Interview with a New Hire

Unknown-4Time will tell if it’s a good or bad thing if people out there in the real world listen to my words and use them to help make life altering decisions. One of my young readers, Jaysen, tells me that I helped him make up his mind to pursue a job in the airlines. I’m not sure if he’s stroking my ego or being sincere, but nonetheless, he got hired as a flight attendant and as luck would have it, he now works for my airline!

I haven’t had the honor of flying with him just yet but I have introduced him around the JFK base and also to some of my friends back home in Austin when he had a long layover there a couple of months ago. He just completed his required 6-month probationary period and now he’s officially a stewardess like me, but younger with fewer laugh lines and more hair. Here is what an ordinary guy has to say about the flight attendant position/lifestyle after six months on the job… 

imagesHow old are you and why did this profession appeal to you in the first place? I doubt a high school guidance counselor suggested it to you, right?

I’m twenty-eight years old and a musician. That’s what has put money in the bank some way or another up to this point. One day I was doing some stock trading (a hobby) and came across a news article that said our airline was hiring. I love to travel and was in between music gigs at the time, so I thought, “Why not?” I applied for the job on a whim, never thinking it would actually happen.

I got a notification that I was selected for a phone interview and then after the phone interview was chosen to go to headquarters to interview in person. That went extremely well, but I still wasn’t sure if the job really fit with my music career. I got online and started doing more research about the job and that’s when I came across your blog. The blog led me to buy your book and after reading it, I knew that this was something I had to try. It’s such a flexible job that I’m able to work on my music just as much as before, and now I have great travel and health benefits.

I’m curious to see how you use this job in your music career. There are many possibilities for you.

To be honest, when I started this blog and wrote the book, I never dreamed that a stranger would be interested in what I had to say. I really thought I was just doing something to make my friends laugh. God bless the internets. Which of the clichés about passengers, pilots, flight attendants have stood up?

images-2

Passengers – It seems that anytime anything goes wrong, most of the passengers assume that we have much more control over the situation than we actually do.

“They made me check my bag before I came through security.”

“I didn’t book my ticket a month ago to sit here with mechanical problems.”

“This weather isn’t that bad. Can’t we get out of here before the really bad stuff hits?”

It’s funny that sometimes when we have delays, some of the passengers get notified on their smartphones before the crew even finds out. That being said, there really is very little we can do in most of these situations besides lend a listening ear and agree that the situation is less than ideal. As you say in your book, nothing defuses a bad situation faster than agreeing with the person. (Nice plug, thanks)

It’s frequent that I have people complaining to me as they are boarding, saying that someone along the way was “extremely rude to them.” I always look them in the eye, smile, and say, “I am so sorry that you were treated that way. But now you’re with me, and I’ll be kind to you!” That usually gets some sort of smile out of them and gets the flight started on the right foot.

Pilots – Ego.

Flight attendants – I would have to say the gossip. There’s an old saying about spreading information: “Tel-e-phone, tell a flight attendant.” And it really is so true. Something small happens before you leave on a trip — say someone has a small fender bender in the airport parking lot. By the time you return three days later, the whole base knows about it and “some guy drove his car through the side of the airport and three people were killed.” And since flight attendants are constantly traveling, you’ll even start to hear the blown up story at other bases as well!

UnknownVery true about the gossip mill and our propensity for exaggeration. We’re a dramatic bunch for sure. I’m not sure if Ego is a bad thing for pilots, but it’s definitely true. What was the most surprising thing you’ve encountered on the job?

It’s astonishing how many passengers play Candy Crush! We’re talking like 1 in every 5 people is busting chocolate bars at some point during the flight (this sometimes includes flight attendants). This goes for just about any trend out there. The plane is an amazing place to see what is trending and what trends are fading out.

Also, I’ve been surprised at what makes people applaud after we land. There have been flights where everyone is laughing and happy and some great interactions have taken place between the crew and the passengers inflight but it is dead silent when we land. On other flights, people are mad and complaining about the temperature, we run out of the most popular drink options, the plane comes down hard and bumpy on the landing, and people start cheering! Am I missing something here?

images-3I love the Dominican passengers for that reason. Things can get heated and voices raised, but it’s still all good at the end of the day. Love me the DR flights. And yeah, you always know the hippest new games and books because you’ll see them all over the place. What is your least favorite part of being a flight attendant? 

