Yesterday the flight attendants got terrible news at US Airways. THREE base closures. Mine included. In all these years, I’ve never commuted. And now, gone early next year: BOS, LGA and LAS. We got the news in the crew room. Some of the senior girls started to tear up. One cried, “I have thirty years, I’ve never commuted.” The base is closing and we didn’t even receive any information on base transfers, voluntary furloughs, whether or not we can keep our parking lot space, bidding packets from the other bases and seniority lists to help make a decision. Any tips? Prayers? An Article to educate us newbies?
Dear in shock,
I’m sorry to hear about the unfortunate news. I understand why you and your colleagues are frustrated and upset. Honestly, I’m not sure which is worse, your airline closing three bases or the fact that they did not alert employees until the last minute, only to do so with little to no information. These are your lives we’re talking about, not just base closures! While commuting is not always easy, it is doable, and chances are you might even become a better flight attendant because of it. I know I did. First, here’s the prayer you’re looking for. And now for a few tips…
1. EMBRACE IT - Now that you’ll be traveling like a real passenger….wait a minute, take that back, you’re the farthest thing from a real passenger. You’re at the bottom of the standby list and there’s nothing you can do about it. So stop fighting it and learn to enjoy it – as much as you possibly can. I do so by reading – a lot.
2. CHOOSE A BASE WISELY: Don’t choose the base with the best flying if you won’t be able to get there easily. Pick a base that offers several flights a day from your home city. And don’t go where everyone else who has just been displaced wants to go! I can’t tell you how many Dallas commuters think I’m crazy for commuting from California to New York. Yet their standby list is insane compared to mine. Not only do I always get on a flight, I usually end up with a pretty good seat! That’s because there aren’t that many LA commuters who work in New York. It also means in a worst case scenario the jump seat is mine!
3. GET CREATIVE: Because the flights are usually full, it’s not always easy getting to work. Prior to 9/11, I would fly to Toronto and connect to New York in order to avoid holiday traffic. Yeah, that was a little crazy, but it worked, even during the busy Christmas season! And don’t forget that sometimes those “thru” flights really aren’t thru flights at all. Many often stop at a hub city. Get to know these flights well, the ones that are scheduled to arrive in Kansas City but actually make a quick stop in a hub city, and then jump off and connect to where you really need to go.
4. BACK IT UP: Commuting can be stressful, which is why I arrange my schedule so that I’m only commuting once a month. I’ll back up my trips and work for several days in a row, flying as many hours as I can until I get the hours I need for the month. Sure it’s a killer, and half the time I have no idea where I am, whether I’m coming or going, but when I’m done I have the rest of the month off to recuperate. Don’t t waste your “days off” trying to get to and from work.
5. BID SMART: Forget about layovers. They no longer matter. Bid for “commutable trips.” Look for late departures and early returns. The layovers might be short, but this will enable you to travel to and from work on the days you’re scheduled to work, allowing your days off to remain just that – days off. That’s why we took this job, isn’t it – for the days off? If you do choose to back up your trips, look for a late departure on the first day of your first trip and an early return on the last day of your last trip. This will make bidding easier because what you work in-between these two trips won’t matter in terms of commuting.
6. FIND A CRASH PAD: If on reserve, find a crashpad and you won’t have to sleep in flight operations. I’m sure there’s a bulletin board somewhere in ops where you can find fliers from fight attendants looking for roommates. A crashpad usually averages around $150 per month. Or try calling airport hotels / motels offering free shuttle service to and from the airport and ask if they offer a “crew discount” on rooms that will only be occupied for a few hours. Once I overheard a pilot refer to this as an “emergency crew rate.” He got the room for next to nothing. Share the room with a fellow commuter to save a little cash.
7. GET TO KNOW THE GATE AGENTS: Agents have power, big time power, because they’re the ones controlling the seating chart. They decide whether or not you’ll get a middle seat – or if you get on a flight at all. Do yourself a favor and make friends with these people. It won’t be easy. They’re just as overworked as we are and they hear the exact same moans and groans from passengers as we do, so tread lightly, don’t become another one of their problems, and always, ALWAYS, respect the counter. Stand at least ten feet away. Remember, whether you’re an agent or a flight attendant, we’re all on the same team. Let’s try to treat each other that way.
8. WATCH THE WEATHER CHANNEL - It’s important to know what’s going on weather-wise around the country. If there’s a storm in the forecast on the day of your commute, you might want to get out a day earlier. If that’s not possible, make sure to get on the first flight of the day! Do not get caught up in delays that are bound to come later on in the day. A cancellation will nine times out of ten ruin your chance of getting to work. Save the “missed trip” for a time you really need it.
9. TRIP TRADING: If you don’t know how to do a “trip trade” you better learn quick! Often times, while commuting, there’s not enough time to ask for help when you desperately need to change your schedule. Otherwise you can do what I do and pay someone to do the dirty work for you. If I’m at the airport and unsure if I’m going to make it out, I’ll call my “trip trader” who will either drop the trip or trade it for a different trip later on in the month. If not for my trip trader, I don’t know what I’d do. She truly works magic and is worth every penny.
10. BECOME A BETTER FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Now that you’re stuck in a crap seat with nothing to do but analyze the flight attendants, you’ll have a better understanding of how the other half lives. I can honestly say I’ve mellowed out because of my commuting lifestyle. I now have a lot more patience and empathy for passengers than I did when I first started flying. Not only will this make you a better flight attendant, it will make you a more rounded individual. That, I think, is a gift.
Once you get over the initial shock, you and your colleagues will be just fine.
Photos courtesy of carribb – US Airways, Heather Poole - woman reading & crashpad fliers