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: Airline seniority, bidding & working undesirable trips

Dear Heather,

Since when do you have Oklahoma City layovers? Heather, Heather, Heather……I’ve always envisioned you as A View From The Top, Transcon, 767, New York to LA Princess. It’s really hard for me to picture you on a Super80 Oklahoma City two-day. What gives?

Yours truly,

Ron “The frequent-flyin, two-timin cheat

PS Did Miss Oklahoma really sit in economy?

PSS Did your dress really rip because of that leap out of the crew van, I mean…. well, we ALL now know what you had for breakfast that day! LOL!

Dear Ron,

Ya just had to go and bring up the Cracker Barrel, didn’t you! Thanks a lot. It’s official, I’m now on a diet. As for Miss Oklahoma, not only did the lovely Miss Taylor Treat sit in economy, she sat in a middle seat! Not once did she complain about it, either. I know who I’m going to vote for in the upcoming Miss America pageant!

I completely understand why you might be disappointed to learn I’m not the transcon princess you’ve dreamt about. From time to time I really do bid for Oklahoma City / El Paso / Nashville / Kansas City layovers. I know it’s hard to believe, but It’s kind of nice to shake things up. No matter how great a trip may be, after awhile it gets boring knowing what passengers are going to say before they even say it and only stocking the beverage cart with diet soda, club soda, bottled water, and extra limes when flying back and forth from New York to LA. Anyway, ya gotta do what ya gotta do to hold the holidays off. My Oklahoma City layover was just the price I had to pay to spend Thanksgiving at home with family.

SENIORITY – Refers to a flight attendants years of experience. Years of experience with an airline is based on date of hire. Seniority is everything at an airline. It determines what trips a flight attendant can “hold” and whether or not a flight attendant will serve reserve.

I have fifteen years seniority at my airline, which isn’t much considering many flight attendants have forty – plus years with the company. That’s why I commute from my home in Los Angeles (one of our most senior bases in the system) to New York (our most junior base). In New York I can hold great trips. More importantly, I’m off reserve.

BID, BIDS, BIDDING - a request of choice routes made by each flight attendant to fly specific monthly schedules. At the airline I work for, our bid sheet offers over hundreds of lines to choose from. Bids are awarded by company seniority. Ever wonder why the flights to Asia and Europe are staffed by our most senior crew members? Because it takes a lot of seniority to hold the best trips!

Each month I bid for the exact same trips: San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Dallas turns. Normally I’m awarded one of my top ten choices. But during a holiday month every flight attendant is trying to get the exact same days off, so I’ll bid a few “undesirable” trips just in case I can’t hold what I want. And that, Ron, is how I wound up with Oklahoma City layovers in November.

This month I got lucky. I’m off on Christmas eve, Christmas day, and New Year’s Eve! Of course it came at a price, a very steep one – a line of turns on the 757, and not just any line of turns, but a line of New York-Vail turns. I shudder just thinking about it. I mean what could possibly be worse than working a full 757 crammed with 160 passengers who all think they belong in first class. Not bad enough? Now imagine all those full length fur coats that MUST be hung at once in a closet barely big enough to house the coats and jackets belonging to those who are actually seated in first. And that’s just the beginning. We haven’t even taken off yet! But I’ll be home for Christmas and that’s all that matters.

Not to worry, Ron, things will be back to normal in January.

Happy Travels,

Heather

Photos courtesy of Heather Poole & Jennifer Pickens

Galley Gossip: 9/11 – We will never forget

Silence has strength. Often times silence is more powerful than words. Today I have decided not to remain silent.

That’s Terry Thames, an American Airlines pilot, hanging out of the cockpit window. This is the first American Airlines flight returning to Washington Dulles after the skies were reopened four days after 9/11. The photo was featured in the book, Reclaiming the Sky, by Tom Murphy.

I can’t stop staring at the photo and thinking about how great it must have felt to have hung that American flag across that airplane when it finally came home. I love that photo. Maybe because it’s one of the few taken at that time depicting strength, not sorrow. Which is exactly what many of my colleagues, as well as our passengers, radiated when they walked on board the airplanes and soldiered on days after our world completely changed.

Last year on this very day I wrote a post, 9/11 – That day, about what had happened to me eight years ago and how it still affects my colleagues and I today. The best part about the post were the readers comments, all so full of hope and strength. I didn’t want to write another 9/11 post. Really, I didn’t. What more could I say? But then how could I not? I’m a flight attendant. If I don’t write about it, who will?

A few days ago I logged into Twitter and typed, “We will never forget,” and then I pressed send. The message went to @planesofthought, an organization that collects thoughts and turns them into paper airplanes that will cover New York City’s skyline to remember the lives lost on 9/11.

After that I wrote, “I’m looking for interesting 9/11 stories. How it may have changed your life in a positive way.”

No one answered back. Not one person. The silence was deafening.

