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First Day

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 31 March, 2010 by Thomas

It’s the start of a four day trip that’s already been cut short by two days because of my last three day trip that had me working eight days in a row (which is illegal – I can only work a maximum of six days).  This is no normal trip for me.  As a check flight attendant I’m responsible for training newly graduated flight attendants, and today is not only this new hire’s first day but also my first day training.  Neither of us has any idea what to expect.  All I know is that she was the “valedictorian” of her class, and because my trip has been cut short I only have four legs with this girl before she moves on to another check flight attendant to finish out her training on the CRJ-200.

I looked at the passenger loads last night to see how difficult her first day may or may not be, and thankfully they were pretty light.  This first leg to LGA she is just shadowing me, watching me during boarding and during the service.  I’m asking her questions to test her job knowledge and explaining everything I’m doing (or trying to anyway).  We only have 25 people on board and it’s early so most people are asleep and the service is over before we know it as is the flight.

With only 26 minutes on the ground in New York boarding for the second leg is almost immediate.  For this flight we only have 17 passengers so the main cabin door closes pretty quickly and we get ready to do the safety demo.  It’s the new hire’s turn to do the safety dance, and she does it very well if a bit theatrically.  We secure the cabin and notify the flight deck that we’re ready to go.  Because of an incredibly long line behind us it takes us 45 minutes to even push back from the gate.  We’re finally in the air, and she makes her announcements with great style and aplomb.

We start the beverage service, I’m following behind her, watching her take orders and serve drinks.  We’re in the middle of the cabin when the flight deck calls back.  I go to the front to answer, and the first officer tells me we’re diverting to Philadelphia, to put the cart away, and prepare for landing.  He doesn’t tell me what’s wrong, and in effort to get everything put away as quickly as possible I don’t ask.  I just know that he’s not asked me to prepare the passengers for an emergency.  We get everything put away, and I make an announcement telling the passengers that we’re diverting and going to be landing soon.  I tell them there’s nothing to worry about and that this will be a normal landing.  Everyone seems to be doing OK so I sit down in my jumpseat.  A few minutes go by and I can hear that the guys up front are wearing their oxygen masks.  I know we haven’t lost pressurization because the masks in the back have not dropped, but I’m still wondering what’s happening.  Finally, the first officer calls back and tell me the windshield has cracked and they have the masks on just in case they need them.

I make another announcement telling the passengers why we’re diverting, and this time I walk through the cabin to check on people and make sure everyone is still in good shape.  One passenger stops me and asks if it is raining in Dayton (where we’re going).  I tell him it is not, and he asks if it is raining in Philadelphia (where we’re diverting).  I tell him it is, and he asks why don’t we continue on to Dayton where’s it’s not raining instead of going to Philadelphia where it is raining.  I wonder if this guy thinks airlines usually tell people they’re going to be flown to one location only to change their mind and instead take them somewhere else.  I remind him that the windshield is cracked and the captain is not going to fly all the way to Dayton with a cracked windshield.  His response is one that would indicate that he didn’t listen to the announcement I just made saying as much.  I don’t know about anyone else, but if I were a passenger and the flight attendant made an announcement saying we were diverting to another airport shortly after taking off and without reason I would then listen to everything that was said from that point on.  Apparently, though, this guy couldn’t be concerned with details.

Twenty minutes go by and we finally land and pull up to the gate.  The flight deck door is opened and boy is that windshield cracked.  One of the supervisors tells me that the flight is most likely going to cancel and to ask the passengers to remain in the gate area after deplaning.  Everyone gets off the plane, and it’s just the four of us on there for the next hour and a half.  After the initial glance at the windshield by the police and a maintenance guy, no one else comes out to look at the plane.  Scheduling finally calls us and sends us all to different places.  My new hire deadheads down to Washington, DC to meet up with another crew and the pilots go to Charlotte to spend rest of the afternoon in a hotel.  I, however, get to hop on a plane back to Dayton where my day finally ends around 7pm.  A four day trip has turned into a one day trip.  I don’t mind this at all because I still get paid for all four days.  One of the benefits of being a fancy lineholder is cancellation pay.  Since all those flights were part of my original schedule I get paid for the them even though I don’t work them.  I just scored three paid days off.

Job Shadowing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 3 March, 2010 by Thomas

About a month ago I made a post about having the opportunity to shadow a crew scheduler.  It’s all part of my airline’s plan to mend the relationship between crew members and schedulers.  Our VP says that of all the airlines where he’s worked the situation is the worst he’s ever seen here.  It’s this whole “walk a mile in another man’s shoes” thing.  I think it’s also a good thing; there is definitely a lot of animosity between the two groups.