Honestly, my least favorite part of the job is having to see people at their worst. I like to think of the plane as a magical, giant tube that shows peoples’ true colors. Some people manage to be so incredibly gracious and kind, even when we have delays or things go wrong. One day we had two mechanical delays on the same flight and a couple missed their flight to South Korea AND their wedding the next day! Yet, they were the two kindest and most understanding people on the plane. Others, though, fall apart over the smallest things and lash out — sometimes for seemingly no reason at all. One first class passenger flipped out on us once, because there was a bag in the overhead bin above her seat. Mind you there was still plenty of room for her luggage — the issue was that there was any bag other than hers in the 6 foot long overhead bin. I don’t know what it is about being on the plane that drives people to that sort of behavior. Maybe it’s the music that plays during boarding that sounds like a Japanese funeral. Or maybe they are on their way to a funeral themselves. I try to take a step back when people are rude or hateful and give them the benefit of the doubt. Many will come around when you treat them with kindness. Others don’t, but at least I’ve tried.

Wow. Those people missing the wedding deserve sainthood. That’s amazing. I find people on domestic flights seem to get more bent out of shape about stupid things than international passengers. Not sure why. What were you not prepared for when you started this profession?

I didn’t realize how hard flying is on your body! One or two flights won’t do much, but when you spend 80-120 hours in the sky a month, it’s very easy to get dehydrated and fatigued. Once you get dehydrated, being on the plane is miserable! I honestly think that staying hydrated is honestly the hardest part of the job. That being the case, I drink 1-2 liters of coconut water between trips and several liters of water a day on the plane. Even that sometimes is not enough.

images-4Also, it’s a very physical job. They told us this in training, but I think several of us were thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…what’s so physical about serving people drinks?” Boy, did I ever have a shock when I got “on the line” and started pushing the 300 pound drink cart up the incline of the aisle!

True. And being a nice guy I’m sure you help weak and elderly people with their overhead bin items, even though you’re not supposed to. I do that all the time, it’s really the only exercise I get. It’s also surprising how much walking you do during a flight. It doesn’t seem like you do that much but I know some people who have worn pedometers and it was shocking. Do you think you’ll be doing this in a year? 5 years? 20 years?

In a year? Definitely.

5 years? Probably.

20 years? Never say never.

I think I would’ve said “Probably not” when I first started and thought about the 5-year mark. Twenty years would be a resounding “Hell NO” but I guess I should rethink that since I’m in year 16 now. What in my book was dead wrong or dead right?

“Straight Guy in the Queer Skies” is pure literary gold! So much so that I think it should replace our in-flight manual that the FAA requires us to carry. Everything in the book is dead-on (and no, Brian is not paying me to say this)! There are a couple of things that have really resonated, though.

First of all, nobody tells you how they want their coffee!

They just say, “Coffee.”

And then you say, “How do you take your coffee?”

And they say, “Regular.”

And you say, “What does regular mean?”

And they say, “You know, regular!”

And you say, “Do you like milk and sugar?”

And they say, “Milk, no sugar.”

And you make the coffee and hand it to the person and they say, “Where’s the sugar?”

Unknown-1This sort of interaction takes place multiple times each flight.

Another point that consistently rings true is how each route you fly has its own unique set of passengers that come with their standard sets of preferences and behaviors. This is true to the extent that on most routes one can predict which drinks and food items will be the most popular before the people even board the plane. Most flights touching Dallas will have some Dr. Pepper drinkers, whereas on flights going to New York, you get several people asking for “seltzah.” It becomes predictable and even funny after awhile. Besides, Miami. If flights were Uno cards, the route between New York and Miami would be the wild card. Anything can happen on those flights. Anything!

images-5Case-in-point: One evening, I had a family board a Miami flight and sit in first class. There was a mother, a father, and two young girls. I noticed during boarding that one of the girls didn’t look like she was feeling well. Her dad said that her stomach had been bothering her, so I got her some cool ginger ale to try and help settle her queasiness. (Spoiler Alert: she had the stomach flu.) We take off and are about 10 minutes into the flight when the other little girl begins projectile vomiting EVERYWHERE — onto her seat, her mom’s seat, the back of the seat in front of her, and all over the floor around them. It was honestly fascinating that such a small girl could have so much vomit stored in her body! (Spoiler Alert: she had the stomach flu, also.) We were still ascending, so the vomit began running under the girl’s seat right into one of our highest priority passengers’ brand new Coach hand bag. While I’m down on my hands and knees wearing vomit-covered gloves, cleaning up the mess, one of the other first class passengers taps me on the shoulder and demands to know why he has not been served his dinner yet! That’s the sort of behavior that’s typical of those flights.

