 25 hours later we could be right back up in the air. Which is tough because there’s just no way to let our families know when we might be home again.

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The 10 best travel apps for flight attendants (and frequent fliers)

1. FAAWait – During a creeping weather delay a flight attendant who also works part time as an air traffic controller told me about FAAWait. It’s his favorite app. One click and we knew which airports across the country were also experiencing delays, how long the delays were averaging, and what had caused the delays.

2. MyRadar: Recently a fearful flier on board one of my flights spent three hours watching the weather light up his iPad screen: blue, green, red – wow, so much red! He knew exactly when to expect turbulence, how bad it might get, and how long it would last. Knowing this kept him calm. At one point he even turned around in his seat to let the crew know it would be smooth flying from here on out. Two seconds later the captain called to tell us the exact same thing, it was safe to get up and finish the service. Since then I’ve been recommending the app to anyone who mentions they’re afraid to fly.

3. WhatsAppAn Emirate’s flight attendant from Bosnia based in Saudi Arabia told me about this app on a flight from Miami to New York. WhatsApp makes it possible to send text messages to friends and family out of the country free of charge. There is virtually no cost to stay in touch with loved ones. You can even share audio and video messages.

4. Twitter: Still the best way to get breaking news! You don’t need to “get it.” Just learn how to use the hashtags to find information as it’s happening. For instance, not too long ago I was at an airport that was being evacuated and no one knew why. That was my cue to search the airport code – #DFW. That’s how I found out there was a bomb threat on an incoming flight. I learned this from passengers who were actually on board the flight and tweeting about it as they taxied to the gate.

5. HappyHourFinder: Flight attendants don’t make a lot of money. In fact new hires start out making less than $18,000 a year. And yet we’re subjected to overpriced hotel and airport food on a regular basis. This is why we take advantage of happy hour specials, particularly ones that include half priced appetizers, which might explain how I ended up at Vince Neil’s Bar, Tres Rios, in Las Vegas two hours after learning about the app in the crew van on our way from the airport to the layover hotel.

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[Photo courtesy of PartyMonstrrr]

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How being married to a flight attendant is great training for the job

Hi Heather, My wife is a flight attendant and for some time now I’ve been looking to make a career change and was thinking ofbecoming a flight attendant myself. I can see how she enjoys it and has fun with it and I’d like to try it, too. Do you think it would be a good or bad thing to bring up in an interview situation that I am married to a flight attendant or does it matter at all? Obviously being married to one gives me a greater insight and depth of understanding of the job and what it involves compared to many other candidates. I have a degree in Microbiology so I have somewhat of a brain, although my wife might debate that with you. I also co-managed a bar in Ireland before I came to the United States so I know what it’s like to have to deal with difficult and intoxicated customers. I also was an airport screener for a while and I’m a state certified emergency responder. I’d like to think these things would make me a strong candidate. Just curious what you think. Thanks for your time, Brian.

Based on your work experience alone, you sound like the perfect candidate to me! You’re comfortable cutting people off handling intoxicated passengers, you’re familiar with the responsibilities that go along with working at an airport, and you have a pretty good idea of what life is like in the sky. Being a certified emergency trainer will only make you more attractive to the airlines. Your wife, I’m sure, has mentioned that no one ever dies in flight, right? At least not until a doctor can make an official pronouncement. This might be why so many flight attendants have nursing backgrounds. Some are even senior enough to hold a flying schedule that allows them to balance a nursing career at the same time. These are always my favorite flight attendants to work with because when there’s an emergency in flight, they tend to take over. That being said, I truly believe it’s your wife that makes you a standout.

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You know you’re working to Vegas when…

View from the layover hotel

You know you’re working a Vegas flight when passengers walk on board and ask if you’re serving alcohol – at 7AM (Yes, sir, we will be serving alcohol for breakfast), you’re apologizing for running out of limes before takeoff (not over the PA, even though you’d like to),  people keep trying to pay for things (you’re not selling) with a fat ball-o sweaty cash, and no one notices they’re sitting between a stripper and two…well, I probably shouldn’t go there, but I will say their paperwork is hidden in a cubby and I’ll be passing it off to someone meeting the flight.  Which reminds me of the announcement Flavor Flavvvv made on a recent flight, “Good luck in the land of lost wages…I mean, Las Vegas.”  This after plugging his fried chicken and waffles restaurant in Vegas— ‘Flavor Flav House of Flavors.’  I’ll have to check it out next time I’m in town.  So…who’s coming with me?

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How do new flight attendants on probation commute to work? (And who pays for it?)

