Galley Gossip: Why flight attendants might not open an emergency exit during an evacuation

The first thing a flight attendant does before opening an emergency exit during an evacuation is assess the conditions outside. This is one reason why some airlines require passengers seated in the exit rows to keep their window shades up during takeoff and landing. The last thing you want to do is escape one bad situation only to find yourself in an even worse one. Think fire. Water. Captain Chesley Sullenberger.

BRACE FOR IMPACT!

That’s what everyone on board US Airways flight 1549 heard right before Captain Sully ditched the aircraft into the Hudson River after experiencing a double-engine failure while in route to Charlotte, North Carolina January 15, 2009. There were 150 passengers on board and 5 flight crew.

Flight attendant Doreen Walsh did exactly what she was trained to do. After unbuckling her belt and jumping out of her seat, she looked through the tiny porthole window to make sure it was safe outside to open the door. This is when she noticed they hadn’t landed at an airport, and that there was water outside! For a split second she wondered if maybe, just maybe, she could get the slide raft inflated before the water became too high to safely do so, but then quickly realized it was already too late. Before she could begin directing passengers to another exit, a safe exit, the window exit only a few feet away, passengers pushed Doreen out of the way and cracked the door open. Water began flooding inside until it was all the way up to their necks. With only a few seconds left to escape, Doreen ordered everyone standing in the aisle to crawl over the seats.

Three years have passed since the Miracle on the Hudson flight crew gave their testimony to the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. And yet I just saw the video for the first time last week. I’m a flight attendant for a major US carrier. I write about travel. Usually I’m up on these things. So if I missed the short clip of the flight attendants detailing their experiences, chances are you probably did, too. That’s why I’ve posted it here.


Flight attendants go through weeks of intensive training. We’re also required to attend a yearly recurrent training program. During this time we role play medical scenarios and practice our emergency evacuation procedures. While we’re yelling our commands, our instructors keep us on our toes by throwing things at us like fire, exits that won’t open, slides that won’t inflate, passengers too afraid to jump, which causes us to go into a whole other set of commands and procedures. Because of our training we’re prepared to handle just about anything, including an evacuation in the Hudson River. Trust me, we’ll ask for help if we need it. Until then please refrain from pushing us aside to open a door we would never in a million years open.

Photo courtesy of PhotoGiddy

Galley Gossip: Improve your travel with Bruce Lee

The following quotes are from the book Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living by John Little.

1. Something for nothing - “There is only something for something, never something for nothing.”

Think about that next time you feel nickel and dimed by an airline. Ticket prices are less than they were twenty years ago, so in the end you’re still paying the same price you were in 1992, maybe even less. Keep in mind the Barbie Glam Vacation Jet costs $119.99 at ToysRus. That’s more than most one way tickets.

2. Emptiness is the starting point - “In order to taste my cup of water you must first empty your cup. Drop all your preconceived fixed ideas and be neutral. Do you know why this cup is so useful? Because it is empty!”

Don’t let what happened on your last flight affect your next flight. Often passengers will board and immediately want to rehash the details of what went wrong on another trip. Things don’t usually go so well from here. How could it? I’ve just been linked to the worst flight ever!

3. “Is” vs. “Should” - “What IS is more important than WHAT SHOULD BE. Too many people are looking at “what is” from a position of thinking “what should be.”

To become a flight attendant one must be flexible. Being able to quickly adapt to change is essential on the job. If there’s one thing we can count on in the aviation industry, it’s something is bound to go wrong. This is why we always have back up plans A, B, C, and D. So next time something doesn’t seem to be going right, do what a flight attendant would do and instead of getting upset about what should be happening, focus on what is happening, and start making alternative plans – QUICKLY! Before all the hotel rooms are booked and the rental agencies run out of cars.

4. Anxiety - Anxiety is the gap between the NOW and the THEN. So if you are in the now, you can’t be anxious, because your excitement flows immediately into ongoing spontaneous activity.

I can spot a fearful flier a mile away. If they’re not asking about the weather, they’re clutching the armrest and sweating profusely. A little unknown fact is more people die falling off donkeys than they do in plane crashes. Remember that next time you start to feel anxious. Focus on the fact that you’re sitting in a somewhat uncomfortable seat and drinking the beverage of your choice. There’s probably even a very nice person sitting beside you. If that doesn’t work, tell a flight attendant what’s going on and we’ll do what we can to help. We’re trained professionals. That’s what we’re there for.