Oh yeah, not just Wild but Wild Draw Four on Miami-NYC flights. Strangely enough I have not had a projectile vomiter on a flight yet (knocking wood.) Was there a time in your probationary period when you wanted to go off on a passenger or coworker but didn’t because you could get fired? And thanks again for the unsolicited plug- Straight Guy in the Queer Skies can be purchased here.

In the grand scheme of things, difficult passengers have been easy to handle because if they throw hate your way, you never have to see them again. That being the case, it’s not that hard to be diplomatic and “kill em’ with kindness.” It’s the occasional “difficult” flight attendant that can be challenging, because you might have to work with the person for several days. You just have to take a deep breath and keep on keepin’ on.

Unknown-2On one particular flight, I walked up to my gate to get on the plane and was quickly greeted by another flight attendant on my crew. The first words out of her mouth were “Hi, I’m (insert name) and you must be Jaysen. I see that you’re new and that being the case, you probably haven’t ever worked this position before so there are two options: I can switch positions with you and you can work in the back (I was working first class), or I can come up and work on the other side of the meal cart with you and teach you how to do it. I had been working for several months already and had done this position before, so I remember thinking, “Or option three: You can do your job and I can do mine.” Maybe this lady was really trying to be helpful, but my gut said that she was unhappy with her position and really just wanted to switch. But I’m always up for learning something new, so I told her that I had worked the position before, but if she liked, she could come up and work the meal cart with me and maybe give me some pointers along the way since she had been doing it quite awhile longer than I. Long story short, this translated into us working the meal cart together while she loudly criticized my serving techniques in front of the passengers. And it was all trivial things that she criticized that didn’t affect the service one bit. It got to the point that customers were concerned and were asking me quietly later if that harsh lady was my supervisor. I don’t know if people felt sorry for me or if the contrast in customer service techniques worked in my favor, but I had multiple customers that day ask for my name and say that they wanted to write a good letter to the company about me. That was also the day I realized how much sitcom potential this job has.

images-6Yeah, it’s rare that a coworker will selflessly offer to help you by changing positions. Nine times out of ten they want to have your position and are masking their intentions under the guise of helping you out. Good for you for standing your ground. I’ve seen more bullying on the plane than I did in Junior High School. I’m also shocked that an intelligent show hasn’t been created about the flight attendant lifestyle or even about a crash pad in itself. Someone needs to get on that. Vince Gilligan? I’m looking in your direction! How has the job affected your relationship with your girlfriend?

images-7Being based 2,000 miles away with a random schedule has not been easy, but being able to see each other for pennies on the dollar helps a lot. She has been very supportive of me taking this job, even though it means we don’t get to see each other as much as we would like to. Our company allows employees to register one person as a flying companion that has the same travel benefits that we do. I registered her, but kept it a secret for awhile. She’s working toward a pHD and recently graduated with her Master’s degree. As her graduation gift, I surprised her with the news that she was registered as my travel companion. Now I can go see her when I’m off and she has the ability to come see me or meet me someplace when she’s got down time. Win-win.

It’s totally do-able to sustain a long distance relationship in this biz, the biggest obstacle is trust I think. Do your coworkers believe you when you tell them you’re straight? Do any of them think that in a years time you won’t be? I still have a few friends that think year 16 is the one when I come out.

Unknown-1Most of my coworkers seem to believe that I’m straight — at least to my face. I’ve only had one lady say that she assumed I was gay until I told her otherwise, but she said she assumes that about every guy she works with (nice save). I usually make some comment about my girlfriend during the trip and most of the old timers’ ears perk up at that and start asking me questions about my relationship. Some of them even ask for relationship advice. Most of the senior male flight attendants I’ve flown with have been gay, but I’ve been shocked by the number of straight new hires I’ve come across — some that even have wives and kids and like to talk football! Either I’ve come across a good amount of the rare exceptions in the past six months or quite a few straight guys are starting to figure out what a hidden gem this job is.

Yeah that’s going to continue. Six days ago a lady said the same thing to me about assuming I was gay because of the uniform. It’s fun to mess with people. When she asked if I was gay, I said, “Only on layovers.” That confused her and delighted my Purser. Does your dad admit that he has a son that’s a flight attendant?