I tried again on Facebook and this time I got a response – one response. “Positive? That’s a hard one. I guess how New Yorkers found some closeness. American pride came back. Sadly, it’s slipping away again,” wrote Lynne, a fellow flight attendant and friend.

While I couldn’t agree more, I worried that I may not have gotten my message across the way I had intended, so I added, “I’m looking for stories about people who started doing things they always wanted to do, but never did, before 9/11.”

Again, no response. Complete silence

I prayed my question did not offend and decided, once again, not to write this post.

While we’re constantly reminded of 9/11 every single time we go to the airport, take off our shoes,and throw out our bottled water before passing through security, grumbling about it as we do so, it does seem, at times, as if it never happened, that day, eight years ago. But I don’t think we’ve forgotten. In fact, I know we haven’t because I truly believe silence has meaning.

Just as I was about to scratch this post for good, Jeffrey sent a note via Facebook. “I worked for an airline and took a buyout offer on 9/28/01. Hired a career coach. Became one. Used the buyout money to launch a successful executive coaching business. Launched a second entrepreneurial venture in 2008, which is my passion – SAVVY NAVIGATOR.”

Slowly, but surely, the stories began to trickle in. Erin, who described herself as a mother/wife/traveler, wrote, “My whole life is still divided by pre/post 9/11…for better or worse.”

Mark, a frequent flier, wrote, “Heather, you may have seen this story before. It’s about a United Airlines flight attendant who was supposed to be on United Airlines flight 175 that crashed into the Twin Towers. Because of a typo and then later computer problems she couldn’t trade to get her trip back. On the employee bus that day she actually spoke with the flight attendant who “took her trip.”

I clicked the link Mark had attached and wound up on the Boston Globe web site where I read a story, Flight attendant changes course, I’d never heard before about a flight attendant who just barely survived 9/11, a flight attendant who is now a nurse.

Next it was Chris, a pilot, who wrote, “I think I have a real problem with the context. When I was an Air Force pilot, I knew what I was doing could get me killed. That was my job, and I accepted it. And I accepted when every 9 months or so, one of my buds became, as we used to say, a “mort” (mortality), or “a ghost” (as in, “Remember Bugs? Sea of Japan–he’s a ghost”). That was the deal.”
“9/11 was not the deal,” Chris added. “Our colleagues weren’t anything but murdered. They had no chance, and no choice. That’s a breach of faith, and too high a price. I don’t know who to blame, who to accuse, who to hold responsible, who to fight back against. And yet, our management makes us all just cost units, marketable, forgetable commodities. Okay, I’ll shut up now.”

And with that the silence continued…

While this post initially started out as a story about your stories, it quickly turned into a post without a story, which made me a little sad. But that, in itself, is a story – one that should be told. I’m a flight attendant. If I don’t write about it, who will?

Photos courtesy of (American Airlines) Tom Murphy, (flag quilt) Catface3, (9/11 tribute light) PlanetGordon.com

Galley Gossip: Flight attendant Pam Ann now on tour!

Dear Heather,

I discovered, quite by accident, that the comic Caroline Reid is bringing her “Hostess to the Stars” Pam Ann to the US in October. I searched through the site, used the search function, and couldn’t find anything on your site about this. I just got my tickets for her Los Angeles show. I’m sharing this with you – not trying to sell tickets. I just thought many of my fellow flight attendants and your readers would want to know of the tour. (maybe I’ll catch you at the LA show) I’ve included some tour information and a link.

Jack

http://www.pamann-live.com”;

US dates: Oct. 10 – Boston, Oct.11 – Chicago, Oct.13 – Denver, Oct.15 – Los Angeles, Oct.17/18 – San Francisco, Oct.20 – Dallas, Oct.21 – Houston, Oct.23/24 – Miami, Oct.25 – Atlanta, Oct.26 – Washington DC, and Oct.28 – New York (In November, she will touring the UK. Dates, locations, and tickets through the website above.)

Dear Jack,

I have to tell you, I read the first line of your email and immediately stopped reading and started clicking my way over to Pam Ann’s web site. Sorry, it had to be done, and time was crucial. I wanted good seats! Three minutes and $130 later, I was the proud owner of two tickets to the show, a show I’ve been dying to see forever now. I haven’t been this excited about a comedian in years!
Of course then I went back to yahoo and finished reading your email. All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you, Jack, for reminding me about Pam Ann’s tour! I can not believe I’d forgotten all about it because I was just looking up her show dates a few months ago!
For those of you who have no idea who we’re talking about (shame on you!), Pam Ann is an air hostess who mixes drag, camp, and glamour on stage while emphasizing quirks of various airlines around the world in hilarious skits. Performances cater to airline employees and frequent travelers whom she often times includes directly in her shows. Though I love her show, I really don’t want to actually be apart of the show, because that kind of stresses me out – unless of course she needs someone to work the other side of the cart during Cabin Service, my all time favorite skit. Check it out…

Oh you better believe I’ll be touching trolley, touching galley, hopping, and looking oh so busy busy busy, without serving anyone at all, as I reenact the scene above on my next flight. I can’t help it. In fact, I’ve been doing the same routine around the house all day long – touching kitchen counter, touching dining room table, and making meaningless hand signals – ever since I got your email, Jack! The husband, of course, just keeps shaking his head as he watches me not getting anything done at all. He just doesn’t get it. So glad there’s people like you!