5. Not to think, but to do - Our grand business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.

You know the saying, life is the journey, not the destination? Well it’s true. Your trip starts as soon as you throw your bags into the trunk of your car. We only get one chance at this life, so why not make the most of it, even if you’re on an airplane or stuck in the terminal after a breach in security at Newark Airport.

6. Life is the effect of feelings - Life is simply what our feelings do to us.

This is the one I have to remind myself of when I start to feel guilty about charging passengers for food, drinks and headsets. Hey, that’s my job. And I love my job! I also have to remember this when I start getting all worked up over a passenger who was rude to me when there are 150 other really nice ones on board.

7. In solitude you are least alone - Loneliness is only an opportunity to cut adrift and find yourself. In solitude you are least alone. Make good use of it.

Passengers get all bent out of shape over the electronic device policy more than anything else these days. On a flight from Chicago to Oklahoma City I had to ask 16 passengers to turn off their cell phones after having told them three times already! Once the aircraft reaches its cruising altitude, passengers are free to turn most electronic devices back on. Until then why not relax or try meditating – while it’s still free of charge to do so.

8. Anger should be expressed - Any anger that is not coming out, flowing freely, will turn into sadism, power drive, stammering, and other means of torture.

There’s a difference between expressing yourself and throwing a hissy fit that results in getting escorted off a flight because you’ve been bottling things up for so long, you’re no longer rational and freak out over little things like a passenger reclining their seat or a kid who accidentally bangs the tray table. And you wonder why some flight attendants are no longer smiling. And why others become folklore heroes who’s stories last longer than their careers. Does JetBlue’s Stephen Slater ring a bell?

9. Happiness requires action - Everybody is capable of obtaining happiness, but the matter of going on, or taking action to obtain it, is in question.

There are two kinds of people; those who love to travel and those who hate to travel. Sadly there are more and more complainers in the world these days. Yes, travel is stressful, but it doesn’t have to be! For starters try arriving to the airport early so the stress of finding yourself in a long line at security doesn’t snowball into something worse, like a missed flight.

10. The importance of adaption - The inability to adapt brings destruction.

Flying today is like being on an episode of Survivor. Only the fittest – er, most prepared – will survive. If you pack light, bring lunch, buy water, have reading material handy, and wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, how bad can it really be?


(Read more about Bruce Lee on his website.)

Galley Gossip: How do flight attendants survive on such a small salary?

I’ve been offered a position as a flight attendant. Training hasn’t started yet, but I’m freaking out a little. Should I back out? It seems like a fun and exciting job, but the pay is $20/hour with only a 79-hour guarantee of work per month. The first year I would have to be on reserve and would need to live within 20 minutes of the airport. A one bedroom/studio within 30 minutes of the airport averages $1400-$1800 per month! We were told that during our six weeks of training we will be paid $1400, which will be prorated. Huh? How do flight attendants afford to pay for rent and living expenses? I am trying to calculate it and there is no way to make ends meet…even with a roommate! What do you suggest to those of us who have not started? Should we turn around and run for the hills? – Cold Feet

Dear Cold Feet,

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no one becomes a flight attendant for the money! This is why the majority of new flight attendants are either right out of college or looking to make a career change after the kids are grown and out of the house. While $20 an hour may look good on paper, the reality is it doesn’t add up to much, not when we’re only paid for flight hours. That’s strictly time spent in the air. And with so many FAA regulations limiting us to the number of hours and days in a row we can work, most of us average between 80-90 hours a month. Keep in mind flight time does not include boarding, deplaning, delays, scheduled sit time between flights and layovers away from home, even though we’re on company time. However we are paid a per diem from sign-in to the time we arrive back to base. It’s less than two-dollars an hour.

You’ve been offered $20 an hour with a 79 hour guarantee. That’s roughly $18,000 a year. It’s more than most first year flight attendants get paid. The average flight attendant makes between $14,000-$18,000 the first year on the job. Each year we’re offered a standard raise. Flight attendants who work international routes, speak a second language, work high time (over 100 hours) and have seniority with a major carrier have the potential to earn up to $80,000 a year, if not more, but this is rare. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Median annual wages of flight attendants were $35,930 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,420 and $49,910. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,350.”

