I’m not afraid to fly

IMG_3496I wrote Flight attendant shocked by deadly Germanwings crash says she isn’t afraid to fly for Mashable.com March 28, 2015

An hour before our flight from Miami to Raleigh-Durham was scheduled to depart on Thursday, my coworker — a fairly new flight attendant — yelled “Mom!” into her phone as she stood in the airport. She looked upset as I passed by with my rolling bag and continued on to the gate where an agent checked my crew ID, and then let me down the jet bridge and on to the plane.

We were setting up the galley in first class when she told me her mother had asked if our pilots were sane.

And so it begins.

The questions about sanity. Long discussions centered around psychological testing … mental disorders … “crazy” pilots.

Years ago, there was an air incident that had reporters talking about pilot fatigue. For the longest time after, passengers would come on board and ask us if the cockpit had gotten enough rest. They were genuinely concerned.

“How would I know, I didn’t sleep with them,” another flight attendant once said. I might have laughed.

Of course, I know it’s no laughing matter when something as serious as pilot fatigue, depression, or anything else leads to a horrific crash.

I know that. If anyone knows that, it’s me. But sometimes it’s all we can do to go on. At least for those of us who work on the planes, those of us who continue to put on the uniform and do what we love, with a smile on our face. The job is hard enough when we don’t have to think about these things.

And now, with the Germanwings crash,  the focus is back on our pilots.  Rest assured everyone is going to be staring at the pilots, thinking about the pilots, asking questions about the mental state of our pilots.

Is it wrong to feel offended? To want to protect these people I know so well? The pilots are the very people who keep us safe, from point A to point B, on so many flights each and every day.

It doesn’t matter where an incident might happen, whether it’s Germany, Egypt or Asia. Those of us who work in the airline industry feel it just the same. Doesn’t matter which airline uniform we put on, there’s something about this job that brings us together in a way other jobs don’t.

Maybe because it’s more than just a job, it’s a lifestyle. A lifestyle most people couldn’t handle, a job most people don’t understand. This job, this strange nomadic life we live, makes us family.

Doesn’t matter what we’re serving, bento box or a pasta salad, or the kind of airplane we’re serving it on, 737 or Airbus, or the logo on the tail, British Airways or Spirit — we all pretty much do the same thing. We share the same experiences.


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Breastfeeding on planes

The Kid.

The Kid.

My article Everyone needs to grow up about breastfeeding originally appeared on Mashable.com March 11, 2015

Unlike other body parts, breasts seem to confuse some people. Sometimes they’re sexy; other times, they’re a source of food.

You may have recently read about the male flight attendant who allegedly tossed a blanket at a passenger who was breastfeeding, ordering her to cover up. It’s tempting to obsess over this one incident, but it’s bigger than that. Unfortunately, mothers are often told to cover up, and not just by flight attendants who may be unfamiliar with their airlines’ policies.

Then again, when an airline’s policy isn’t exactly clear (or posted online), it’s easy to see how this could happen. The job of a flight attendant, like myself, is to try and make everyone happy: not just one person, but 160 people.

“United welcomes nursing mothers on board and we ask that crew members do their best to ensure their comfort and safety as they do with all customers,” the airline told Mashable. “We also ask nursing mothers and passengers seated near them to be mindful of one another’s space and comfort.”

So, they’re welcome — but there’s plenty of room for interpretation around being “mindful” of other passengers’ “comfort.”

“It’s so stupid that boobs/cleavage are in almost every advertisement and no one cares, but when they are used for their true purpose, it is considered distasteful,” my Facebook friend Cara Mclaughlin said after I posted about what I was writing. “Our world is sick!”

She has a point.

What passengers (and some flight attendants) have to understand is this: Regardless how one might feel about breasts and nipples, women are allowed to breastfeed babies on the airplane.

With that in mind, I decided to ask someone I know, someone very close to me, what he would do if he saw a woman breastfeeding on the plane.

“I’d yell, ‘Breastfeeder! Breastfeeder!’” my son giggled.

Okay, I’m sure he was kidding — but even so, I think we might need to have a little talk. Keep in mind, he’s just 8 years old.