See ya at the show!

Heather Poole

Pam Ann photo courtesy of Mike Flokis/Getty Images

Galley Gossip: Seattle – it’s all about kids, trains and food!

THE TRIP:

  • DAY 1: New York – Seattle
  • DAY 2: /
  • DAY 3: Seattle – New York
  • As soon as I saw that long Seattle layover on the bid sheet, I knew I had to have it. I can’t even remember the last time I had a whole day anywhere, let alone a layover with enough time to eat, sleep AND shower! This layover, I knew, would be like the good old days when flying was fun, which is why, I’m sure, several of my colleagues laughed when I told them I had bid for it.

    “You’re going to need at least twenty years seniority to hold that!” three different flight attendants informed me.

    Undeterred, and with only fourteen years at the airline, I bid for it anyway. Not only did I hold it, I held the princess position – coach aisle! As soon as bids were finalized I sent out a tweet to announce the big news. Two seconds later someone tweeted back, “Want to meet for breakfast?”

    The invitation came from mommy blogger extraordinaire, Debbie, of Deliciousbaby.com. If you have kids and love to travel, but would rather skip the Disney vacation, do yourself a favor and check out her blog. She makes traveling with kids enjoyable and easy.

    And that’s how the layover began. I met Debbie, as well as two of her three adorable kids, for breakfast at Belle Epicurean, a charming spot known for their freshly baked pastries and buns. As I sat outside waiting for Debbie to arrive, I couldn’t help but notice all the people popping in and out before heading off to work. Not that I was surprised, considering I’d done a little research early that morning and knew the place was going to be great. I also knew exactly what to order – a potato rosemary brioche bun ($3.89). It did not disappoint. Of course the coffee was fantastic, as well. The company, even better!

    Everest, a bright four year-old, has a passion for trains, so he could not hide his excitement when I asked about his favorite thing to do in Seattle. If not for him, I wouldn’t have known about the ride on the rail to Sea-Tac airport starting in December. After Everest told me all about the underground train system, he offered to take me on a little tour…

    After the train tour, we made a quick stop at Daiso, a Japanese dollar store, where I could have spent the entire day just staring at everything inside the store. There was so much to look at! Thank goodness Everest was there to help pick out a few items for my three year-old son, because I was quite overwhelmed. And I had no idea that mini soy sauce bottles could make a good toy. But Everest assured me they would. Guess what, he was right! My son not only loved the tiny squirt bottles, he spent half an hour playing with them – along with everything else that somehow, I don’t know how, ended up in my basket….

  • Bento box (for school lunches)
  • Glow in the dark bracelets
  • Animal / number stickers (for our long flight to Hawaii next week)
  • Kids apron (to protect clothing while cooking and painting)
  • Fire truck spoon and police car fork
  • plastic cups (to make Play-Doh cupcakes)
  • Star cutter (to make pancakes and eggs a little more exciting)
  • Because Everest had to get going to space camp later on in the afternoon, we said our goodbyes and I walked down to Pikes Place Market. You can not visit Seattle without visiting the market and grabbing a cup of clam chowder, which is exactly what I did after wandering around and taking in the hustle and bustle on the waterfront. If you’re looking for something else to do, try jumping on the ferry to Bainbridge Island. I highly recommend the 35 minute scenic ferry ride. Just don’t forget your camera. You’ll want to photograph all that beauty surrounding you.

    In case you can’t tell, travel, for me, is all about finding great places to eat. When I mentioned on Facebook I’d be laying over in Seattle, Flo, a flight attendant on my crew, reminded me that Bob, the singing pilot, had recommended the restaurant Black Bottle a few months ago. We decided to check it out.

    Now Bob isn’t like most pilots, he’s got style. I’m not just talking about his layover outfit. Which is why I knew I wouldn’t end up at a sports bar, like so many pilots do. That said, I was a bit shocked to find that not only does Bob have great taste in food (at affordable prices) he appreciates a cool modern vibe. The food is served family style. Flo and I shared bacon lemon scallops and frizzled kale ($12), roasted vegetables verjus ($9), and fresh arugula, tomato, and pesto flatbread ($8). After that amazing meal, it is I, not just Bob, who highly recommends the Black Bottle next time you’re in Seattle.

    Like all good things, the layover came to an end, and before I knew it we were flying back to New York. I can’t wait to bid for the trip again! Maybe, just maybe, I’ll actually hold it – 20 years seniority or not.

    Black Bottle photo courtesy of Bacon Sandwich