Picture Courtesy I finally got to shadow a crew scheduler.  Thankfully, I had met this scheduler a few weeks prior and she was one of the nice ones there.  Had she not been friendly it most certainly would have been a long 11-hour shift.  I can’t imagine sitting beside someone lame for 11 hours watching click the mouse so fast and barely explaining to me what was being done and then listening to a 30-second phone call about a canceled flight.

Yesterday was a relatively busy day for our crew schedulers.  There was some snow and ice in the Charlotte area, which is where my airline does the bulk of its flying, so of course there was a cluster %#$& at the airport.  People were stranded and misconnected, and luckily I didn’t really have to deal with a bit of it.  However, those schedulers really had to earn their money trying to get people and planes into place to recover as much of the schedule as possible.

I used to joke around that the only thing schedulers did all day was sit around playing solitaire on their computers planning their next smoke break, but that’s not the case at all . . . at least it wasn’t yesterday.  I’d say for the first five hours of the shift there was maybe a total of 20 minutes of downtime.  When the scheduler I was paired with wasn’t making or taking a call from a crew member, she was busy trying to make sure flying was covered.  People were having trouble commuting into base for work because of the bad weather so their flying had to be covered, entire crews were stranded in another city so she had to find another crew to work flights, people called in sick, reserve assignments had to be made, and tons of different reports had to be run and all kinds of things reconciled.

After sitting there and watching these people work for almost half a day I can’t really say that I know what they do.  I can say, however, that they do a lot, and it doesn’t seem to be very easy.  I can’t speak to the level of stress they may or may not feel because nothing that happened was my responsibility, but I can say that were it my job to make sure everyone was in place to keep an airline running smoothly and weather issues arose I’d be stressed to the max.

The training takes about a month to complete, and then it’s about a year before a scheduler really gets comfortable doing the job during irregular operations.  After sitting in on a shift I can say that I learned a lot.  Those people have a tough job to do, and sometimes we as crew members don’t like the message they bring to us, but we need to remember that it’s not always their decision.  It’s a business that’s being run, not a friendly game of “Fly Around the Country.”  That’s not to say that there aren’t some jerks working in there that need to go to nice school and take really good notes, but I just don’t think they’re out to get us.  At least I hope not.

I Know

Posted in Uncategorized on 1 March, 2010 by Thomas

Yeah, I know I haven’t been posting very much lately, and I’m sure my three loyal readers are really jonesing for a post, but this doesn’t really count.  I’ve been on reserve the last two months and also a bit lazy.  However, I’m a fancy lineholder again for March so I should have some decent stories.  I know I have some good layovers coming up so perhaps I can manufacture an awesome story; I have 24 hours in our nation’s capital and 18 hours in White Plains (easy access to NYC).  I also have a story that I’ve been sitting on for a while.  I took notes on it so maybe I’ll be able to convey the emotion and true experience . . . we’ll see.  Stay tuned.

I’m Not Your Biggest Fan

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on 16 February, 2010 by Thomas

I suppose I’m entirely too young to remember, but from everything I hear and read people once wore their Sunday best when flying.  Now it’s so cheap that everyone is doing it, and so as a flight attendant and the person who must interact with the flying public more than any other work group I’ve got to be able to handle several different personalities.  There are so many that I can’t even begin to name and describe them; it would simply take too much time, and I’m definitely entirely too lazy to even entertain that idea.

I can’t say that I have a favorite type of passenger.  I like the ones who talk to me and ask questions about my job, but also find myself irritated by the ones who talk to me and ask questions that I can’t or even should know the answer to.  I also like the passengers who sit down and keep a low profile.  I definitely love the ones who kindly make requests and say “please” and “thank you” rather than bark orders at me like I’m the hired help (I perform a service, but I am no servant).  I’m sad to say that this last group is a refreshing change and a departure from what is normal.

I can, however, say that I have a least favorite type of passenger.  I hate the ones who are rude and inconsiderate, the ones who won’t even  acknowledge my existence for the two hours I have with them, and the ones who won’t do what I tell them to do, but the one type of passenger I dislike more than any other is the student-athlete.  This is not to say I don’t like college students because I do.  I would love to still be a college student, and college ladies sure are fun to look at.  But when you put 20 punk kids on an airplane in their little uniforms with their coaches it seems all hell breaks loose.

