Food Poisoning: Sick in the Sky

Warning: In this post I talk about my food poisoning. It gets somewhat graphic.

 

food_poisoning1It’s a 6 day pairing staying in various cities in Canada, Cuba, and Mexico. These kinds of pairings are very tiring and it’s pretty easy to get sick.

I was staying in Edmonton when I first started feeling a little off. The previous day I had flown in from a layover in Cuba and this wasn’t the first time I’ve had… umm… digestive issues after staying in a tropical destination. For that reason I wasn’t too concerned when the symptoms started up. They usually pass pretty quickly. I’d also had a pretty busy day with my crew. I’d met them for brunch and gone to the movies with them as well. I also spent a good amount of time running errands and planning for my upcoming vacation. I’d eaten a lot that day and told myself that all of these could be contributing factors.

I continued my routine for the day. I even went out to get a haircut before meeting my crew for dinner.

After dinner I went back to my room to go to bed and that’s when things began to get pretty bad.

I won’t get into too much detail but I’ll tell you that I was in and out of the washroom pretty much all night. Eventually I did manage to go to bed, but I think I got about 3 hours of sleep total before it was time to get up, put my uniform on, and head to the lobby to meet the crew.

I should have called in sick. But for some reason I kept telling myself that I didn’t have enough time to book off without delaying the flight. I needed to be a team player. (Keep in mind we were in Edmonton. There was no other crew there. If I called in sick, the flight would have been delayed at LEAST 4 or 5 hours since they’d have needed to call someone in from Vancouver.)

So I got ready. Sort of. As soon as I got out of bed that morning I was in the washroom again. I’d get up, start to brush my teeth, and then go back to the washroom. I swear I was on the toilet every 5 minutes. I was passing food from the night before and it was undigested.

It was painful.

I’d be on the toilet saying to myself, “Okay. I’m booking off. As soon as I can get up.” But as soon as I was up I felt better and would decide “No. I’m fine now. I’ll work the flight.”

This went on for 30 minutes. I was shaking. I was exhausted. I felt like I might fall apart. Finally I called my Cabin Manager’s room. I was going to tell him I’d be booking off. Unfortunately he didn’t answer. He was already in the lobby. I decided that meant it was too late to be sick. I composed myself, finished getting ready, and went down to the lobby.

Through some miracle my constant need to be near a washroom subsided. When I met up with my Cabin Manager I told him I wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t tell him how bad it had been.

From the hotel to the airplane I was more or less fine. Tired, untalkative, a little pale, but otherwise fine. I completed my pre-flight checks, we loaded our passengers, and we took off. It wasn’t until we were in the air that the second wave hit me. This time was different though. I spent a little time in the lavatory, but there wasn’t anything left in me.

Instead I just kept experiencing really bad abdominal pain. The first time it hit I was in the galley. It was so painful all I could do was sit in the jump-seat, hold my abdomen, and lean forward until my head touched my knees. It was so bad I couldn’t work. I’d be in the aisle with a cart, and it would strike. I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain. All I’d manage to do is look up at the other Flight Attendant across the cart and say to her “I’ll be right back”. I’d hold my composure until I got to the galley and again I’d go straight to the jump-seat where I’d hold myself, lean forward, and wait for the pain to pass.

It turned out that our Captain was having the same issues as well. Although his symptoms didn’t start until that morning at the airport. Around the time I started getting the abdominal pain, he was getting hit with the diarrhea. He spent much of his flight in and out of the forward lavatory. Luckily it was our First Officer who was actually flying the plane that day. Otherwise we’d probably have diverted.

My pains came and went in waves. It went on for about 3 hours. I’d tried taking Pepto but it did nothing. It was awful. The only thing that provided any relief was ginger ale. After a bar service there was a half can about to be dumped and I decided I needed to drink something so I took it. It settled my stomach enough that I was actually able to get up and help a little bit with the services. I called up the Captain and recommended he have some ginger ale as well.

From that point things got easier. By the time we’d landed in Cancun the abdominal pain was much more mild and infrequent. By the next morning it was nearly gone all together. It would no longer affect my fitness to fly.