However, I’ve had passengers far older than 8 act a lot like my son upon spotting a woman breastfeeding on a plane. Full-grown adults who get upset by a bare breast you can hardly even see past a baby’s head. No, they didn’t yell, “Breastfeeder! Breastfeeder!” Most of them just looked very uncomfortable or upset. And a few have pointed out mothers to me, even suggesting that I ask them to cover up.

But she doesn’t have to cover up.


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How much do flight attendants really make?

3975233940_af85b53812I wrote want friendlier flight flight attendants? That’ll cost you for Mashable.com Feb 24, 2015

“Friendlier service doesn’t cost a thing.”

That’s what one travel writer said, after complaining about an experience on board a flight recently. But as a flight attendant with years of experience, my first thought was: Yes. It does.

Whenever I speak to people about what I do for a living, most seem to assume the money is pretty good. I did, too, before I became a flight attendant.

Despite the reputation of the job, there’s nothing glamorous about life as a flight attendant, especially in the first few years. New flight attendants who work for major carriers start out making $18,000-$20,000 a year. Flight attendants at smaller airlines and regional carriers? They make even less.

The airlines won’t tell you that, though. Ask, and they’ll refer to some stat about the median annual wage: $40,000. Sounds so much nicer, doesn’t it? Something else they won’t tell you is how long it takes to make that kind of money working a regular schedule, or the kind of flying it takes to get there when you have less than 10 years with a carrier.

“I took this job to spend what little money I make on vacations I can’t afford,” joked a new hire, who works 120 hours a month, after she saw me tweeting about flight attendant pay.

“But flight attendants barely work,” is what I hear all the time.

Don’t let the hours fool you.

A hundred and twenty hours a month may sound reasonable for your typical job on the ground, but in the air, it’s insane. Working “80 hours” a month — a more regular schedule for flight attendants — actually means working many, many hours more.

We’re only paid for time in the air. That flight attendant greeting you at the boarding door, helping you find a place for your bag, guitar, crutches, wedding gown, emotional support pig? They’re not being paid.

The clock doesn’t officially start ticking until the door is closed and the plane backs away from the gate. That’s why flight attendants hate delays maybe even more than passengers. At my airline, when a flight is cancelled, I lose the hours, meaning I don’t get paid. I have to look for another trip — pray I can find another trip — to make up for it.

Time on the ground adds up, which is why the most senior flight attendants work the best trips, longhaul flights, to maximize their time in the air. It’s also why the number of hours can be misleading. Not all 12 hour trips are created equal.

I have 19 years with my airline, and I’m based at one of the most junior bases in the system: New York. It’s where most of our new hires end up, even though it’s too expensive to live here on our salary. That’s why so many flight attendants — including me — commute to the city (even though I live in Los Angeles). If I were based in LA, where my airline’s most senior flight attendants work, I’d spend more time on the ground than in the air.

My two-day, 11 hour roundtrip from New York to Los Angeles might only take me 13 hours to complete, whereas a new hire might have to work three days (and who knows how many hours) hopping from city to city to make the same amount of time. While I’m on duty seven hours, a junior flight attendant could be on duty 12 or 14 hours. We’ll be paid the same. Factor in the layovers and the time away from home, and it looks more like minimum wage than $25 an hour.

“How do you do it?” I’ve been asked by more than one flight attendant hopeful.

Enter the “crashpad,” where flight attendants literally crash between trips.

In my first crashpad, there were probably 30 or 40 of us living together in a five-bedroom house. That’s a guess. I have no idea how many roommates I had because people were constantly in and out at all hours of the day and night. Six of us lived in my room alone, with bunk beds lining the walls. I spent $100 a month to stay there. I couldn’t afford anything else.


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Flight attendant uniforms are about more than just style

get-attachment.aspxI wrote Flight attendants uniforms are about more than style for Mashable.com February 3, 2015

“Have you seen what I have to wear?” a first officer said when she overheard me talking about American Airlines‘ new uniforms. “A scarf,” she hissed. She may have used the f-word.

“Pilots don’t wear scarves, we wear ties. TIES!”

Got it? They wear ties.

Not long ago I wrote about how all anyone really needs is a scarf to look like a flight attendant. A scarf — and gold wings and stripes.

