I thought I’d try and write to you about an average day as a flight attendant. I write so often about specific events or when things go awry, I thought it be nice to outline how things usually happen. Today I’ll describe for you an average (fictional) turn around flight.
My airline has a lot of flights from many Canadian cities. There are no crew based in most of these cities. Instead the airline flies employees from nearby bases to work these flights. Yesterday afternoon I deadheaded into Winnipeg on another airline. The crew was very nice to me, as they usually are.
It’s 03:30 and I’m just getting up to start my day. I originally set my alarm for 03:00, but I’ve hit snooze about 3 times now. The flight I’m operating leaves at 06:00, as a crew we need to check into the airport at 04:30. Our hotel in Winnipeg isn’t too far from the airport, but since we need to do a pre-flight briefing we’ve agreed to meet in the lobby at 04:10. Luckily my uniform ironed and ready to go, so getting ready doesn’t take too long.
I make a habit of getting to the briefings early, so by 04:00 I’m in the lobby. One of the other crew members is already there. I say hi and we make small talk about the hotel and what we did in YWG yesterday afternoon before going to bed. Before I know it the whole crew is there and we begin briefing. The briefing begins with a variety safety, security, and first aid knowledge verification questions. We have to be able to prove that we know our stuff before we’re allowed to operate the flight. It’s usually about 3 questions each. When I first started, this was the most nerve wracking part of my day. Since then of course it’s become routine.
After the questions we’re given our positions for the day. I’ll be working an aisle position and will be in charge of the other wing exits. I like this position because it means I get to interact with passengers and control the entertainment system. I’m a bit of a tech geek so I enjoy pressing the buttons. We’re also told about the details of the day’s flight including flight time, if there are any special meals to be loaded on, if there are any passengers that need any special care, and if/when to expect turbulence. On today’s flight we’re looking at some light turbulence after take off, and there is also an infant onboard.
Finally our shuttle arrives and we’re whisked away to the airport. It’s cold outside. -25°C. When the shuttle gets to the airport we grab our bags as quickly as possible and make a B-line to the airport doors. From there we make our way to the crew bypass. I don’t like by-passing in YWG. At this airport we have to scan our security passes to enter a special little room. Once locked in the room, you have to scan your card again, and then scan your finger print or iris. Once accepted, a door on the other side unlocks and you can go through. The problem is that half the time it rejects the scans. Sometimes it even kicks you out before you walk up to the scanner! For me that’s what usually happens. It often takes me up to 3 tries just to enter the room and walk up to the scanner.
Once we finally get through the bypass (which in my opinion sometimes takes longer than going through security at this particular airport), we head into the departure lounge. Usually the plane is there waiting for us to board and do our pre-flight checks. If it’s going to be late we’ll normally get a call from crew scheduling advising us to wait at the hotel so that we’re still on crew rest time. Today the plane is just a little bit late getting in. It’s just pulled into the gate and has started letting passengers off. As a crew, we wait by the gate to board. While we’re waiting, a pax for our flight who is sitting nearby asks us if we’re serving meals today. I delightfully tell them that indeed we’ll be serving a hot breakfast. They ask me what we’re having and I say “Well, I’ll have to check once we’re on board, but it’s probably a choice scrambled eggs or French toast.” The passenger’s partner then jokes with me “I didn’t know airlines even still served food!” I chuckle along with them and say “I think we’re the only one that still does.”
With that the previous crew leaves the aircraft. I recognize one of my friends from training and wave to her from behind the glass. She excitedly waves back, and then makes her way to Canada Customs. Once everyone’s off the aircraft, the gate agent opens the door and lets us onto the jet bridge. A few of the passengers who saw us arrive started lining up behind us when we got to the gate. They think we’re boarding now, so they try to follow us onto the plane. Of course the gate agent closes the door once we’re through and politely lets the passengers know that we’re not boarding yet, but will be shortly.
Onboard The Aircraft
Once we board the aircraft, it’s down to business.
