These days, flying is a pain in the a** or rather – a pain in the back with the cramped, uncomfortable seats, extra fees, cancellations, security lines, bad food…. I could keep going, but it’s depressing me, so I think I’ll stop there.
Anyway, we all know the drill and it’s not fun. Unfortunately, it’s not fun for the flight crews either, who deal with the same issues as the passengers except they’re supposed to go through it with a smile plastered on their faces. The day-to-day issues flight attendants have are increasing. They won’t tell you about them, but I will. And after reading about some of the things they go through, maybe you’ll decide we need to give them a break instead of a hard time.
The Quick Call
Most passengers plan their trips in advance. They know where they’re headed, what kind of weather they’ll be facing and where they’re staying when they get there. If you’re a flight attendant though, you might as well throw all that planning out the plane window, because there’s no telling where you’ll end up.
Flight attendants call it a “quick call.” It usually consists of a 3am wake-up call by some caffeinated company scheduler who sounds pleased to tell you that you have to be at the airport, on the plane, and smiling at passengers – in two hours. GOOD MORNING! Oh, and don’t even think about being late. Because being late = being fired.
You sprint from your house, bag in tow, packed for four days, with everything from shorts to a parka – just in case – and hoping like hell you haven’t forgotten anything. You aren’t worried about forgetting extra undies – that’s an easy problem to solve. You’re worried about forgetting the “required duty items” the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and your employer (the airlines) require you to have on every flight – things like a writing pen, a working flashlight, and your company badge. Heaven forbid you forget any of those. If you do, the best case scenario is you get in trouble with your supervisor – and possibly sent home without pay. Worst case scenario – you get an FAA employee on your flight who checks your supplies and fines you, then reports you to your company/supervisor who sends you home without pay – forever. Not only do you owe money to the federal government, but you’re also fired. Yikes.
So, this leads me to the dreaded writing pen. As I mentioned, a pen is a requirement for every flight attendant.
I’m sorry to say, it’s not so crew members can lend them to passengers. It’s because, in case of an emergency, the crew needs to write down any instructions given by the pilots. I’m sure we can all agree we’d rather not have our flight attendant need a pen because of an emergency!
Still, every day, passengers ask to borrow flight attendant’s pens, and when flight attendants can’t, they’re labeled as “rude.” I understand why, but it’s really not the case. I’ve lost many pens to well-meaning passengers who don’t return them. It’s easier to say no than to chase someone down for your only pen or scramble to find another one so you won’t be in trouble. Believe me, you don’t want to worry about a pen because you have bigger things to deal with. Like…
Where was I? Oh yeah, it’s still pre-dawn. You’ve made it out of the house and to the airport on time. But when you board the aircraft, you get that sinking feeling in your gut cause you know it’s going to be the longest four-day trip of your life. The reason? The flight attendant standing in the back galley – the one you have to work with for four days – is your worst nightmare, the one person at work who hates you. The one who:
is crazy as hell and you’ll have to deal with the drama
is lazy as hell so you’ll have to do all the work
is rude to passengers
is getting a divorce
is crazy as hell
is on some sort of bizarre liver/spleen/toenail cleanse that makes her cranky
is not participating in a twelve-step program for – gambling, sex addiction, drugs, or alcohol – but needs to be
is spreading untrue rumors that you’re the reason she’s about to get fired, causing the rest of the crew to avoid you out of fear.
is crazy as hell – Did I already mention that?
After you get through the first awkward moments, you’re ready for passengers. Everything is going well until you see the passengers you’ll be dealing with.
The Rude Celebrity
Every so often, a famous person flies on a commercial flight. I’ve had a former president, a well-loved professional athlete, several musicians, and a few A-list actors on my plane. Most are gracious and kind, but some are so full of themselves I’m not sure how their heads fit through the boarding door.
