Saturday, March 21, 2015

Adventures in Flight: Prima Donnas and Princesses

It was just a trip to Los Angeles and back; two and a half hours there, sit for an hour, three hours back. It looked good on paper, sounded decent; nine hour duty day. But this was one of those days where I got to use my saying: I really earned my money.

Normally, I enjoy being purser on domestic trips, but I'm not all that experienced in doing the position on wide body aircraft. I can manage just fine, but I'm not very comfortable and I'd rather not. That was just how the rest of the crew felt about this 767, and since I was the most junior, I was stuck doing it. The purser works in first class, is responsible for making announcements, is the main contact with the pilots and handles any unusual situations that pop up. The pay is slightly higher, but it's not always worth it.

It was a day full of prima donnas, princesses and an ass hat or two. Let's start with the first ass hat. He was tall, odd looking and very special- at least that was what he thought. The flight attendant working first class with me asked if I knew him, like if he was famous. She thought he looked like a magician or something. I had no idea. I just know he was special; the manner in which he demanded things instead of asking, complaining about our Wi-Fi, getting up to use the lavatory, which was locked for take off, while I was in the middle of making the announcement to stay seated when the seat belt sign was on.

Of course, he had to have two drinks, asked for more hot nuts, of which there none, and let me know as I was still passing out trays of food to other passengers that he was done eating and I could take his. Since I don't pick up dirty trays while still serving other passengers, he got to sit there with his tray until I was good and ready to pick it up. He even waved me off once, which I just ignored, as I always do when that happens. I'm a safety professional, not your waiter!

Then, there was Princess Wine, who would continually ask for more as I passed her seat. It seemed like she would always ask for it just as I was returning to the galley to get it, which made me feel as if I were acquiescing to her demands each time and not just doing my job. It was classy, how she reached a point to where she would just tap her glass while looking down her nose at me to indicate that she wanted more. It was like, “Hey, I've got 18 people to serve dinner to here, you're not alone in first class, I'm only one person. You'll get your wine, just be patient.”

Just behind her was Princess Salad. Another task of the purser is to take the meal orders. My galley guy had told me we were serving salad with chicken and a side of tomato soup, or a hot chicken sandwich. It turned out that the salad had roast beef and it was onion soup. I sat her tray down and before I could explain what was going on, she scrumpled her face and huffed, “Um, what is this? I don't eat beef!” I offered to bring her a new salad with no meat. “I don't eat lettuce!” she demanded.
“You don't eat lettuce?” I asked.
“But you ordered the salad...” I shot back.
“I was expecting 'chicken salad'.”
“No one expects chicken salad,” said my inside voice (among other things) a-la the line from the movie “History of the World”... “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Oy.

Soon after this, Mr. Lost and Confused asked to buy duty free items. “Sir, that's only available on international flights.” He'd just have to wait for his next flight, which was to South America.

A few seats back in coach was a prima donna. Her greeting? “I don't have a tray table!”
“Well, hello to you, too,” (inside voice again). Her response after showing her that it was in her arm rest, “Oh. video monitor isn't working! My movie quit playing and all I get is this.”
“Ma'am, it's not working because 'this' is the safety demo. You have to watch it. Everyone has to watch it.” She huffed once more and I had to stop myself from laughing.

And then, sometimes it's the little things. While taking meal orders, a man approaches and asked me for assistance. I follow him to his seat and he shows me a spill. I see a white liquid...some sort of...milk? It's spilling from his video monitor, mounted on the back of the seat pod in front of him, where, somehow, milk was spilled during take-off and was now running down and spilling onto the seat pod behind. I grabbed some wet towels and assisted both he and the woman in front in cleaning up the mess. Next to the woman in front was Daddy, holding a sleeping child of only several months. He simply sat there smiling at me, holding the swaddled life form. It was then that I realized the milk I was cleaning up, and that was all over my hands, was BREAST MILK! Yes, classy times in first class, as usual.