I would love to become a flight attendant. I live close to Fort Lauderdale airport, only about 30 miles from Miami International Airport and 80 miles from West Palm Beach Airport. I also have two teenagers (13 and 16) so that’s where my question begins. If I live in Florida but my base is in New York, will I have to agree to relocate? How does that work if I live in Florida and have kids and a husband? Would the airline pay me to fly out to my base station every time I need to report to work or do I have to pay for that? Or would I just have to move there? This is what I don’t really understand. – Gladys

On the flight attendant job application you’ll probably find the question, “Are you willing to relocate?” Check the box “no” instead of “yes” and it’s safe to assume you probably won’t get called in for an interview. It’s common knowledge that flight attendants must be willing to cut their hair and go anywhere.

After you’ve successfully completed training, you’ll probably be put on probation. At my airline, probation lasts six months and new hires on probation do not receive travel benefits during this time. New flight attendants who choose to live in another city are on their own when it comes to covering the expense of getting to and from work during the first six months. Once off probation, commuters at my airline fly for free by standing by for an open seat. This is called non-reving because you are now a non-revenue passenger. Keep in mind there are very few open seats available on flights today, especially around holidays, during weekends and all through the summer. I’ve actually seen flight attendants come to blows over the jump seat on the last flight out. Which is why you’re lucky you live so close to three airports. You have options when flights are full or when delays and cancellations affect air travel.

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The Travel Show with Arthur and Pauline Frommer discuss Cruising Attitude & what it’s like to be a flight attendant.

Click the link below to hear Pauline Frommer call my book “a good beach read,”  It sounds like she really enjoyed it.  Check it out…

The Travel Show – June 10, 2012 – Hour 2: Heather Poole, author of “Cruising Attitude”, tells of her experiences as a flight attendant, both good and bad… 

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Heather Poole & The Secret World of Flight Attendants (my interview with Peter Greenberg)

[This post originally appeared on PeterGreenberg.com]

Every week we report on all the craziness that goes on up in the air, but we rarely get to hear from the first person on the scene—the flight attendant. That’s why we always try to talk to and listen to Heather Poole, author of the New York Times bestseller Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. Peter sat down with her to find out about her new memoir, her travel tips and her biggest passenger peeves.

Peter Greenberg: Heather, I have to tell you in the interest of full disclosure, I have actually trained in the simulators, both the cockpit and the cabin, so I’ve done what you’ve done. I believe if you can’t appreciate the process, you can’t value the product.

And so I’ve actually worked a couple of flights, and I have to tell everybody it is not an easy job. At the end of that, I needed a vacation for just one cycle of doing these turnarounds. I was done for a week.

Heather Poole: I know, but we are survivors as flight attendants. You have to be to do this job. You are awesome to have walked a mile in our shoes. You should run for airline CEO.

PG:  Let’s talk about your book. It’s great memoir that also has some practical tips in there. It’s packing advice, but also why it’s a bad idea to fall for pilots. Help me out on this one, Heather…

HP: Because of the mysterious lifestyle of the flight attendant, everyone assumes that we’re all getting together with pilots. But you have to remember, there are so many more of us than there are of them. I don’t think it’s happening any more than it happens in other jobs. It’s just that at the end of the day, we end up at a hotel, and everyone’s imaginations run with that.  Remember the pilot looks more like Danny DeVito than he does Rob Lowe. I’m sure pilots feel the same way about us flights attendants in a lot of cases too to be fair.

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10 signs you’re commuting, non-reving, or traveling standby

You know you’re a commuter when you pack 20 pairs of pantyhose inside your crew bag. This is what I was thinking as I packed my suitcase to go back to work last week. Of course two seconds later I had to stop what I was doing so I could update my Facebook page with that very thought. Priorities, people! It didn’t take long for the hilarious comments to come rolling in. That’s when I knew I had to create the list: 10 signs you’re commuting, non-reving, or traveling standby.

But first a little airline 101:

NON-REV, NON-REVING, NON-REVENUE PASSENGER: Airline employees and/or eligible family members and friends who are traveling on an employee pass. Travel passes are also known as buddy passes. Non-revs will standby for open seats.

COMMUTER, COMMUTING: is the process of getting to work, in other words, flying to one’s base city. Commuters are Non-Revs, but non-revs are not always commuters.

STANDBY PASSENGER- A passenger or airline employee who is waiting for an open or available seat on a flight they are not ticketed on. Full-fare passengers will often “standby” for earlier flights, while non-revs and commuters standby for every flight.