We need to get the passengers onboard, but before that we have to make sure the aircraft is ready for them. I make my way to the aft galley. Just before I get there I stop and drop my bags on a passenger seat. I pull out my supplies that I’ll need for the flight, and I put my bags in the overhead bin.
I then go to my section of the aircraft and make sure all the necessary emergency equipment is there and in useable condition. I also check that all my seats have safety cards and life jackets and finally I test the entertainment system. Luckily for me, the position I’m in today is the easiest as far as pre-flight checks go.
While I’m doing all this the other FAs are verifying the equipment in there sections, ensuring the lav equipment is functioning and that the lav supplies are stalked. At some point we’ll hear the pilot over the PA, “PA Verification, Forward and Aft Galley”. At that point whoever is closest to the interphone will call the flight deck and say something like, “Aft galley, verified.”
At the same time, we have groomers on the aircraft picking up all the garbage left behind. One of them hands me a book that was left behind by a passenger. I ask her to take it to the front galley, where our Cabin Manager will have it sent to the airport’s lost and found. The caterers are also onboard, loading the last of the canisters, meal carts, and service items.
Once I finish, I head over to the galley and ask the FA if she needs any help with the meal counts or anything. Once the galley flight attendant finishes her pre-flight checks she then has to count all the meals and trays for the flight, as well as document the locations for all our inflight service items. When I ask if I can help, she usually asks me locate the service items. I’ll go through all the overhead bins and find the headsets, return meals, kids toys, snacks, and so forth. I’ll then write down where each one is, and for the return meals I’ll also note the amount in each box. I’ll then return that information to the galley FA who will call the forward galley and total the amount of supplies we have to ensure we have enough for our passenger load.
Finally, the Cabin Manager comes on the PA, “Hey Guys. I’ve called for boarding.”
The other aisle flight attendants and I make our way to our “boarding positions”. The places we’re supposed to stand while the passengers board (My advice: get good shoes, we stand a lot in this job). Of course in reality we’re helping passengers with bags and trying to stay out of the way while people get to their seats, so I don’t actually spend much time in that assigned spot.
As passengers make their way down the aisle, I offer to take bags from people who are carrying a lot. I especially like to help families with small children. They always have so much going on that I think they appreciate any help they can get. This also benefits the other passengers, as it helps get people in their seats faster and clears the aisle so more people can get through.
Finally we get everyone onboard, and I start closing the over head bins. Now that everyone is seated, we can close the doors and prepare to taxi out. As I close the last bin, I see a passenger has gotten out of his seat, opened the bin above him to retrieve his bag, and has started looking for something. I approach him and say “Excuse me sir, we need to close the aircraft doors, but we can’t do that until your bag is away and you’re seated.”
He says back to me, “Well, you can just wait until I’m finished!”
It was a little rude, but I understand that traveling can be stressful, especially to those who don’t travel often. Furthermore he might think that I’m asking him to sit down simply because its an inconvenience for me. Which of course isn’t true. Granted I need to get my section seated, but it’s still an inconvenience to the everyone on board when we can’t push back from the gate.
So I smile and say, “Of course. If you’re looking for something you need by all means go ahead. But just to let you know, all these passengers are waiting for you to finish so they can start their vacation.” I know that’s not the most polite thing to say, but I’m under a lot of pressure to get the passengers in my section seated with their baggage stowed. Frankly, if I didn’t tell him to put the bag away I could be held responsible to delaying the flight.
He looks up and sees a few people looking at him, and realizes that he’s holding up the aircraft. He says “Okay.” Puts the bag away, and takes his seat.
I smile again and say, “If you need anything else from your bag, you feel free to get it once were in the air and the seatbelt sign is off.”
With that I turn to the front galley. By now all the other FAs have gone to the galleys. I see my CM standing there and I give her a friendly thumbs up to signal that my section is seated and the bags are away. This isn’t a security requirement, but since she was waiting on me I wanted to make sure she knew i was doing my best to get everyone seated. It could have looked like I was simply chatting with a passenger.