And, it's the little things, such as at least 3 people not paying attention, so oblivious, that even waving my hand in front of them, it took several seconds to notice me, standing there with their food. You're in row 3. You've seen me serving all the people in front of you. You ordered a meal. You have your drink. The next step in the progression of things is a tray of kibble delivered to you. Put your laptop away and pull out the damned tray table so I can put this heavy tray down in front of you. No, don't try to take the tray from me...where do you expect to put it? Pull out your tray table. Yes, that thing there. Really? (You know, your flight attendant can tell who got the upgrades from coach, right?)
An LAX landing

Then I get to the last row of first class- center seat. He was a dead heading captain; a nice guy. He didn't ask for much, a can of sparkling water, a ramekin of hot nuts, no meal, thank you. After the service I went to check on him again to make sure he had all that he needed. He told me he'd been watching me do the service, and seeing that there were some difficult passengers, and that we were dealing with a very bumpy flight, that he was very impressed at how I managed things.

He went on, “You know, a passenger can have a bad day, a lousy drive to the airport, a curt gate agent, a gate change, a long wait in line to board. They can have so many negative issues before they get on the plane, but the thing that really makes a difference is the flight attendant. A flight attendant who gives really good service can make all that other stuff melt away. They land and walk out of the terminal and are asked, 'how was your flight?' and they say it was great...because of people like you, who care about their jobs and smile and make things seem flawless. I've been doing this for 24 years, and you're one of the best.”

I listened to him as my head swelled, I smiled, touched his shoulder and thanked him. It was a long work week, only four days, but days where I had to drive to work each one of them; no layover trips. Two days were on standby at the airport, hoping for a flight, but not being used and after sitting for four hours, was then sent back home. Days tired because of yet another bout of insomnia, a terrible affliction very common to flight crews who deal with an ever-changing schedule, where I had not gotten more than 5 hours of sleep in a row but once in over two weeks.

“Sir,” I said to him, “thank you. That makes my day. I'm fortunate to love my job.”

Another saving grace of this trip was that I worked with a fantastic crew. One thing that really makes my job easy is a galley person who knows what he's doing, anticipates needs and can handle being delegated little tasks while the aisle flight attendants are doing their thing in the aisles. We all got along, shared stories and laughs, and after the flight was over, compared our 'war stories' from the flight.

You land, walk to the bus, get to the parking lot, drive home, and it's all left behind. This was my Friday and I have three delightful days off. I earned my money today, but it was a great day and now it's all left behind me. I've said it before, even some of my worst days at work are better than many people's best day at theirs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Passenger of the Day: I Just Serve the Coke


It was another hot day in Florida. The passengers boarded and nearly every seat was taken. Just as the door closed, we were told by the captain of a ground hold; there was a large thunder storm headed towards Chicago, which would hit the airport just at the time we were scheduled to land there. We were going to push back and hold for at least an hour, to give the worst of the storm the chance to pass through.

As is standard practice, we pushed from the gate and went to the holding area off of the taxi way; what we endearingly refer to as 'the penalty box'. Since we'd be on the ground for at least an hour, we began going through the aisles to offer our passengers water.

When this task was complete, I was in the aft galley, putting things away. A man approached and asked in a heavy accent a series of questions. He was thin, almond-skinned, slightly taller than me, and wearing a brown corduroy jacket over a striped shirt. He was going to Chicago to connect to a flight to Frankfurt, Germany- and he is my passenger of the day.

“Why are we waiting here over an hour? I just spoke to my sister in Chicago and she said there is no bad weather,” he said. I replied, “Well, you should let her know that in 2 hours, there is going to be a big storm rolling through. We aren't really concerned with the current weather, we're concerned with the weather in a few hours...when we will be landing there.”

He seemed to understand, but I wasn't sure. I'm not always good with knowing the difference between the look of ignorance and that of disdain. He looked at me as if I had some power to change the situation but was refusing to do so. If that were the case, I think I could make a better living than a flight attendant. He turned around and left me alone, but not for long. A minute later he returned, “Do you know when we are going to take off?” he asked.
“No, I don't,” I stated.
“Do you know when we will arrive in Chicago?”
“No, not until we take off,” I replied.
“I've got a connection to the Frankfurt flight. Will they hold that flight for me?”
“I have no idea, but with so many flights being delayed, I would speculate that Frankfurt will also be delayed.”
“Well, how much longer do we wait?” he asked, again, and then followed with, “Will the captain be able to fly faster?”