You know, it’s awesome how supportive my dad has been of this whole choice. I think at the end of the day, he’s just glad that I am doing something I enjoy. He’s always concerned that I’m not making enough money as a new hire to support myself in New York, so he checks up on me from time to time  to make sure I’m doing alright. When I graduated from flight attendant training, my parents drove in to celebrate with me. My dad picked me up from my hotel to take me to the ceremony and when I walked out in my uniform, he got this big smile on his face. He told me how proud of me he was and said he didn’t really care what kind of uniform I wore — it was just really cool to see me in a uniform. Given my dad’s military background, that meant a great deal to me.

images-8Since they have amazing flight benefits too, you should take them somewhere. Paris or Rome or Tokyo maybe. Have you taken advantage of your flight benefits yet?

I’ve used them some, but I was cautious of doing much traveling on probation, because if for some reason I hadn’t been able to get on the flight back to work in time, I could have been fired. I have used my benefits to commute home quite a few times, though, and my girlfriend and I flew to London for a week last summer. Now that I’m off probation, watch out world — here I come!

Where are the best and lamest places you’ve had a layover in?

My best layovers have been in San Francisco and Austin. My lamest…any layover where we’ve stayed a few feet from the airport.

When you get old like me you’ll sometimes cherish those boring layovers where you’re forced to stay in and relax. SOMEtimes. Have you witnessed any cheating wives or husbands? 

Unknown-3Yes, but not so much flight attendants / pilots, as passengers. There have been a few times when I’ve seen passengers “with a ring on it” getting a bit too friendly with the person sitting next to them. You know it’s not the person’s spouse because you have a front row seat to the whole show — the “let me help you lift your bag”, the introduction of names and what each person does, and then the hours of jovial conversation that follow. The worst case of this I’ve seen was on a transcon flight to LA awhile back. This guy and lady end up seated next to each other in business class, both wearing wedding rings. The quality of their conversation was growing friendlier in direct correlation to the number of drinks they were consuming, and we noticed they were beginning to get a bit touchy/feely with each other. Long story short, another passenger comes up to the purser of the flight saying that he has just witnessed two people sneak into the lavatory together. The purser banged on the door, telling them she knew they were in there and that they needed to come out. The door slowly opened, the “couple” quietly slinked back to their seats, and we didn’t hear much from them the rest of the flight.

images-9Someone recorded their shame on their smart phone right? Is it on YouTube? Classy. Have you had any medical situations or emergency landings?

Since I started the job, things have been pretty low-key in the emergency department (knock on something — there’s not much wood inside an airplane). However, in training we’re required to assist on some flights to get a feel for the job, before we’re on the plane working the positions by ourselves. Around the time I did my first assistance trip, the movie “Flight” had just come out, with Denzel Washington playing an inebriated pilot. That day, a passenger told one of the flight attendants during boarding that she suspected she smelled alcohol on the Captain’s breath when she talked to him in the terminal. The flight attendant had to call in the report and the flight was delayed for an hour while management came down to the plane and breathalyzed the pilot in question. Luckily, it was a good natured Captain who passed with flying colors and laughed it off. In fact, he kept calling back jokingly, asking if we could get him something to drink. After we finally took off and got up to cruising altitude, a passenger stood up and passed out in the aisle. Once she had regained consciousness and we had helped her be seated again, we hit some pretty turbulent air and the majority of the last pick-up service was collecting used sick bags. Welcome to the glamorous world of flying!

Gross. You deal with much more puking than I do, thank God. Do you like the general public more or less after these six months as a flight attendant? 

My view of the general public hasn’t really changed. I guess if anything it’s just been more reinforced. I gave up hope in humanity as a whole, a long time ago. But I still hold out hope for people at an individual level and I think anyone can affect change around them. For example: A few months ago, I was working a flight that started as the flight from hell. There had been weather that day, so many flights were delayed or cancelled. As people were filtering onto the plane, everyone was mad and complaining about their connection situations and how late we were. One group of nine people were absolutely livid because they were connecting from an international flight and two people in their group didn’t clear customs in time to make it on our flight. The other flight attendant and I made up our minds from the get-go to just smile and have fun. One by one, we talked to people, smiling, laughing and joking, and one person at a time, the lightheartedness began to spread (a few comped drinks to those most inconvenienced didn’t hurt, either). We were genuinely kind to people, but then I sat back and watched as the people we were kind to started being kind to the people around them, and then those people were kind to the people around them. It was a chain reaction from the front of the plane to the back. By the end of the flight, passengers were mingling with people sitting in rows other than their own, and one could periodically hear outbursts of laughter all throughout the cabin. When we landed, the entire plane applauded. It took very little effort to turn that flight around — once we started it, the people did it on their own. Anyone can do that anywhere — the issue is that most people don’t take the time to try.