I recently had the displeasure of taking the Marshall Thundering Herd Men’s Basketball team from Birmingham to Charlotte.  I initially felt sorry for these guys – they were all 20 feet tall stuck on a little regional jet with no headroom when standing and no leg room when sitting – but that sentiment quickly passed as they settled into their seats.  Before we even closed the aircraft door there were legs and knees in the aisles, tray tables down, seatbacks reclined, and head phones on.  So now with 20 kids who think their crap don’t stink on board my flying partner and I go about securing the cabin and doing our compliance checks.  In hindsight I realize it was all a bit Sisyphean trying to restore order to the plane as these players would never fully comply with what we asked of them.  As we walked through the cabin telling them to turn their phones off and bring their seatbacks up they just claimed the phone was already off or would recline the seatback as soon as we walked past.  I remember telling one in particular to turn his phone off and remarking that Airplane Mode is not off and one of his teams piped up with, “It should have been off a long time ago.”  On the surface it would appear he was giving his buddy a hard time, but what he was really doing was making fun of the job I had to do.  Not that I mind his making fun of me, I just mind when people act like idiots.

Take a small group of young people and they’re not so bad.  It’s when you get a large group of them together that they start to joke around and feed off each other.  The immaturity just grows and grows like a weed making my job much much harder than it ever should be.  But what really gets me is the attitude of the coaches.  You’d think they’d be all over their players like stains on a mattress making sure they represent themselves, their team, and their school in the best light possible, but some of them are just as bad as their players.  If they’re not just sitting in the seat trying to ignore the brats they’ve been charged with then they take their seatbelts off or won’t turn their phones off and then lie to my face about whatever it is I “chastise” them about.  I want to point out to them that they expect their athletes to do what they say the first time on the court or on the field and that I expect the same on my airplane; perhaps next time I will do just that.  And if you think that my ire shouldn’t be directed to all student-athletes I will just say that I’ve also had the UT Volunteers Girl’s Volleyball team, USC Gamecocks Track & Field team, some small college basketball team, and probably a few others on my plane.  They’re all pretty much the same . . . aggravating.  I wish the school would just charter a plane so I wouldn’t have to put up with their stupidity.

Seniority Rules

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on 7 February, 2010 by Thomas

The airline industry is not a meritocracy.  Everything we get or “earn” is based on seniority – our pay, trip pairings, days off, vacation, travel privileges, and pretty much anything and everything else.  We realize this is how things are done when we sign up and are OK with it; it’s really the fairest way to do things in most instances.  The longer we’re at our airline the higher our quality of life.  Personally, I find it comforting to know that all I have to do is bide my time and eventually I’ll have a good work schedule with the days off I want earning a living wage.  I just have to pay my dues and my time will come.  I wasn’t the first to have a crappy schedule with low pay, and I won’t be the last – at least I hope not.

However, there has come an occasion where I am not OK with the seniority system.  We’ve recently had a flight attendant come back on line after being out on medical leave.  Now, I don’t know this person from a ham sandwich, but if what I’ve been told is correct then I don’t think she should even be employed with my airline anymore.  Yeah, that may sound harsh, but there should be a statute of limitations on how long one can be on medical leave and keep a job.  I’ve been told that after being hired by the airline and working on line for six months she went out on workman’s comp.  After about two years of being on workman’s comp, she took a medical leave of absence for about four years.  Our union contract provides that employees out on these types of leave not only retain seniority but also accrue it.

On paper this seems like a good idea, but in practice (obviously) it has its flaws.  I think after two years one should no longer accrue seniority, just retain it.  There are other types of leave that we can take that only allow for accrual for the first 30 days.  Why for these two is accrual indefinite?  She only worked for 6 months, left for six years, and now that she’s decided she wants to come back she comes back at number 34 on the company-wide seniority list!  I’ve only been flying for less than two years, but I’ve worked more than she has.  Something doesn’t seem fair about this.  It is what it is, and there’s nothing I can do about it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.  And it’s not like I have a problem with her personally, I just think our union screwed up when they negotiated this part of our contract.

Even though my company-wide seniority has gone up three spots in the last month, now that’s she back, she’s bumped me down one spot on my base’s seniority list.  Being on the bubble of holding a line and being on reserve makes this a big deal, which is why I’m so upset about this.  No one senior to me ever leaves my base; they all leave from the Charlotte base.  Eventually, I think I might like to be based there because the trips are better, but since it’s so much bigger I’m even farther away from holding a line there.  Maybe this flight attendant will realize she doesn’t really like the job all that much and decide to do something else.  Even better, maybe the industry as a whole will improve beyond anyone’s wildest imagination and I can get called up to the big show.  A boy can hope, right?