I was getting pretty frustrated. He might as well have also asked how much fuel we were carrying, over what airports would we be flying or where did our pilot learn to fly, but I decided to attempt a little humor, “Sir, I can't answer any of your questions. I just serve the Coke. If you have a phone, you could contact Mother Airline and find out the status of your connecting flight.”

He gave me another blank stare, which seemed to linger for a minute or more. I went back to my duties praying he was done tormenting me. He turned and I watched him return to his seat, which was about 3 rows from the back. I soon forgot about him, as I returned to the tasks I had been working on before the distraction.

When the captain informed us that we were ready to depart, we completed picking up trash while making safety checks. It was humid in Florida, and as we began to taxi to the runway for takeoff, the air got cold in the drying cabin as it became pressurized, and turned to white vapor as it flowed from the air vents along the ceiling. As we gained speed rolling down the runway, a woman screamed out, “There's smoke in the cabin!” I turned in my jumpseat to check, and upon seeing the vapor, yelled back, “That's the air conditioner, it's normal!”

My flying partner rolled her eyes, “Smart ones, today, eh?” I laughed in agreement and told her about Mr. Frankfurt with all the questions I was unable to answer. She told me she must have fielded at least 5 other comments about making connections, like the flight crew are some sort of gods with untold powers of knowing the entire flight schedule of our airline when things go awry due to weather.

An hour later, we were nearly done with our service, with only a few rows left to serve drinks to, then we could pick up the trash and have a moment to rest. I leaned over to ask a man in the window seat what he'd like to drink. I recognized the tan corduroy jacket. He said something about Coke, so I repeated his order. “No,” he said a bit louder so I could finally hear him, “I said I don't like your comment about the Coke. Earlier, you told me you just serve the Coke.”

“Yes, I did, sir,” I responded, “because you kept asking me questions I could not answer. I'm sorry that you didn't appreciate my humor, but I only know what the captain tells us and you have a phone on which you could call and find out, and I don't. I didn't know what else to tell you. Now, can I offer you a damned drink?”

OK, I didn't say “damned”, but I sure wanted to. It's nearly a daily blessing that passengers can't hear the comments going on inside my head. He asked for a coffee and said nothing else to me. Actually, he didn't ask- “I'll have a coffee.”
“Great,” I responded, “how do you take it?”
“Black,” was the cold response.
“Like your soul...” replied my inside voice.

We landed on a very wet runway after hitting some turbulence on our descent into Chicago. Dark clouds and visible flashes of lightning were in the distance. There had even been a tornado cloud in the area, although it didn't touch down. I hoped Mr. Frankfurt had warned his sister and that he made his flight to Germany. At least I knew I'd not be seeing him on my flight home!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Adventures in Flight: Sao Paulo, Brazil

Architecture of Sao Paulo
There are a few things of interest I've noticed about Sao Paulo. Sure, it's got many high rise apartment buildings, many of which seem too thin to comfortably stay erect. They say it has more helicopters than any other city, but I don't see as many as I would have thought I'd be seeing for such a claim to fame. It seems like I see more in Houston than I have in my visits to Sao Paulo.
One of the narrow buildings

The Sao Paulo I've seen has a lot of civic pride. Each morning I always find most apartment buildings with someone out front sweeping the sidewalk. And they don't just sweep it into the street, they pile up the debris and actually pick it up. Most buildings have stands out front upon which one can place their trash cans, keeping them off the ground, safe from critters. They also enjoy washing the sidewalks down with water.

In the apartment buildings across from my hotel room, I see in numerous units, women cleaning the windows; inside and out. They are very adept at doing so, contorting arms and hands to reach every square inch of the exterior of the windows while they remain safely inside. It would be a deadly fall, otherwise.
Apartment building with clean windows.