Sadly we couldn’t say the same for the poor Captain. Even the next day he was still very ill. He called in sick from Cancun. Luckily the crew bringing in the aircraft for our flight out of Cancun was deadheading back. We were able to take one of their pilots and bring the plane home without a delay.

When I got back to Vancouver I filed an incident report with the company over what happened. As it turned out the Captain and I had eaten the same crew meal which was evidently improperly prepared. It was a chicken crew meal that had been catered to us in Cuba. The plane we picked up in Cuba was scheduled to sit on the ground – in the heat – for about 4 hours before we arrived to take it to Edmonton. So instead of catering the return meals in Canada, my airline contracted a company in Cuba to provide our meals in order to (ironically) prevent the crew from getting food poisoning.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this, of course: If I’m sitting on the toilet thinking to myself, “Should I book off?”, then the answer is, “Yes, you stupid food poisoned moron.”

 

Jumpseating

Naturally one of the perks of my job is the flight benefits.
At my airline we have a few options for employees including:

Annual Confirmed Passes (a limited number of ultra-cheap confirmed tickets per year)
Last Minute Confirmed Passes (unlimited confirmed seats, that can be booked no more than 48 hours in advance. Not inexpensive, but a heck of a lot cheaper than full fare)
Standby Tickets (show up at the airport and if there is room on the flight you fly for an Super-Ultra-Cheap flat rate)

And then there’s Jumpseating.

A friend of mine moved to Regina last summer and tweeted me at my TheseGoldWings twitter account* mentioning I had YET to visit him there. My plans this winter were to hold layovers in Regina and visit a few times per month. Unfortunately my upgrade to Cabin Manager this season has resulted in my sitting on reserve since January. I haven’t even flown in over a month. As such, I’ve had no opportunity to layover in Regina.

With that in mind I replied to my friend “I wonder if I can jumpseat to Regina on a day off” and then went into our system to see what was flying in and our of YQR on my off days.

Jumpseating at my airline is pretty simple: We agree to work a flight for free as an extra crew member on board, and in exchange we don’t have to pay anything at all to fly where we want to go. To request a jumpseat we need to submit an email to the company the week before we want to travel. On the Friday of that week, someone in Toronto reviews all the requests and approves or denies them based on if they meet the requirements for operating crew. As long as we meet the legal requirements (things like minimum crew rest) we get a response stating the jumpseat is approved and they send us the authorization form needed to board the flight.

Getting the approval to fly is no problem generally. My setbacks usually lie with my company’s business model. We’re a vacation charter airline. We don’t fly to Regina. Not from Vancouver anyway. I figured to visit my friend I was going to have to work my way down to Cancun or something, and then work my way up to Regina.

But I got lucky! After a little digging through the schedules I found that once a week my airline is operating a double stop. Vancouver – Regina – Montego Bay. What more? The plane does a turn around the same day. Montego Bay – Regina – Vancouver. And on top of that? There was a day where it was operating right smack in the middle of a 3 day off period in my schedule, and it was also a day off for my friend in Regina. Everything lined up for me to take a day trip to the prairies!

I sent in my request asking to jumpseat to Regina on the flight in the morning, and then rejoin the aircraft that night to go back home.
When I got my response I was originally denied my return flight because they misread my schedule and thought I didn’t have enough crew rest after getting back into Vancouver. After some quick emailing back and forth I was able to get that cleared up though and they approved my return flight.

The very next week I took off for Regina and met up with my friend for the day. Of course, if you follow me on Facebook* or Twitter* you knew that [art already because I live tweeted* the very intense game of Settlers of Catan that we played during my visit.

One of the privileges in my career is that the world really is a lot smaller for me. Most of my friends in Vancouver simply have to say “goodbye” when someone they know moves away. For me, it’s more like “see ya later.”
Admittedly if I worked for a larger airline it’d probably be easier to get to places like Regina. But as long as I stay creative, I can usually find a way to make it happen anyway.

*He says in an obvious attempt to get you to follow TheseGoldWings on Twitter or Jet.Attendant on the TheseGoldWings Facebook page.

When your day isn’t quite long enough…

This came up on my Facebook feed this morning and I couldn’t help but share it…

 

“That moment when you’re tired and delirious after a long day and you get to the door of your hotel room and the key doesn’t work… Then after swearing and trying to force the door open just before you go downstairs to get a new one you realize it’s a Tim Horton’s gift card.”