10 signs you’re commuting, non-reving, or traveling standby

1. You know 10 different ways to make your uniform look like you’re NOT in uniform – so you can have a cocktail. – Kelley Fulmer

2. Your workday starts 15 hours before you sign in or get paid. – Beth Henry

3. A three-hour delay doesn’t even faze you as long as you have boarding pass in hand! Or for that matter an hour sit on the taxiway doesn’t bother you simply because you’re on the aircraft – Sonja Hollen

4. You have actually sat in the middle of a crowded gate area and sobbed after an agent just informed you (on your tenth attempt) the flight is full. – Cindy Lunsford
Photo courtesy of Akbar Sim

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Interview with Nomadic Matt on what it’s like to be a flight attendant today

Heather Poole

This post originally appeared on NomadicMatt.com

I first met Heather Poole at the first travel blog conference. We got along very well and I had been reading her blog for awhile. She writes about life as a flight attendant. Recently, she published a book,Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet, about life as a flight attendant. I, ironically, picked it up at an airport and read it on a plane. She found time her time at 35,000 feet to talk about her job and book.

Nomadic Matt: You’re a flight attendant. What’s that like? 
Heather Poole: Even though the job has changed a lot over the years, it can still be a lot of fun. But patience is a must, more so than ever before. Flight attendants are the face of the airline and passengers have a tendency to take things out on us, even if what happened is not our fault. Besides being friendly and outgoing, we also have to be able to adapt to change easily. This is why we always have back up plans A, B and C, because there’s always something bound to go wrong in the airline industry. Mechanicals. Delays. Cancellations. They happen. Even on Christmas Eve. If there are kids at home this can be one of the most difficult aspects of the job. Flight attendants also are very independent. It’s not uncommon to meet a coworker for the first on a trip and then not see them again for a few months, maybe even years. The best part about the job is when we step off the airplane, we always leave the stress of the flight behind. Every flight is a new flight, which means every day is a new adventure.

How often do flight attendants work? Do they fly a lot of the same routes over and over again? 
Our schedules average around 85 hours a month. But don’t let the number fool you. That’s flying time only. Most flight attendants work way more than that.  Time on the ground doesn’t count towards our pay and therefore isn’t included in our monthly schedules This is why we want to spend as much time as possible in the air, not hopping from city to city with lots of time between flights on the ground. Airline seniority determines the kind of trip a flight attendant can hold. This explains why most international long haul flights are staffed with senior crews. Once we have enough seniority to hold a good trip, it’s the only trip we’re going to work until we’re senior enough to hold an even better one. Schedules are set up with a day or two off between each trip, but many of us will “trip trade” with other flight attendants to work a few trips in a row in order to maximize our time off on the ground.

Any hint on the airline you work for? 
One of the big ones.

What did your co-workers think of you writing this book? 
I don’t know that most of them even know I’ve written a book. And if they do know, they probably just assume I’m still writing it. I’ve been talking about writing this book for years.

Did your airline know and were there any restrictions placed on you?
I didn’t ask for their permission to write the book, and I certainly didn’t call anyone up at headquarters to make an announcement about it either. Flight attendants learn to lay low very early on in their careers. But I’ve been blogging about flying for a long time. I’m fairly certain they know who I am. Just keep in mind my book is not an airline expose. It’s about what it’s like to be a flight attendant. It doesn’t really matter who we work for, the job is pretty much the same wherever you go. Plus half of the book takes place on the ground because it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. That’s what I set out to write about. Plus, there are so many misconceptions about flight attendants I decided to set the record straight.

What is one really juicy story you left out? 
One story that got deleted was about a celebrity who claimed to have magical powers after a passenger fell unconscious. To this day, we still don’t know if it was his magical powers or the husband who kept nudging his wife in the arm in an effort to make her come to and see the celebrity he was excitedly talking about that made her gain consciousness again.

With so many changes to the airline industry over the years, would you recommend someone become a flight attendant?…

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20/20: Just Plane Crazy Interview

20/20 interviewed me for an episode called Just Plane Crazy.  The full segment can be viewed HERE.  Or you can  pick and choose a segment…

JUST PLANE CRAZY:  Passengers Gone Wild: You won’t believe what some people will do in the air.

JUST PLANE CRAZY: Celebs Flying Foibles: Some celebrities’ airplane antics have landed them in hot water.

JUST PLANE CRAZY: Crews Gone Wild:  Underpaid, overworked flight crews sometimes go to extremes.

The best part about the whole experience: I got to meet Chris Connelly!

20/20’s Chris Connelly. I can’t tell you how nice and funny he is! If you ever run into him ask him about the famous lead singer from the 80’s who yelled at him on a flight.

While I was trying to work up the courage to ask Chris Connelly if he would pose with me for a photo, he asked me to sign his book – MY BOOK. I was shocked. And I could tell he’d actually read it! Even more shocking.

I had no idea what to write!

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