It's odd seeing this cleaning regimen taking place when looking at all the graffiti. It's one of the more graffiti-filled cities I've seen. The artists seem quite skilled at reaching places you'd think they couldn't. There are buildings where the graffiti is 8-10 stories high; many having some sort of a 'tag' under each and every window at least 3 or 4 stories up. Bridge overpasses have a lot, as well. Some of it is cute, but most looks like an alien language- not even familiar to the Portuguese spoken here. Not everyone loves it, though, as one morning, I saw a shop owner scrubbing the white tile wall outside his front door of this alien writing.
Some of the more tame graffiti.
Graffiti on a building

Another thing I find amazing is how this city looks as though it would do well in the zombie apocalypse. (I may be watching too many shows about zombies.) So many buildings and parks are surrounded by large fences and strong gates. As long as you clear the inside of the dead, you can live in relative undead solitude.

They really like their bread here. It's packed in all sorts of ways; in the store, I saw what looked like a bag of chips, but instead, it was full of dinner rolls. Stacked high near the registers were boxes of round loaves. Some had raisins and others had chocolate. I went for a walk at 7 in the morning and wondered at the numerous small tables people had set up, at nearly every corner, with the most delicious looking breads cut into wedges from their round loaves. But act fast, by 7:45, they were all gone and replaced by vendor tables full of jewelry, trinkets and sweaters.

It's a neat place and I enjoy going, even thought it's a very blue collar town and there doesn't seem to be a lot to do of touristic value. I have never been to South America before going to Sao Paulo. It's a new experience for me, going on a 9 hour flight and only being 4 time zones ahead. When I went to the international destinations out of San Francisco, I would be 14 hours ahead...and in another day! But I love the trips and experiencing new cultures, which, after all, is one of the best things I love about my job!

Adventures at Sea: Cartegena

Holland America Zuiderdam
Disembarking in Cartegena, Columbia on my cruise to the Panama Canal was such a refreshing experience. It didn't start out too well, but once it was over and I was back in my room, a sigh escaped from me; one of satisfaction and accomplishment.

The plan was to meet the 2 couples I dine with at 0830 on the pier for a day of seeing the sights. Just prior to leaving the ship, I noticed the rain storm. It was one typical of the tropics, in which the clouds moved quickly and in the distance could be seen clearing weather, complete with sun shining through the grey and white clouds, which were billowing up in the humid air above the towering white buildings of the newer part of town. The rain was slowing and, with the distant sun visible, I decided to head on out to meet my friends in despite of the weather. Being the first of the group to arrive on the pier, I waited under the awning set up by the ship's crew. The rain intensified and was now sideways, so even though I was standing under the middle of the awning, my back was getting soaked. Having had enough of this, I made a bee line right back to the comfort of the ship.
Louis and BJ, 2 of my dinner companions

Back inside, as the crew were busily hawking rain panchos to those hearty enough to brave the storm, I ran into Louis and Kathy, the couple from New York who I had been there to meet. I told them of the rain and my dwindling interest in getting out to see the city. Even when the rain stopped, it would only get hot and more humid. They agreed, but since they had yet to meet Kavita and Sawish, our other dinner mates from Canada, and even though they were now faced with doing it alone, since Kavita and Sawish may have bailed on the plans, too. They were determined to see the city, even though it was now 15 minutes past our scheduled meeting time. But I felt resolute in my decision to remain behind and stay dry and comfortable.

After a bit, the rain stopped and I decided to at least venture to the cruise terminal to see 'something' of Columbia. After all, who knows when I'd be able to return? I was so happy for the break in the weather. Nearing the terminal building, I was greeted by a small rain forest with flamingos, peacocks, iguanas, parrots, toucans, ducks and macaws. And inside was a gift shop full of wonderful things, all Colombian (and a few from China, I'm sure!) giving a hint of what the city and local culture was like. My interest was piqued.

Seeing the various souvenirs, I decided that a little sacrifice of comfort would be worth the cultural education. My friends entered the building, after having decided to wait out the rain, and were happy to see that I had a change of heart about joining. Now about 45 minutes behind schedule, we followed the information I had from prior research and passed the numerous taxi drivers hawking for business. It was much like being in China, but these guys had to be told at least 3 times, “No, no thank you, no taxi, thank you, no!”

