Photo Credit: Steven Frischling
Caption credit: Stefan Paetow
Photo Credit: Steven Frischling
Caption credit: Stefan Paetow
This article was originally published in Executive Travel Magazine
By Christopher Schmicker
This flight attendant and author shares her perspectives about change up in the air, and ways savvy passengers can make the best of it.
“Flying today is like being on an episode of Survivor,” says Heather Poole. “Only the strong survive.” As a veteran flight attendant at a major U.S. airline (the name of which she declines to disclose), Poole should know. Over the past 15 years, she has witnessed the industry’s rapid evolution from pre-9/11 to the present.
Six years ago, in July 2007, Poole opened a WordPress account and set out to chronicle her life in the sky. When you Google her blog a disclaimer of sorts appears: “Another Flight Attendant Writing About Flying.” But Poole’s candid observations, infused with a brand of black humor that only those tasked with servicing fickle customers with a smile can properly lay claim to, have won so many loyal fans that to call Poole just another flight attendant fails to paint the full picture.
Thanks to her book, Cruising Attitude, published in 2012 by William Morrow, Poole appears frequently on TV shows from Good Morning America to Fox & Friends, and in the pages of newspapers from The New York Times to USA Today. Along with Steven Slater (“What a nice guy,” she says of meeting the former JetBlue employee. “It felt like I’d known him all my life.”), Poole has become a de facto ambassador for her profession.
Cruising Attitude expands on content from her blog and covers topics that range from crash pads and crew wages to air rage and the perils of pouring Diet Coke at 35,000 feet. What comes across through all of these anecdotes is Poole’s sincere passion for her job, despite the ups and downs. “I wanted people to understand what [flight attendants] do and where we’re coming from,” she says, “because honestly we’re all in this together.”
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. WhatsApp: An 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.
That’s what I tweeted earlier this afternoon. I expected to get a lot of grief over that, but strangely just the opposite happened. Frequent fliers from around the world hung their heads and fessed up, confirming what every flight attendant already knew to be true based on all the teary-eyes and mopey looks that are almost always found in the first three rows of coach – because that’s where all the passengers next in line on the upgrade list are seated! Now I have to be honest here, I kind of like a man (or woman) who’s not afraid to cry – very quietly – in their seat, NOT the galley! The quiet part, yeah, that’s key. Here are a few of the replies that had me cracking me up…
All I want for Christmas is job security, being able to hold my first bid, two weeks vacation, a raise, longer layovers, more wide-body flying, faster flying times, grateful and polite passengers with a sense of humor, more ferry flights, a cockpit that appreciates who’s on the other side of the reinforced door, and a fun crew
Florence, the flight attendant
Something tells me that ain’t happening. So what can you get that special flight attendant, pilot or frequent flier in your life for Christmas this year? Glad you asked. Here’s my 2009 holiday gift list…
1. AVIATION CRAP STUFF - If there’s one thing flight attendants have in common, it’s the airline museum hiding in the guestroom closet. So if you see something with an aviation theme buy it, wrap it up, and send it to me. I’m talking things like vintage airline posters, sassy bag tags, airplane pajamas, flight attendant dolls, even an airplane Christmas ornament – anything really!
2. HAND LOTION - Flight attendants have always been addicted to fruity smelling antibacterial hand lotion. Now that the flu season is here with a nasty H1N1 scare to top it off, we’re going through germ killer like business class passengers go through wine and bottled water. Bath and Body has a wonderful selection of travel size lotion to stuff a stocking with. Also, we’re constantly washing our hands with harsh airplane soap, so hand lotion with shea butter is a must. Beth, a coworker and friend, swears by Gardners hand therapy cream by Crabtree and Evelyn.
3. CAFFEINE - Three reasons your flight attendant might not be smiling; 1. Long work days. 2. Short layovers. 3. They’ve given up their expensive Starbucks addiction in order to cut back and make ends meet. Every flight attendant deserves (and needs!) a decent cup of Joe, especially when working long hauls, early sign-ins, red eyes, or multiple legs. I’m sorry, but airplane coffee just won’t cut it. While a Starbucks gift card might be nice, a couple packets of Via Ready Brew would work well, too.
I have a question for you. My sister is a flight attendant and I was wondering what you would recommend as a good present(s) for her for Christmas? She’s been at the job a little over 2 years and is based out of Chicago, if that’s of any help at all. I figured you would have some recommendations for stuff you might use on a daily basis or just might find useful in general. The year she started, I bought a couple books that flight attendants had written, but I figured if I could get some help from someone with the same job, maybe I could just get her the perfect gift!
PS My dad is a private pilot, so any tips there would be great, too! :)
Good question! Your sis is a lucky girl to have such a caring sister like yourself. That’s why I hereby dedicate tomorrow’s Galley Gossip post to you – 10 gift for flight attendants (and frequent fliers). Make sure to check it.
Until then, here are a few gift ideas: Bose headsets, iPod, tempurpedic eyeshades, travel alarm clock with ambient sounds, tempurpedic travel pillow. A cashmere scarf with matching gloves that will look nice with her uniform would make a great gift, especially since she’s based in Chicago – Brrrr! I’m cold just thinking about it. Every year there’s always a must have, non-regulation, “uniform” item that everyone seems to be wearing and this year, at my airline, that was a red fitted cardigan sweater from The Gap, as well as a pair of women’s navy blue, flat front, trousers from JC Penny’s. I never did get the brand name. Personally, I can never own enough pairs of navy blue/black DKNY opaque hose. Also, make sure to take a look at these cool web sites…
Good luck finding that perfect gift!
Photo courtesy of GeorgeParrilla