When it comes to stripes, flight attendants have two, first officers wear three, and the captain gets four. That’s one way we can tell each other apart, though it doesn’t mean passengers recognize the difference.

Once a celebrity asked the pilot on my flight for a cup of coffee after he stepped out of the cockpit during boarding. He wasn’t wearing his hat or blazer — but his stripes were visible. Still, he’d been mistaken for a flight attendant. You should have seen his face.

“As soon as we ditch pilot hats in the terminal, we look like ticket agents,” said Chris Manno, a pilot with a major airline.

So do I, and it’s why I don’t stand near the ticket counter. Except for the wings and two gold stripes around my wrist, I look just like an agent — except I don’t have the codes to look up the answers to questions about connecting gates and departure times. Passengers get mad when I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if they don’t see my wings or stripes — or they just don’t care.

But as much as I don’t like being mistaken for a gate agent, I need passengers to recognize I work for the airline. I need passengers to recognize I work for the airline.

I was interviewed recently by the New York Times about flight attendant uniforms, after American revealed their new ones. The reporter wanted to know if it was possible to feel stylish as a flight attendant, or if it is just a uniform, like a mail carrier or a mechanic.

My first thought was: Just a uniform? JUST A UNIFORM?

I’ve never noticed anyone checking out a mailman or mechanic when he walked by, like the way people look at flight attendants when they walk through the terminal. Even I stare at attendants from other carriers, particularly the foreign ones. They look so great.


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Why Disrespecting Flight Attendants is Totally Nuts

IMG_0030Why Disrespecting Flight Attendants is Totally Nuts by Marisa Garcia originally appeared on Skift.com Dec 17, 2014

As flight attendant, industry writer, and Cruising Attitude author Heather Poole, says: “The problem is that nobody gets this job. My job is not hard, but 99% of people couldn’t do it.”

Ongoing promotion of flight attendants as sex-objects diminishes the role, regardless of the flight attendants’ gender, which is detrimental to the carrying out of critical safety duties for both sexes.

“How do you get order in the cabin in an emergency when you’re wearing a bikini?” Poole asks. “When people think of you as a dancer or entertainer? We’re expected to keep order. Our job is the safety and security of passengers. When it comes down to the time you have to do that job, you have to adjust the tone. There are lives at risk.”

Poole says that flight attendants are especially compromised by hostile or abusive passengers because the aircraft cabin is such a tight, vulnerable space. “Flight attendants don’t have anywhere to go or anywhere to hide,” she says.

The disconnect between the airline’s advertising and the airline’s rules also confuse passengers, Poole feels. “Flight attendants have to balance between the image expected of them and adhering to the rules of what they can or cannot do. Passengers don’t get to see those contradictions. Upgrades are a good example of this. We can’t upgrade passengers because that’s in our rules, but passengers have certain expectations and they think we can do it to be nice—we can’t—and passengers get angry when those expectations aren’t met.”

The nature of the job also forces many flight attendants to put up with unacceptable behavior. “A lot of incidents are under-reported because there’s no one to report them to or no chance to report them,” Poole says. “Are we really going to delay a flight because a passenger was rude? We have to consider that, when there are quick turn arounds for a route. Do I go and make an issue over this, or do I just let it pass? Many times you just decide it’s not worth it.”

For Poole, and thousands of flight attendants like her, it can be hard to find that “glamour” on the job.

“The fact is nothing I do is very sexy,” she says. “Clearing out other people’s trash, cleaning up vomit–what’s sexy about that?”



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Have emotional support animals gone too far?

B3z9rYzIgAIxdd3I wrote Have emotional support animals gone too far for Mashable Dec 10, 2014

In my 18 years as a flight attendant, I’ve pretty much seen it all and then some, including a monkey seated in business class.

She was on her way to the Today show, and even though all I served her on the five-hour flight was a cup of water, I’ll never forget when her fingers reached through her cage to shake my hand.

Some of my favorite passengers are animals. Did you know celebrity animals get their own seats? Not celebrity pets — no, I’m talking about animals that have made a name for themselves. Think Lassie, Benji, Grumpy Cat. Remember Spuds MacKenzie, the hard-partying bull terrier from the Bud Light beer commercials? I had five Spuds MacKenzies on a flight from New York to Los Angeles. Each dog had its own seat in business class.