Just outside the gates we found cabs for half the cost, and in Francisco, we found a driver who spoke English well and promised to give us a great tour, to get us back in time for the all aboard, and had a cab large enough for the 5 of us without being cramped. He quoted us a price of $5 a person. The reason I wound up giving him $10 at the end of the tour some 2 hours later was that he really did show us a nice time in Cartegena.

We started at the fort, then saw the great wall of the old city. We delighted in the old jail, which now houses wares and touristy items. Francisco told us to go up to the top of the fort for a great view of the Caribbean and the city. While there, we found a fun group of young boys who begged for us to take their photo. Afterwards, all they wanted was to see the photo, which elicited from each of them hearty laughs and smiles.
The boys begged for a photo

Our next stop was what seemed the heart of the old city, where we found a nice square with fountains a few cathedrals and a free museum to explore. As we left, a large tour group approached. They were recognizable as being from our ship with their tour stickers visible. We were glad to be leaving just as the crowds started to arrive.

We drove along the shore and were shown the naval base and the new city with its modern skyscrapers. I found it all so fascinating and was happy to have seen some of Columbia. He brought us right back to the terminal entrance with about an hour to spare. I played with a toucan and another bird (not sure what kind) who was very friendly and interested in my dangling camera strap. I was delighted in my conversation with my little bird friends, including a hungry green parrot, busy eating seeds from a halved papaya, who let me stroke her tail feathers. As another rain shower trapped me under a large canopy to await the free shuttle bus back to the ship, I admired a proud looking iguana walking across the pathway just in front of me.
My toucan friend

I was back on board only 5 minutes before all call. It's the latest I've ever been back on board, as I normally side with caution and board half an hour or more before they tell us to. The one photo I hope never to take is one of the ship leaving a port of call!

After a quick bite for lunch, I enjoyed our sail away from the Crow's Nest lounge, positioned over the ship's bridge. Watching where the ship was headed, I noticed something in the water just off to our port side ahead. I wasn't sure what it was, but it appeared that we would be going quite close. As we neared, I saw that it was a small fishing boat and a man was struggling to keep afloat as his vessel began to take on water. I could see him fight his way to the bow, the stern now completely under water and all of his wares floating away. It looked pretty dire. To our relief, our captain made an announcement informing us that they had called it in to the coast guard.

We left the numerous white buildings in our wake under a clear blue sky populated with full white clouds gliding on a gentle breeze. We were about to re-enter the waters of the Caribbean. I went down to the forward balcony on deck 9. The waters were blue, the shore dotted with quaint buildings, blue churches with white trim, small rocky beaches and tiny boats darting about. The man standing next to me agreed that it was a great day, adding that it's always a great day when things are going right.
With the white buildings beyond, we leave the stone fort for the Caribbean.

“And today, at least for us, they are all going right,” I replied. He smiled and looked back to the shore where a group of locals waved from a small sandy beach in front of a stone fort, with flavorful music blasting from large speakers, loud enough for us to hear. “Yes,” he said, “it's all going right today.”

Passenger of the Day: Mr. Argentina

Buenos Aires

I knew as soon as I saw him what was going to happen. It wasn't easy to turn away from him, his perfect, brown eyes, the face stubble, the tall frame in the red flannel shirt and the way his curls slightly bounced as his tread brought him down the jetway towards the boarding door, where I stood as greeter for our flight from Buenos Aires to Houston. It was hard to turn away from him. As the greeter, it's my job to welcome the passengers aboard. I was very aware of the fact that I was a man unable to ignore this guy's good looks, but he was living art, and I'm OK with that; anyone would certainly recognize how attractive this guy was. After saying hello and eliciting his enchanting smile, I turned to watch him walk down the aisle, seeing that his presence garnered the attention of many, and then immediately sought Denise to gauge her reaction. She took notice more quickly than I expected.

The first thing I noticed about Denise when we first met was her necklace. It looped around her long neck twice and was studded with crystals and shiny fake diamonds. I had taken a seat at the back of the small briefing room, allowing those who came after me the opportunity to fill in the seats around the table, which seemed too large for the small room, just before the trip began. Denise was the 4th flight attendant to enter. She was all smiles and chatting with Chandra, who she was hoping would take the galley position so that she could work first class aisle with her. Denise was senior enough to hold first class, but Chandra was not, and Denise stated that, “she doesn't 'do' economy.” They agreed to this situation if their seniority could hold the positions. There was one senior enough to take it from them, but she passed on the galley position so that they could work together.