As I head to the aft galley I hear “Flight attendants, please arm doors and crosscheck.” On this flight I don’t have a door to arm, so I just grab the demo kits and sanitize my demo oxygen mask. Once the doors are armed, I hand a demo kit to the other aft aisle FA and we head to our demo positions.
I neatly lay out my demo items in front of me and wait for our CM to start the announcement. A passenger sees me pull the life jacket out and gasps. She says “What’s happening?!” I smile and say “We’re about to do a safety demonstration for everyone.” Her boyfriend chuckles and tells her about how they do this on all flights. He mentions that some airlines use videos instead, but he likes the ‘live performances’ better.
The demo starts. “Ladies and Gentlemen, (my airline) considers your safety most important. We ask for your full attention for the following safety demonstration…” Once the English demonstration is finished, I hear another passenger nearby say “I thought they had to do it in both languages.” I hear someone else say “I think only Air Canada has to do that.” Promptly after she says that the recording starts up en Français. “Madams et monsieur’s …” “Oh, never mind.” I hear the passenger say. I chuckle to myself as I point to the exits.
Once the demo is done, I go right into checking seatbelts (With my demo life jacket still on). Most people have there stuff together. Usually I just have to remind a few people to put their arm rests down, put jackets behind there backs or under the seats, tuck their bags in, and of course to put their seatbelts on. On more rare occasions I have to ask people to put their tray tables up, open their windows, or put there seats back up. Although usually most people don’t play with those things until after take off.
Once I finish my section I head to the aft galley, put away my demo kit, and take my jump seat. Shortly after that our CM meets us back there. She’s just finished a verification that the cabin is secure. She checks the galley, locks the lavs, and says “see ya later.” With that she heads up to the front galley, and let’s the captain know the cabin is secure.
We taxi out to the runway and the captain comes onto the PA, “Flight Attendants, please be seated.”
We take our brace positions and silently review our safety procedures. The plane taxis out to the runway and takes off. Once the landing gear retracts we stop reviewing, and our CM begins making her announcements about today’s inflight service.
After Take off
“Ladies and gentlemen, at this time the captain has left the seatbelt sign on. We ask that you remain seated with your seatbelts fastened and refrain from using the lavatories at this time. On today’s flight we are pleased to offer you a…”
In the back, we’re waiting for the seatbelt sign to turn off so we can begin preparing for service. As our CM finishes her English announcements the sign is turned off. I unfasten my harness and make my way to the aisle to turn on the entertainment system (the console for which is located in an overhead bin). I hit the power button and wait for the onscreen message “System is starting. Please wait.” While I’m out there our aft galley flight attendant has already turned on the ovens. Usually we wait a little while before starting the ovens, but since this is a morning flight we’ll be doing our meal service before the bar. The galley FA calls out to me “I don’t have enough champagne glasses, and you’re taller than me. Can you bring me a stack?” “Sure, just a sec” I say. When it comes to getting things from the overhead bins, I’m always asked first. It’s because I’m tall.
While I’m grabbing the glasses a pax asks me, “Do you mind getting me a glass of water?” “Sure thing.” I say while I pull out the stack of glasses from a box in the bin above her.
Her husband chimes in, “Can I get a rum and coke?”
“I’ll see if the bar has been unlocked yet. That’ll be $5 when I return.”
When I’m back in the galley, the FA has already started pouring champagne. The other aisle Flight Attendant took off to the forward galley to start distributing customs cards. I hand the GFA her champagne cups and take a look at the bar. It’s been unlocked. I say to her, “Passenger 29C needs a glass of water and 29B would like a rum and coke. I’ll take care of it.”
“Great, thanks!” she replies. It’s a little bit bumpy right now so she’s focusing heavily on not spilling the champagne.
I pull out a couple classes and start pouring that water.
*Bing Bong!* The interphone rings.
I pick up the phone. “Hi this is Jet in the aft galley.” “Hey it’s Samantha (CMs Name), I have an updated flight time, we’re looking at 5 hours 42 minutes. Also Rick (captain) won’t be having a crew meal and Tina (first officer) would like to know the options.”
“Okay, I’ll bring a list up shortly.”