So how do we do it? Enter the crash pad.

A crash pad is where flight attendants literally crash between trips. My first crash pad was a house with five bedrooms that may have had 60 flight attendants living in it for all I know. There were so many people coming and going it was impossible to keep up. Six of us shared a room that had bunk beds lining the walls. Most crash pad dwellers are commuters. Because we were on probation and travel benefits at my airline wouldn’t kick in for six months, we were all new-hires living full time in a crash pad meant for commuters. It wasn’t pretty. It’s no wonder we were all so eager to work – er, fly away! Because at the end of a long work day there was always a layover hotel with a room that had a bed with no one else sleeping near it. And a tub that was clean that didn’t require one to sign up to use it. This might explain how I managed to actually save $2,000 my first year on the job, even after the airline deducted $800 to cover the cost of the uniform from my paycheck.

There’s a reason why so many flight attendants quit within the first few months of flying – and why the rest of us last a lifetime! It’s that extreme. Being a flight attendant is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. My advice to you, Cold Feet, is to go for it. You can always quit if you don’t like it. Just remember it won’t be easy in the beginning, but stick with it and make sure to give it at least six months before throwing in the towel. When your travel benefits kick in, you’ll be glad you did. You might also want to consider praying your airline continues hiring flight attendants because a life off reserve makes a world of difference.

Photo courtesy of byronv2

Galley Gossip: Flight attendant haunted layover hotel ghost stories (and a haunted plane!)

In the spirit of Halloween, I’d like to share a few layover hotel ghost stories from flight attendants I know…

At a hotel in San Francisco the water kept turning itself on during the night. After the 3rd or 4th time, instead of getting up and turning it off, I had a little talk with the ghost. I was thinking I must have lost my mind. Water went off automatically. Never came on again! - Vicki Howell

At our current Paris hotel, I had an apparition appear at the foot of my bed. At first I didn’t think it was anything until I felt somebody sit on my bed. I turned on the light near the bed and of course there was nothing there. – John Gonzales

On a layover in Miami, I felt someone/something pull the covers off of my shoulder and breathe cold air onto the back of my neck. I jumped out of bed, ran for the door, turned on the light… and no one was there. On the next trip another flight attendant couldn’t get into that same room with her key. Security couldn’t get in either. They had to change her room. Gives me the chills even talking about it. – Penni Reynolds Piskor

At a Sheraton in New Jersey in 1989, I kept thinking there was someone in my room. Woke up several times convinced. Searched the room. Nothing was there. Found out later the hotel was reputedly haunted, and one of the elevators was known to run all night, stopping at each floor even though nobody called it - Julie Meyer

I always clip my curtains closed so the light will not shine through and wake me up. In the middle of the night it was like someone used their hands to push both curtains back forcefully. I was lying there freaking out! Another time I woke up to find the decorative bed quilt folded neatly in the corner of the room. I don’t fold at home nor am I good at it, so I know I didn’t do it in my sleep. The third time we did a seance. We asked for a sign and all the elevators opened simultaneously. We jumped up and ran! – Lynne Smith

In Mexico a friend had similar experience as John did above. A guy sat on the edge of his bed in the middle of the night, but when he turned on the lights, no one was there. He mentioned something to the front desk and they sheepishly asked if he was gay. When he said yes, they said that Jorge always visited gay guys in their rooms (I was never visited!) I don’t believe in haunting and have waited for them every time! – Gordon Valentine

Lights, faucet and bathtub all turned on during my sleep at the layover hotel in New Orleans. Just asked the naughty perpetrator to behave themselves because I needed the sleep before an early roll out. – Alx Stellyes

It was an old hotel in Boston, next to an historic graveyard. I was having a crazy dream about a Nun. My room was in a corner and I woke up in the middle of the night to repeated pounding. Turned the lights on, it stopped. Asked the driver the next day what the deal was with the hotel. (Didn’t tell him about my dream) He said a certain floor was haunted ( mine, of course!) by a NUN. – Lori Polka