Denise was infectious. Her laugh made me smile. Her eyes beamed and she walked like she was on a mission. It didn't hurt that her legs looked like they should be insured against loss. And then there was her blouse; tight in the way that men take notice. One could tell she was a party girl; that smile, her attitude, the laugh, but for as much as she partied, it was also evident that she worked out- her toned legs, shapely torso and curvy rear-view... she definitely turned heads.

When the pilots arrived on board, they gave a quick briefing. The second officer walked in and I could see Denise straighten up. Her eyes widened as she looked him up and down. He was a family man, with photos of his kids on his suitcase and a golden wedding ring on his finger. But Denise found him catching, with his dimple, blue eyes and smooth face settled under a nice head of hair. He humored Denise and Chandra, who were soon calling themselves his sister wives, as both were interested in being his pretend 'wife' for the duration of the flight. The innuendos were amazing and I was glad we were all taking it so well and not having to fear attending a sexual harassment class.

Working the boarding door is fun for me. I get to say hello to all the passengers. I can figure out who the fun people are, who are in bad moods, who is going to be difficult and which passengers will be needy during the flight, all in how they respond to my greeting as they board the plane. It's also fun standing at the boarding door, which is located just behind the flight deck and right next to the first class galley. Since I'd be working in the back of the plane, this would be the most time I'd have to socialize with the flight attendants working there. They were busy getting things set up in the galley for the flight and delivering pre-departure drinks, hanging jackets, passing out amenity kits and taking meal orders. But they were also fun and flirty- with one another and with passengers. They were upbeat and funny and made working with them a pleasure.
Sights of BA

I spent a lot of time on the layover with the crew. Denise and Chandra talked all three pilots into joining us for dinner, as well as our purser and one of the language speakers. We went to a wonderful place for steaks, which wound up being the best steak dinner I'd ever had. The wine was flowing, the conversation was definitely engaging, and Denise's tight silver skirt kept creeping up. She would smile and subconsciously pull it back down. I was the only male sitting on the opposite side of the table from her and I kept noticing each time she moved back in the chair to push the dress back down. I guess my eyes gave me away. As we walked back to the hotel, the second officer pulled me aside and told me how envious he was of my view at dinner. I smiled back, telling him, “For the record, they were white.” His eyes rolled back as he shook his head in the disappoint of having missed out. It was almost creepy.

Denise was definitely a party girl. Besides the talk, often peppered with choice words and hints of a wild lifestyle, she mentioned that on a recent layover to Buenos Aires, she had partied most of the time and wound up getting only six hours of sleep during her 35 hour stay. I remember when I could party like that, but those days are behind me. She was in her thirties and recently divorced. The only thing slowing her down was her four-year old son, who she adored and spoke quite highly of.

As we walked back to the hotel with our bellies full of Argentine steak, she was arm in arm with her 'sister wife' Chandra. It was late, so there weren't many people out, and all the shops were closed, with their metal gates rolled down. As we passed people in the street, they would greet them with a loud, “Hola!” The men would all take notice; their necks craning as they passed. Such a spectacle; was it the wine or the girl? At one point a work truck passed by on the road. The truck's bed was full of workmen. They yelled hola up to the men, who took notice of the two ladies, smiled and yelled an excited 'hola' back. I hoped she never did this when not in the company of 4 protective men!
Florida St. at night

So here we were, the layover ended and we were getting ready to fly back home. This tall Argentinian with the eyes and smile, the plaid shirt exposing a hint of chest hair and jeans that fit just right, walks on board, crosses over to the right aisle, and walks to economy to find his seat. I looked at Denise and sure enough, as I expected, she noticed him, too. In fact, most heads seated in first class turned his way as he moved towards the rear of the plane. She made a comment to God and made a B-line to the economy section, saying something about economy needing assistance with the overhead bins. Miss, “I don't do economy” was doing economy!

