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.
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…
- “I do quite frequently! No shame in this game!” – @FlyBoyVancouver
- “But real men do cry about US Airways first class ‘legroom'” – @Skyvan
- “They don’t cheer about it, either.” – @Hharteveldt
- “It’s more like a soft whimper…” – @Speedbird272
- “Well, we might secretly cry while walking up the jet-way or in the lavatory” – Geno Sung
- “We actually do. But in private.” – Art Jaladoni
- “I just sob silently and clutch my drink coupons” – Rob Olsen
Photo courtesy of ©Joseph Linaschke 2011 / PhotoJoseph.com / @Travel_Junkie
Caption courtesy of @JohnHatchCO1