Several years back, a friend of mine had Alex Rodriguez on her flight. He wanted to borrow her pen. (Like I said – It’s the dreaded pen – every time!) Anyway, she lent it to him and asked him to kindly return it when he finished. Well, he gave it back alright, but couldn’t resist giving her a sarcastic remark as well – something along the lines – Here’s your all important pen.
And yeah, I’m calling out A-Rod for being rude. For some of us, I’m sure this comes as no surprise.
Believe me, she didn’t want her pen back so she could fawn over it with her friends after his performance-enhanced fingertips had touched it. She was being nice to lend it to him in the first place. And honestly, she shouldn’t have, unless he was willing to pay her fine and/or salary if she was fired for not having a “required duty item.”
So, A-Rod, if you’re reading this – just know for next time, it’s probably not a good idea to act like a jerk when you don’t understand someone else’s circumstances. Still, I’ll cut you a little slack because you aren’t the only celebrity who has acted out on a flight – but I’ll save that list for another time.
The Rude Nobodies
Then, there are the people who are rude – just because. Take for instance, another friend of mine, who told me about a woman who refused to speak to her after she had asked the woman numerous times what she wanted to eat. (Even though this was when airline food was free!) Confused, my friend wondered why she wouldn’t answer. Finally, the woman’s husband spoke up, telling my friend what his wife wanted, explaining that his wife didn’t “speak to the hired help.” Unfortunately for the woman, she didn’t get a meal because my friend, the “hired help,” couldn’t hear her order. Oh, well.
After a while, the condescension does get to you. As much as you’d like to ignore it, you’re reminded daily that people consider you nothing more than a minion to do their bidding, instead of someone who could actually save their life in an emergency.
So, you take a deep breath and step into the galley to give yourself a pep-talk. You’re going to need one today and you’re pretty sure you aren’t going to get one from the passengers.
So, everyone is seated and ready to go. But then the Captain makes an announcement you don’t want to hear. There’s a delay due to a mechanical problem. Your morning drags on. Because of the delay, you can’t close the aircraft door. You can’t deplane. You’re stuck. Not only do you have to wait, like the poor passengers who are squeezed into their seats, worrying about missed connections and throwing out questions you have no way of answering, but you aren’t getting paid. Yep, that’s right. Until the aircraft door is closed, your flight attendant doesn’t get paid. Which brings me to…
Flight attendants are paid an hourly wage that begins when the aircraft door closes and ends when the door opens. That means, all the boarding hassles? Free. All the luggage rearrangements? Free. All the cups of water before take-off, the safety checks, the irritated passengers, the questions flight attendants answer while walking through the terminal? They don’t get paid for any of it.
These are some the most difficult parts of their job and they do it all for free. Imagine not getting paid by your employer for doing the job you hate most. That’s what a flight attendant goes through – several times a day – every time they go to work.
The Never-Ending Day
Well, two hours and three yelling matches later (passengers yelling at you, not vice-versa) the door closes and your flight finally departs. All-in-all, your day is going great.
No sarcasm intended. Seriously, this is a good day. A bad day would include local police forcibly removing a mentally ill passenger who, released too soon from the hospital, threatens you with this gem: “I’m going to f*** you up cause I’m the Master with the two-edged sword.” And yes, this actually happened to me.
Anyway, once the flight is over, you breathe a sigh of relief. One flight down, three more to go – today.
It’s Ground Hog day. You go through it again.
Greet the passengers. Smile.
Seat the passengers. Delay.
Handle problems. Smile.
Repeat X 3
By the time the day is over, you’re exhausted and spent. And even though you’ve ended up in McAllen, Texas instead of Anchorage, Alaska, like the scheduler said when he called at you at 3am, you don’t care. You’re just happy the day is done. By the time you actually arrive at your hotel, you have five and a half hours to sleep before the whole thing starts over again the next day.
Yes, every flight attendant knows these difficulties come with the job, but they’re human and they get tired, just like everyone else. So instead of giving your flight attendant a hard time, maybe you should give him/her a writing pen. Believe me, you’ll make their day.