She returned, alone, and without a phone number. I made a cheeky comment about this, to which she simply replied, “Well, after all, he's not sitting in first class.” It's OK to have a nice piece of art, but it seems what a girl really wants is a wallet.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Adventures in Flight: Productive PIT Stop

I was dining at the airport in Newark, NJ a while ago. It was lunch time and there were few seats open so another flight attendant asked if I would share my table with her. She worked for the other side of our airline and we each had a lot of questions for one another, since one day we would be working together after our two companies merged.

She was on her way to San Francisco for an 11-hour layover. I was on my way to Cleveland for a 20-hour layover. Upon hearing that I'd be in Cleveland for 20 hours, she quipped, “That's so unproductive!” I recoiled. 

Learning history in Pittsburgh

Unproductive? Why would she say this. She had no idea of my plans while in Cleveland. Then I realized that she meant it was unproductive for the company. How odd, I thought, that she was that wrapped up in the company to want only productive trips, ones where flight attendants are constantly on the plane, much like how planes don't earn money when at the gate. Flight attendants must be robots in her world.

I let it go, thinking she was a little odd, which in our profession, meeting flight attendants who are a little odd is nothing new. But as time went on, I heard this saying over and over again from the flight attendants on the other side. “You guys like long layovers, they are so unproductive.”

Our complaints of them is how they work themselves to death. They are known for having a younger work force, who, for some reason or another, think flight attendants should be making $80K a year, so work, work, work. They work San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale turns, over 11 flight hours and a duty day of 14 hours, with no rest in between. Then, some of them will turn around and do it again the next day. (There are a lot of professions to earn beau coup bucks. Flight attendant is not one of them.)

Each side has flights to China. Ours is a 4-day trip, where theirs is 3-days. They like theirs and we like ours. We go out and shop and dine and explore before resting up for the flight home. They go out and shop and dine and then go right back to the plane without much rest or chance to explore local cultures. 

Seeing the sights in Beijing; Temple of Heaven

I've experienced what my future flying partner wants our work life to be like. I've had the short layovers, where you get to the hotel and try to decompress as quickly as possible, because you look at the clock as you slip out of your uniform and realize that horrid van that takes you back to the airplane will leave in only 9 hours. That was after a 13 hour day, and the following is almost as long. Considering you lose an hour in transit to and from the airport, an hour to get ready in the morning, an hour to get ready for bed, and hopefully 8 hours to sleep, the absolute minimum layover that I ever want to see is 11 hours, and that's if I don't want to sleep, make some calls, enjoy some television, read. And to venture out and explore takes more, yet.

One of my first trips in San Francisco was one leaving late at night with a 5 hour layover in Oregon before flying first thing in the morning to Chicago. I was a reserve and had been up all day long, not knowing I would be treated like this until the trip was assigned to me just hours before I had to fly it. That's the life of a reserve. Now that I've got 14 years under my belt, I shouldn't be treated like that unless I ask for it! I've dated that woman. I have the scars. I like to be romanced!

The comment I hear often from the other side is how much they enjoy their time at home. My response is, “Yeah, but then you're too tired and spend half the day taking a nap. I'd rather use that nap time sleeping in my hotel room!” I usually get silence in return as maybe they realize the truth of my sentiment.

Nice rooms and nice views; this one is in Beijing.

I got this job to see the world. When I'm in China, I want to see the sights and museums and experience some of the local culture. And not just China, I do that in any city I visit. I know a lot about most of the cities my airline flies to simply from going out to explore while on a layover. Working for the airline is akin to having an education paid for.

On a recent visit to China, my flying partners started talking about this. We decided that as a work group, our side is generally more cultured, better rounded, and more experienced, than their side. Our flight attendants seem better able to cope with various cultures and have a more thorough rapport with passengers. We are better rested and provide better service in flight, as well.