Job Shadowing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on 5 February, 2010 by Thomas

I can’t really speak for other airlines, but at my airline crew members do not get along with crew schedulers.  For various reasons we feel like they’re out to get us . . . at least the reserves anyway.  As a reserve flight attendant I’m at the mercy of our schedulers.  As long as they schedule me legally and according to Federal Aviation Regulations then I have to do what they tell me.  That means if they schedule me for six legs and 14 hours of duty with a 9 hour overnight only to work another 6 six legs and be on duty 14 more hours the next day I have to do it; that’s legal.

Also, because I work for a small airline there is more interaction on a human level; our scheduling is system is not done by a computer but by actual people.  A computer wouldn’t allow illegal schedules to be built, but because a human is doing the building “mistakes” can be made.  I use quotation marks because sometimes it’s not a mistake.  Just recently my roommate was assigned hot reserve at 5:00am.  For hot reserve, duty starts at 5:00am so the latest we can be scheduled to work is 7:00pm.  They tried to schedule her until 9:00pm, and when she called them out on it they acted like they didn’t know.  When they finally changed her schedule to be legal and got her back into base, they tried to cut her rest short.  Our contract says that rest in base will be at least 10 hours.  When she arrived in base and checked out of her trip at 8:00pm, they had assigned 5:00am regular reserve.  She called them on this illegality and the scheduler quickly backpedaled (but not without copping an attitude).

The way the schedulers arrive at their decisions when assigning flying is something that boggles my mind, too.  Yesterday was my third day of reserve in a block of six.  There was a four-day trip that started yesterday, but instead of giving it to me (I was legal for the trip) they instead gave it to someone junior to me who couldn’t finish the entire four days; she could only complete the first two days and then had to deadhead back on the third day.  Guess who has been given the rest of her trip?  Yours truly.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Crew Scheduling?  Are you all braindead?

So in an effort to help crew members and crew schedulers understand each other’s job, our management has decided to let crew members shadow schedulers and vice-versa.  From what I hear the schedulers will be following Check Flight Attendants – of which I am one – on trips (with overnights), and these aren’t the nice, cushy, easy trips but the ones with 14 hour duty days with short overnights.  They won’t be allowed to sleep or sit on the flights but must actually help with boarding, beverage service, trash collection, and whatever else may arise.  I hope I get one, but being on reserve I might (and probably) won’t.

I’ve also requested to shadow a scheduler.  I realize that many of them are doing a job and sometimes we don’t like what we have to do.  I also realize that some of them are jerks because they can be.  Maybe by doing this I’ll be able to better understand why junior FAs are given flying that I feel I should get and why I ALWAYS get hot reserve.  We’ll see how it goes.  I just hope those schedulers are given hell when they have to fly and that they are as tired as we are at the end of the day.  Perhaps by putting a face to a name and voice we can better understand each other and not have such animosity towards each other.

A Quick Break

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 26 January, 2010 by Thomas

It’s 7:30 in the morning on day four of a four-day trip. I’ve finished my beverage service, and 29 people are staring at the headrest in front of them, the back of their eyelids, or out the window at the quickly rising sun as we zoom east towards Charlotte. Row 13 was open a few minutes ago, but now I’m sitting here staring out the window, joining my passengers who have nothing else to do either. The sun is on the other side of the plane, and although I don’t have the good fortune of watching it paint the sky I’m easily mesmerized by these clouds; I never tire of looking at them. I take this brief moment to relax because I know the next five legs and 12 hours are going to leave me spent with little opportunity to sit and hide from the ever-watchful eye of the traveling public.

As I stare out the window into the nothingness that is 34,000 feet I see some clouds on the horizon. To me they look remarkably like snow-capped mountains. Though they are obviously clouds and nothing else, they still have the ragged edges, peaks, and valleys that mountains would have. It is at this point that I start to envy my two other crew members; they get to sit up front and chase sunrises and sunsets and see things that I can only see in my mind’s eye most of the time. What a job they have!

I’m quickly brought back to reality and out of my daydream by the ding-dong that is the In-Range Call from the captain. He wants to know what I need when we arrive in Charlotte. Having lost myself in wonder it takes me a second to remember the passenger who boarded with a wheelchair; I guess we’ll need one of those when we land. I go back to work collecting from traytables the trash left there by my slumbering passengers; I find myself envious of their freedom to sleep, too. Because I was lazy and didn’t get my uniform ready the night before I had to wake up at 4:30. Running on little sleep I think about the long day I have ahead of me and am grateful for the break I just had, even if it was for just a few minutes.