”Great, Also everyone seems pretty tired still, so if you need to contact me don’t call, just come up to the front unless it’s important. No need to fill the cabin with unnecessary ‘bing bongs’.”
“Alrighty. Thanks, bye.” *click*
The CM comes on the PA: Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we’ll be distributing the Mexican immigration forms…”
I finish pouring the water and put together the rum and coke. Since I have a flare for going over the top, I line a small silver tray with a couple napkins and set the drinks nicely on the tray. In the aisle I present the tray to the couple and give them their drinks. After I’ve collected the $5 for the rum, I head back to the galley where I put it in my float, and mark down on a napkin “Rum: I”. This’ll be my tally for the flight.
I head back to the entertainment system and pop in the first tape, which features various advertisements. These machines are a little finicky, but that’s why I love them. As I pop the first tape in it automatically starts rewinding. I hit stop, and then I hit rewind. This way I’ll ensure the tape is in fact rewound, but it won’t start to play automatically once it finishes rewinding.
I look into the aisle and see that the CM and my AFA (Kevin) are both still pretty close to the front of the cabin. Right now there’s a small amount of time where I’m not required to be doing anything. I think it’s so I can assist the galley, but since our GFA is on top of things today I decide to grab the box of headsets and them into a basket. I make my way to the front of the cabin and begin distributing headsets to everyone. This just is supposed to be done by the same AFA that is doing the customs cards, but I figure it’ll save everyone some time if I do it instead. In the galley I’ll mostly just be in the way.
In the mid section almost everyone says no to the headsets, so I manage to get ahead of the other FAs with the customs cards. The very last passenger that I offer a headset to asks me “Are they free?” “Sure are!” I say as I hand a set over.
I put the box of headsets away, leaving about a third of the basket in the galley. Then I go over to the entertainment system and on the touch screen select “manual mode > deck 1 > execute all”. With that all the screens drop down from the overhead bins. I watch carefully as one screen fails to light up, and then retracts. I wait a few seconds and it comes back down, locks into position and starts up.
With that I hear:
Several people have pressed their call buttons. I grab the basket of headphones and make my way to the middle of the cabin. The group of people who previously said no to the headsets have changed their mind. Another passenger’s headset isn’t working. A third said that everything is in French. I let him know to change it to channel 1.
The champagne is ready to be served by the time I’m back in the galley. The GFA hands me a large tray of pre-poured glasses and I make my way to my section.
“Would you like a glass of champagne?” Almost everyone smiles and says yes.
About 3 and a half tray’s later I finish my section. Surprisingly few people asked me for orange juice as well. For a morning flight, that is. I head back to the galley, and trade my champagne soaked tray for a clean empty tray and make my way through my section again to pick up the empty glasses.
Finally it’s time for meal service. While we were doing our champagne service our GFA was busy unloading the cooked meals and loading up the trollies. She’s also ready with the hot towels. I’m impressed. This GFA is really on the ball. Since we’re ready, I was about to head up to the forward galley to see if they’re ready for the meal service too. Just then we hear “Ding! Ding! Ding!” on a passengers call button. For those who don’t know, that means “trouble!” I look wide eyed at my AFA and we both look into the aisle, where Samantha is in the middle of the cabin addressing a passenger. She’s pressed the call button and is waving us over.
Both my AFA and I rush over to our CM. I’m thinking to myself, “Is this a medical emergency!? What’s going on?” My heart is pounding.
As we’re running up to our Cabin Manager, I see the pax vomit into an airsickness bag. In fact, the passenger has been sick everywhere.
Samantha says to us, “This gentleman is airsick. Kevin, I need you to bring up some extra sick bags and some paper towels. Maybe wet a few of those first. Jet, I need you to continue with service and help out with Kevin’s section until we get this cleaned up.”
I’m so glad I didn’t get asked to help out with the sick passenger. I would have done it, but it might have made me feel sick as well!