Sunset in Pittsburgh

I like my long layovers, but I'm tired hearing from others how they are "unproductive". Having just come home from a 24-hour layover in Pittsburgh, I accomplished a lot. Besides a nice long walk, learning some history and meeting nice people, I opened a new bank account, called my insurance company for information about my upcoming move, wrote a letter to my aunt, got caught up with a few friends on the computer, looked up information about the city I'm about to move to, edited a story, watched the news and then went out to grab dinner and eat in the park while watching the sun set across the Allegheny River...ALL WHILE BEING PAID (per diem). Had I been home, not even half of that would have been accomplished. Sounds pretty damned productive to me!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Adventures in Flight: Closing a Chapter


I walked into the terminal at SFO all smiles and my head held high. Sure I was going to Beijing, and there is a lot to smile about in going to China. However, as I filed down the hallway among other airport employees and flight attendants, I had a feeling much like that of just after I was hired. There was a newness, a feeling that I was standing at the edge of a great adventure, knowing my life among the clouds was about to begin, that my travel lust would certainly be entertained.
Planes of the SFO International Terminal

This was to be my last flight as a San Francisco-based flight attendant; and perhaps it came too soon – I still have business cards not handed out!

For me, it was a momentous day. I parked on level 7 of the employee parking garage, as I always do. It affords such a wonderful view of the airport and of our gates at SFO. I can see the metal birds tearing down the runway and taking to flight. Often, I arrive early just to sit and watch, as I did on this day, taking a photo for posterity. For others, it was just a day, but I appreciated all the things I was going to miss about living in the Bay Area and being based at SFO. I was going to miss this view when parking for work, but I was also excited for the adventures that lie ahead for me in Houston.

The view of SFO from where my car was parked.

When I walked into the briefing room, the purser had arrived early and placed in each of the chairs our briefing sheet a puzzle page from the newspaper and a small bag of M&Ms. I had flown with this purser a year ago, when I last visited Beijing, and she had done the same thing. She must get Christmas cards from M&Ms! What a great way to start my trip.

There were 15 flight attendants working a 747. Normally, I am the most junior, number15, and I don't have to choose where I'll be working, I simply take what ever position is left. Today, however, there were 2 junior to me. It's been years since I've worked in the premium cabins, as they always go senior. I know the service well in the back of the plane and I do well interacting with customers and reacting to minor medical issues that arise from time to time. Today, however, I would have a choice of 3 positions from which to choose, and when they got to number 13, the upper deck galley, a business-class position, was still available.

I remember my first flight on a 747. I'd been flying less than a year and got a trip to Narita, Japan. Those days, we were staffed fully and there were 19 flight attendants. Somehow, I was juniored into the upper deck galley position. The crew was great about it, saying they'd work with me. I worked with 2 great people who would help me along, telling me what to do next in the galley as they went into the aisle with queen carts. I did a great job, in the end, garnering quite a few kudos.

When I get to Houston, there will be no more 747s to work. Until things change, which in this business, they always are, this would be the last time working a 747. There's talk of retiring the fleet. I will miss working this wondrous bird if they go away.
747 taxiing at SFO

When seeing that the upper deck galley was still open, I decided to go for it. What better way to spend my last flight on the 747 before leaving SFO than working upstairs and having this experience bookend my first flight?

Now that there is only 1 aisle flight attendant, there is more work involved than my first experience upstairs. I worked with a girl named Lulu who shared my enthusiasm and positive attitude. We worked quite well together and had a good time. I soon realized that I preferred working in economy. Upper deck is much less social. When Lulu left for her break, I was left all alone for two hours with no one to talk to.

The service went swimmingly and had I been more familiar with that galley, I could have worked much smarter. Fortunately, the purser came up to give us some help. Help? Sure, while greatly appreciated, she would leave my galley a terrible mess where I am normally very organized.

It was good to finally reach the stage of flight where I took my jumpseat for landing. I could have been landing anywhere in the world. The upper deck jumpseat has no window and the passenger windows I had visuals with, all two of them, were closed. I had to sense the plane to determine at what point to assume my landing position which I got, spot-on.

It's sad to be leaving but I'm anxious for the next chapter of my life, returning to my home town of Houston and enjoying life in new skies. It's sad that I won't be working 747s very much, if even at all, but at least I still have the wondrous metal birds to take me to my next adventure. Onward and upward!