I think I can safely say we’ve all had days like that.

Crew Changes and Fatigue

Today I’m in Regina. Super easy pairing. I woke up at 02:00 this morning, got ready for work, and left home at 03:30. I arrived at the airport early at 04:00 for my 04:45 check in. Once the rest of my crew arrived we had our  pre-flight briefing and went down to the aircraft to do our pre-flight checks. I was in the galley today and noticed we were short by about 30 hot meals. It took a while to figure out, but we eventually got catering to return while we were boarding passengers and provide the missing meals. Luckily we got it all sorted out in a timely fashion and had on time departure at 06:00.

The flight was uneventful. It was a little less than 2 hours, so we offered a bar service and showed some sitcoms on the entertainment system. I’m just getting over a cold, so for much of the flight I unfortunately had a pressure headache.

We landed on time in Regina and were at the gate at 10:10 local time. In Regina we conducted a crew change with a Calgary based crew who took the plane down to Montego Bay, Jamaica.

My crew will stay here in Regina all day before we go back to the airport tonight around 23:30. We’ll meet that same YYC crew and take over the aircraft for the final leg back to YVR, arriving around 01:00.

It’s not a very difficult day, to say the least. As you can tell though, it’s a long day. Since it’s too long to legally (or sensibly) have one crew operate, the airline breaks the day down with two crews. One to operate the main portion of the flights, and another to catch the beginning and tail ends. It’s all designed to avoid fatigue.

I actually had a flight a few weeks ago that the captain terminated due to fatigue. We’d operated down to Cuba, after a series of extended delays beyond our control. The final straw was in Cuba when the airline couldn’t get a flight plan for us to go home. We sat at the airport, passengers onboard, waiting to go home. We waited for an extra 30 minutes. Finally the captain decided it was too much. We’d been on duty for too long, and there was no possible way to get the aircraft home before exceeding Transport Canada’s requirements on a maximum duty day. He pulled the plug, so to speak, and informed the passengers of the situation. We had to send everyone back to their hotels (paid for by the company, of course), and then spend a minimum rest period in Cuba. We ended up taking everyone home the morning after. Luckily we were flying to the prairies! Aside from a few (understandably) angry passengers, most people were okay with the situation. After all, it was a safety risk. Most people don’t want the pilots of a 737 to operate while fatigued!

That’s an extreme example, and luckily it’s very rare. But it’s also why my you see airlines planning crew changes on certain flights. It prevents situations like that from happening.
It’s not a bad deal for my crew either. Today we’ll get 8 hours credit, for 2 flights under 2 hours. On top of that we’ll also get an hourly per diem for all the time spent her in Regina.

Not a bad deal at all!

Adventures in Geocaching

One of my many hobbies outside of the aviation world is Geocaching. It’s something that I tend to do when I have nothing else to work on. If you don’t already know what geocaching is, you should watch the video I’ve attached at the end of this post. Otherwise what I’m writing about today might not make sense.

I recently upgraded from a traditional cell phone to a GPS enabled smartphone. Shortly after getting the phone I realized I could put the Geocaching app on it, and that’s exactly what I did. It’s great because i meants I no longer am required to plan in advance if I want to look for a cache. Whenever I’m out, if I have time to kill I can just start up the app and find the nearest geocache (and trust me, they’re EVERYWHERE). It wasn’t long until I started geocaching on Layover.

The best instance of this was on a recent pairing to Varadero. I had explained geocaching to our cabin manager before the flight down because she’d seen me downloading coordinates to the phone. She’d since told other flight crew members, and by the time we’d arrived in the resort most of the crew had expressed interest in looking for a geocache with me.

As you might know, our flight crews stay at all inclusive resorts owned by the airline’s parent company when we stay down south. This perk often means we spend much of the day enjoying… crew juice… at the bar. By the time we’d decided to look for the geocache, I can honestly tell you that out of all the people in this flight crew my GPS was more coordinated than any of us. (all of us being the Captain, Cabin Manager, myself, and another flight attendant.)