In Manchester England we used to stay at a hotel with huge vaults and all were opened except one where someone locked themselves in it hundreds of years ago. The skeleton key is still in the lock, from the inside, but nobody can get it opened. Then you go into the bedrooms and they are all different themes. Mine was very opulent. She (the ghost) Kept turning on the sink faucet. After getting up 2 times to turn it off I was getting pissed. The third time I just screamed “turn that effing water off! And it did. Never picked up another Manchester trip. – Daniel Koukes

At Tower Air there was an aircraft (604) we ferried a lot. A spirit would walk up and down the aisles and wake us up. It also would unlatch everything in the galley and open all the carts and bins. You would close them and tell her to stop. A little later you’d hear it happening again. – Lynne Smith

The hotel Jakarta is known for having all sorts of ghost stories, especially amongst female, Chinese, Japanese and Korean crew. They tend to sleep 2-3 in a room instead of alone in that hotel! – Sodwee.

There was an Eastern Airlines airplane that went into the Everglades. It was Flight 401. The airline finally had it dismantled and used parts in other aircraft - Vicki Howell

Eastern Airlines L-1011 #318 was a haunted plane. It had ovens taken from the airplane that crashed in the Everglades in the early ’70’s. So many sightings and occurrences were reported that the a/c # had to be changed. Who knows where it is now – Julie Meyer

I remember reading the book of Eastern flight 401 and all the happenings from that incident. Came to be they had to remove all the extra parts from the plane and any carts that were used on other flights had to be grounded as they were all linked to Flight 401 – Gordon Valentine

Photo courtesy of dantc and roeyahram

Galley Gossip: Pilot sexually harassed by a passenger!

Dear Heather, I have to share this with you. I’m a pilot and I was sexually harassed last night. While jump-seating home, the lead flight attendant calls the cockpit and says a passenger thinks one of the flaps is out of position. The captain sends me back to check the wings. I squeeze into the fully occupied exit row to peer out the window. While looking out the window, a female passenger sitting in the middle seat puts her hands on my butt. Her friend then shouts, “Woo, get some!” Passengers nearby all start laughing. Anyway, turns out what the initial passenger saw and thought was a problem were the outboard ailerons on the wings of the Super 80. One was up and the other was down. This is normal while on the ground. Anyway, I returned to the cockpit and told the pilots what just happened and we all had a good laugh. I should mention the Captain was female! Thought you’d find it funny! – Bob (the singing pilot)

My first thought when I read Bob’s letter was, wow! What kind of person places their hands on a pilot’s you-know-what and yells out something like that.

Just to be fair, I later on found myself yelling out the exact same phrase several times throughout the course of my day. I couldn’t help it! And each time my voice become lower and before I knew it I had developed this southern accent, kind of like that famous redneck comedian I can’t remember the name of. Next thing I knew I was visualizing it, the whole exit row groping, only it was I who slapped the pilots and a few lucky passengers as I passed them in the terminal. Mmm hmm, get it girl!

NOTE: I would NEVER do something like that in real life!

Now back to Bob.

The woman who slapped him was somewhat attractive, at least that’s what Bob said. He only told me this because I asked. I asked because I wanted to know what she looked like so I – er, we! – could visualize this better. Not that any of this matters, because what matters, really matters, is how the woman made Bob feel. Not good.

“I was flattered and a little embarrassed. And humored. Cause it was funny. I mean my butt was kind of in her personal space. She had the shot……she took it. So let’s just say I was ‘Flambumored.'”

At least Bob now kinda-sorta knows what it’s like to be a flight attendant, if only for a few seconds, and for just one squeeze.

When I asked Bob to explain EXACTLY how it all went down so we could learn from his experience, he said, “I told the passengers in the exit row I needed to get in there to check the wings and that they could either get up or let me crawl over them. They all opted for the latter.”

And there’s the red flag.

Let this be a lesson to all pilots. Do not, I repeat, do not climb over passengers! Do what a flight attendant would do and let them step out of their row and into the aisle instead of wedging yourself on top of them.

All kidding aside, please do not poke, prod, pull or slap the crew. Trust me – there are quite a few touchy feely passengers who will live a whole lot longer if certain flight attendants (and pilots!) are left alone.

[Photo courtesy of TheZipper]