Animals are quiet, they never complain about the food. They don’t pull on my dress or yell at me when we run out of space for their bag. I’ll take animals over people any day.

But there’s a limit.

A limit with storage space. A limit to how many passengers can squeeze into an airplane. (Although the airline doesn’t seem to recognize that one, does it?) And animals are beginning to make my job difficult.

A couple weeks ago, a passenger made headlines when she was kicked off a plane with her “emotional support” pig. A full-grown pig. On a plane.

Seems the pig caused a disruption, pooping right there in the aisle. The airline had allowed the passenger to board with it because it was an emotional support animal — and yes, a full-grown pig qualifies as an emotional support animal.

So does a miniature horse.

I can barely get 14 first-class coats to fit inside the closet on a Boeing 737. I have yet to run into a bulkhead row big enough to accommodate a horse.

Airlines really do try to do everything they can to accommodate service and emotional support animals. They have to: It’s the law. Not once have I seen an animal of any sort turned away.


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Ebola on a plane


I wrote Why Flight Attendants are Concerned About Ebola for Mashable on Oct 29, 2014

I’d just gotten off a flight from Las Vegas to Chicago, and only had a moment to grab something to eat before my next flight to New York. I made a beeline for Tortas Frontera and ordered the usual. I was starving. It had been a long day.

I got on board the empty plane for my next flight, and stowed my rolling bag in the last overhead bin in coach — the official crew bag location. In 10 minutes I’d start breaking the ice, meaning setting up the galley. In 15 minutes we’d start boarding.

I was just about to plop down in an empty seat to take a couple of quick bites of dinner when I noticed … something.

Vomit. All over the seat. All over the floor. All over the in-flight magazines, the safety briefing card, and an (unused) airsick bag. I called the captain.

“That’s strange, nobody wrote it up,” he said after checking the log book. “I’ll call the cleaners.”

I know Ebola can only be transferred through bodily fluids from an infected person. Most of the cases have come from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, and the likelihood that the sick passenger on this domestic flight — whoever they were — had traveled from one of those places on this plane was slim to none.

Still, it crossed my mind. Of course it crossed my mind.

Two cabin cleaners came on board. One was wearing blue rubber gloves and carrying a spray bottle of disinfectant. She went to work spraying everything in sight — but first she handed those in-flight magazines from the seat pocket to her partner. Who wasn’t wearing gloves.

Not good, I thought, staring at her bare hands.

A few minutes later the woman holding the contaminated SkyMall discovered even more vomit. In the bathroom. All over the walls.

Bet it happened upon landing, I thought. Why else would it have gone unnoticed? Unreported.

“Must have been the Rockies,” said an agent walking briskly down the aisle to the back of the plane, where we all stood staring at the woman with the spray bottle. “We always have sick passengers on these inbound flights.”

The cabin cleaner’s gloved hand now held the bathroom door handle. She leaned against the door and held it open for me to take a peak inside.

“That look OK?”

“Oh … uh … sure,” I said. It did look okay.

But that gloved hand on the handle was an entirely different story.

Before I could say anything the agent determined we were good to go and announced she was sending the passengers down. She had a plane to board and there was no way she was taking a delay.

I watched the cleaners walk up to first class and then off the plane. I couldn’t help but notice the woman still had on the blue gloves, her hands touching a couple of seats on her way out.

Passengers get sick all the time on flights. It’s perfectly normal. It’s why there’s an airsick bag in the seat pocket in front of you. What’s not okay is when I’m passing through the cabin and somebody silently hands me a bag of … wait … what is this? A little heavy. Kinda warm.

But that’s another story.

Anyway, maybe the agent was right. Maybe it was the Rockies. Maybe it was food poisoning. Maybe it was too much alcohol the night before. Or the flu. Who knows.

That’s the problem with my job as a flight attendant: I just don’t know what might be going on when I encounter a sick passenger. But I did know that day that I was 99.9% sure the mystery vomit did not come from a passenger with Ebola.


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