Tag Archives: flight attendants

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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How to Seduce a Flight Attendant

get-attachment.aspxMy interview with Maxim Magazine originally appeared on Maxim.com September 15, 2014

Why do you think so many guys are into flight attendants? It’s got to be the uniform right?
Maybe men just secretly like being told what to do? A firm, ‘Keep your seatbelt buckled!’ even when the seatbelt sign is not on might be one man’s idea of a turn-on.

I once read a study about how men find a woman more attractive when they’re in an unnerving or frightening situation. Stuck in the middle seat, being in the last row of coach – those are all pretty subordinate and scary spots to find yourself in. Then again, it could be that guys find strong, independent women attractive. Flight attendants are intelligent, self-sufficient and adventurous. We’re also attractive and out there traveling the world alone. Of course these are also the things that can become an issue in many relationships since these qualities can cause jealousy. It takes a confident man to be in a flight attendant’s life. 

What are the odds of actually getting a flight attendant’s attention? They are working..
About as good as they’d be in any other public environment. Start with a ‘hello’ when your flight attendant greets you at the boarding door. You’d be surprised how many people don’t even acknowledge our existence when we say, ‘Good Morning’ when they walk on board. During the service, try using ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Good manners are rare and really stand out these days. Mix in a little eye contact and we might blush. It’s nice to be noticed. 

Let us do our job, but once the service is over walk to the back and ask for a glass of water or something. While she’s pouring the drink, ask a question about where to go and what to do in the city you’re traveling to. That should get the ball rolling. You’ll know you have a shot if she doesn’t walk away to pick up trash or shoo you off the linoleum.

Any other strategies?
When you see someone who needs help with something, like a bag, by all means help. Nothing says ‘nice guy’ more than that. My heart kind of swoons whenever I see somebody helping their fellow man, it’s such a rare thing these days. And I’m prone to follow it up with more wine or water for them. But who knows, you might get farther with someone else. I almost cried once when a businessman switched seats so my son and I could sit together. I hadn’t even asked him. Kindness is sexy, and anytime is a good time to pull that trick out of your hat.

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Don’t Touch The Flight Attendant!

Stewardess Barbie

It Sounds So Last Century, but Cabin Crew Are Still Hassled by Sex Pests originally appeared on Time.com June 26, 2014

Of course, it is not really about what recruits wear, or how they look, but about power. Flight attendants could wear potato sacks and still get hassled. Stopping would-be offenders means showing passengers and staff alike that abuse will not be tolerated, says Heather Poole, an industry veteran and the author of the bestseller Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet“There’s a reason foreign carriers like to keep their flight attendants young,” she says. In her experience, young people, who often have less job security, may be hesitant to speak up.

When, as a rookie, she was groped by a passenger in first class, she fled to the galley and did not report it. “I had just started flying, and I didn’t want to lose my job by causing a problem with an important passenger,” she recalled in an email. “I still don’t [know] who I’d go to for something like that. The union? Human resources? A 1-800 number?”

For Hong Kong–based crew, at least, the new rules may provide some help. And at least the issue is being discussed. But tackling the problem globally will require all jurisdictions, and airlines, to step up. Not to mention passengers. “I’d suggest that any person with a propensity to act out in this manner consider traveling as if their mother is sitting next to them,” Poole says. “An 18-year-old new hire may handle a situation differently than a flight attendant with 10 years’ seniority and a black belt in Taekwondo.”

Creeps: consider yourself warned.

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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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Talking travel: airlines, airports, frequent fliers and life in the sky

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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.

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Flying the less-friendly skies

1238071_10151845524384061_77421692_nMy 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.

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