Later on in the day, our CM said to me “Jet, lets find that geocache.”

Me: “Okay!”

I pull out the geocaching app, “There’s one about 500 metres (547 yards) South East of here.”

Excitedly, everyone hurries off. Unfortunately they went North West. (towards the beach.)

I said to them, “Uhh guys, it’s that way.”

But they insisted that we could head to the beach and then “cut through.” Not that that made any sense, of course. None the less, I went along with them. I decided I’d let them figure it out for themselves. Frankly, It wasn’t a huge loss to me if we never found it. After a good 30 minutes of walking along the beach in the wrong direction someone finally realized we were never going to find it this way. We turned around and made our way back to the resort. Once there I started up the GPS again and we went off on the correct heading towards the geocache. We only made one pit stop to refill on “crew juice”.

From the bar, the GPS lead us about 430 metres (470 yards) to the site of the geocache. The site was a monument to someone who had lived in the area a long time ago. I read out the details of the cache, which explained the significance of the person and the monument. Then we began searching.

Of course by now it had gotten dark. I was using my phone’s flashlight to try and see into every darkened corner and crevice. But as you can imagine, we’d been enjoying the hotel’s amenities all day and weren’t in the best condition to be playing this game. Just try and picture 3 bibulous flight attendants and their captain all with drinks in hand, combing over a monument Cuba. Anyone watching from the outside would have thought we’d lost something important… probably our minds.

In fact 2 locals saw us and stood by the road watching us for the duration of our search. Apparently one of them tried to ask one of our FAs something, but they didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Spanish. He probably wanted to know what we’d lost.

Needless to say we never found that geocache. But we did log our visit on the cache’s webpage as “did not find” once we retuned to YVR. A day later the cache owner emailed me with a hint on it’s whereabouts. Of course by then I was already home. Obviously I bid for VRA again next month so I can go back and actually find it.

Since that day I’ve learned all 3 of those crew members have taken an interest in geocaching.

 

 

Delayed in YWG

Well, here I am again in Winnipeg. It’s a toasty -14°C. Of course I’m here against my will. Well, sort of.
I bid for this pairing for two reasons. Mostly because it left on boxing day, making it illegal for crew scheduling to fly me out on Christmas. But also because wedged between a stay over in Winnipeg and Saskatoon/Regina is a cozy two nights in Jamaica.

I’d set my alarm for 6:30 this morning. We were to meet in the lobby at 7:30am to head to the airport. But at 6:15 I got a call. That’s never a good thing. I woke up disoriented (I was still fast asleep… it took all my focus to figure out where the phone was). I answered,

“Hello?”

“Hi Jet, it’s _______” (It was our Cabin Manager)

“Oh, Hi.”

“The Aircraft is delayed. It went mechanical down south last night.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Our new check in time is 18:30.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“…you don’t get what I’m saying, do you?” (She could tell I just woke up and wasn’t thinking)

“No.”

(She laughs a little) “18:30. We check in at 6:30.”

At this point it’s still not clicking for me. 6:30? I have to be in the lobby in 15 minutes? Then… “click!” I realized the flight is delayed by nearly 12 hours.

“Oh No! Awwww!”

“Yeah, I know. It’ll be a red eye flight. So… go back to bed.”

“Ughh. Thanks. See you tonight.” Click.

Worst. Possible. Timing.

We’re taking the aircraft to Jamaica today for our two night layover. Of course since it’s delayed, I’m spending today in Winnipeg and operating overnight to MBJ. Which means I’ll only get 1 night in Jamaica, and for what was supposed to be our only full day there, I’ll be exhausted from A) Being up all night and B) Being ill prepared, since I had slept for a morning flight, not a red eye.

How disappointing.

But I’ll have to make the best of it. I’ll still get a decent amount of time in the sun. I was thinking about going on an excursion, but now I think I’ll get enjoy the beach.

I hope our passengers aren’t too upset. The last time something like this happened to me, the airline gave them $150 in travel vouchers, as well as meal vouchers, and out-of-towners also recieved hotel accommodation for the day. I hope everyone was contacted before they reached the airport. That was also out of Winnipeg, everyone seemed to be in a good mood that day… we’ll see if it works out that way again.