When I get back to the galley, I pick up the interphone and make the meal announcement that would normally be done by our CM since she’s still helping with the sick passenger.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are about to commence with our hot meal service. The flight attendants will shortly begin distributing hot towels…”
I then combine both mine and Kevin’s trays of hot towels and complete both our sections. By the time I finish with the hot towels Kevin has finished cleaning up the mess and says to me that it still smells pretty bad. He’s concerned that people will be too grossed out to eat.
In a situation like that there is only one thing that can help. I grab a packet of coffee grinds and head out into the cabin. When I get to the sick passenger, I dump the coffee grinds onto the floor where the mess had been and grind them into the carpet. Almost instantly the smell of sick has been covered with the smell of coffee. It’s not an ideal situation, but at least it’s comfortable enough to be sitting in that area.
I head back to the galley and wash my hands.
Finally I see that Samantha and the front galley flight attendant have started meal service at the front of the aircraft. Kevin and I grab our trolleys and start service our section.
“Would you like French Toast or Scrambled eggs?” I ask. All three have the eggs.
“French Toast of Scrambled eggs?” Three eggs. Shoot, if this keeps up I’m going to run out of eggs! Time for a new tactic… Next row:
“Eggs or French Toast with cherry sauce?” 1 person has eggs, the other two have French Toast. Much better!
Since it’s breakfast, the meal service moves along very quickly. Usually we have to pour a glass of wine with the meal, but at breakfast there is a sealed cup of juice already on the tray. All we need to do is hand it out.
After the meals are done we roll the trollies back into the galley where our GFA has already set up the coffee and tea cart. We take the cart out right away and do the coffee service. A lot of my flight attendant colleagues have mentioned to me how they find it annoying when the passenger never specifies that they want cream or sugar, and then complains when they don’t get it. I usually just ask before I pour anything, it saves a lot of time that way.
Coffee and Tea service moves along efficiently. The odd person asks for a Coke or juice and I promise to get that for them as soon as I’m done with coffee. Since it’s a long flight, once we finish with coffee and tea, we head back through the aisle again and see if anyone wants a refill. Finally we finish and put the cart away.
Next we come back out with the empty carts from meal service and collect all the garbage. I like to ask people how they enjoyed their meals as I take away the trays. Usually people say something along the lines of “It was great, thank you.”.
After garbage collection is finished, we seal up the carts and put them away.
Depending on the length of the flight and the personality of our CM, we’ll either start taking breaks at this point or continue on with service. Despite being a longer flight, we’ve been told we’ll be starting bar and beverage service.
It doesn’t take long to set up the bar cart, since we’re all helping the GFA do so. I notice that there is only 1 carton of tomato juice on the cart so I ask her if she has any more.
“I do, but do we really need more than one on the cart?”
“Oh Yes!” I reply. “Especially on a morning flight. We need at least 3.”
Something I’ve always known about flying, even before I was a flight attendant, is that all carriers with beverage service should always have lots of tomato and Clamato juice onboard. Canadians love that stuff.
Once we’re in the aisle we get started. I get to my first row, hand out some snacks, and ask “Can I get you a beverage?” The passengers take the snack, say “Thank you.” and turn back to the movie.
Obviously they didn’t hear my question over the audio on their headsets, so I make a little wave to get their attention again. Once they’re looking I make a drinking motion. They still don’t understand, but at least they take their headphones out.
“Something to drink?”
“Oh Sorry! I’ll have a tomato juice.”
The other two in the row have tomato juice as well. In fact the popular beverage for this flight is Tomato and Clamato juice, and we end up requesting for 2 extra cartons from the galley. I feel so proud because I totally called it!
Again, this service passes quickly. Partly because we’ve all learned to serve quickly, but also because there are very few alcohol requests. When people order alcohol it can slow the process down, since we need to tally what we’ve sold, make change or process credit cards, and sometimes run orders around when people buy for other passengers.
At the end of bar service we tare the cart down and put it away. Break time! We’re about 3 hours into the flight. On most of our flights we’d be coming pretty close to the top of decent (the time where we begin preparing to land). But today we have a lot more time, so we’ve been pretty relaxed for the whole service.