So what happens on the plane should be implemented into society to save all of mankind? You might be on to something. What is the best part of the job? 

They say that this job is not just a job, but a lifestyle, and it is so true. For some new hires, that is a deterrent, but honestly, it’s my favorite part of the job. If you’re resourceful with the travel benefits and scheduling flexibility, this job allows you to live in a way that would be nearly impossible otherwise. There are flight attendants that live all over the world, doing incredible things. They commute into their base when it’s time for work, and after they’re finished, they commute back to wherever it was they came from. It’s such a flexible job that for the most part, it allows you to be where you want to be, when you want to be there, doing whatever it is you want to be doing.

Very true. For me it’s a very easy means to a fantastic end. Have you had to sell out even a little bit for your airline job? 

images-10There have been some tradeoffs for sure. I’m most comfortable barefoot, in a t-shirt and cut-offs, doing something outdoors. Now I have a job in which I wear a suit and tie everyday inside a giant metal container. Also, I’m a big supporter of local economy and small businesses, and most airlines are obviously large corporations. I work for “the man,” but it truly is one of the coolest jobs I ever could have asked for.

We most certainly work for a big heartless corporation. We, like most flight attendants, are nothing more than employee numbers and very replaceable  Some people hate feeling so insignificant but I kinda like it. There are advantages of being a part of a massive operation and being able to fly namelessly under the radar. The travel and health benefits are fantastic for starters. Do the senior flight attendants treat you well or are they annoyed at how new and inexperienced you are?

98% of the senior flight attendants I’ve flown with have treated me with nothing but kindness and respect and have been more than helpful in teaching me the ropes of my new job. The other 2%…well, maybe they were just having an off day.

Those 2% have off days every day. They’re just called “days” after awhile. We all have a mental list of coworkers we never want to work in the same cabin in. Are your new hire friends more professional or the seasoned veterans? 

images-11I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly on both sides of the coin. The new hires are fresh out of several weeks of intense training, so most of them are pretty by-the-book and they do a great job with the people. It’s just that we’re still learning and a bit unsure about how to handle some of the irregular situations that come up from time to time. Some new hires handle this uncertainty with cockiness which doesn’t get them very far. Others handle it with humility and respect for the senior flight attendants, and they are well accepted and very effective.

A great deal of the veterans are very professional, and while not always by the book or adhering to uniform regulation, they have amazing experiences over the years that have taught them how to give the passengers what they want and deal with the crazy situations that crop up sometimes. This job can be strenuous and it seems like it’s easy to get burnt out being on the go so much. Also, since 9/11, things have gotten far less glamorous for travelers and flight attendants alike. That being said, I have a high respect for the senior flight attendants that still do their job well after so many years of flying. The ones who are burnt out and don’t want to be there crop up from time to time, but I’ve come across far more senior flight attendants who do a fantastic job than those who don’t.

imagesFor me, the new people have been very VERY strong when it comes to looking the part. You guys are put together and look immaculate. The rest of us are shabby and more comfortable. However when dealing with the passengers I think there’s only so much you can teach people in a classroom. The new hires seem very robotic when dealing with passengers’ concerns. They do the right thing but don’t always sound sincere. They may also use 1000 words to address a concern but a seasoned veteran will deal with the same problem, getting a better result, in 50 words. I guess it just comes from seeing it all and dealing with it many times over. Some of the new hires tend to freak out about little things. I had one the other day that wasted fifteen minutes running around the plane looking for a Coke when we all knew we only had Pepsi left. When the search ended in predicted vain, the girl put on her “devastated” face and apologized for not being able to give the guy a Coke. She tearfully asked if Pepsi would be ok and prepared to get slapped across the face. He said “Of course it’s ok” and that was that, not a problem at all. So rather than nip it in the bud and fess up about the lack of Coke and ask if Pepsi was alright, she ran around, bothered every cabin, and made her cart partner work much harder. Being scared to death of giving a passenger any kind of bad news is definitely a new hire thing. I was like that 16 years ago.

I guess that’s it for now. I really hope Jaysen enjoys his career at our airline. It seems like he is so far. I will feel slightly responsible if he ends up hating the job and wasting the best years of his life. If you have any questions for Jaysen that we didn’t address, send me an email and we’ll answer them post haste.  easley.brian@gmail.com

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