10 Confessions From Flight Attendant Heather Poole

Heather Poole, who just wrapped up the book “Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet,” recently dished in a Mental Floss article on the inside world of the airline industry and on how flight attendants act when things get turbulent (or when they catch someone trying to join the mile-high club). It starts:

1. IF THE PLANE DOOR IS OPEN, WE’RE NOT GETTING PAID.

You know all that preflight time where we’re cramming bags into overhead bins? None of that shows up in our paychecks. Flight attendants get paid for “flight hours only.” Translation: the clock doesn’t start until the craft pushes away from the gate. Flight delays, cancellations and layovers affect us just as much as they do passengers – maybe even more.

Airlines aren’t completely heartless, though. From the time we sign in at the airport until the plane slides back into the gate at our home base, we get an expense allowance of $1.50 an hour. It’s not much, but it helps pay the rent.

You can read the rest of the article over on Mental Floss, and see other stories from Heather’s adventures over at the Galley Gossip column on Gadling.

[Photo by Chalmers Butterfield, Wikimedia Commons]

You've Got Heather Poole

Airplane Lavatory ‘Laviator’ Self-Portraits Get Artsy

airplane lavatory laviator Flemish portraitThree years ago, Gadling’s Heather Poole snapped a self-portrait in an airplane lavatory, started a Flickr group and the “laviator” trend was born. Over a hundred official members later, California-based artist Nina Katchadourian has taken the laviator to a new level by creating Flemish Renaissance-style self-portraits on a 14-hour flight.

Katchadourian started with a basic paper toilet seat cover and a camera phone, and then introduced a few scarves to create different backgrounds and airplane accessories ranging from an eye mask to a neck pillow to build a group of portraits. The resulting photographs resemble Dutch masters you might see in an art museum, but savvy travelers will recognize some of her props from around their airplane seat.

This isn’t Katchadourian’s first appearance on Gadling. We’ve previously admired her work with maps, and Mike Barish found a kindred spirit with her “Skymall Kitties” video.

Want to put your own spin on the laviator portrait? Snap a pic on your next flight and add it to the Flickr pool. You might even usurp my title as cutest laviator.

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[Photo courtesy artist Nina Katchadourian]

The Gadling young family travel gift guide

If you are traveling with a baby over the holidays, visiting with children on your next trip, or just hoping to convince a new parent that you don’t have to hand in your passport once the new addition arrives, we’ve compiled a gift guide for families traveling with babies. Traveling light is the best advice you can follow when traveling with a baby (even without a baby, it’s just good sense) but there are some gear and gadgets that make the road a little smoother for family travel.

family travel gift guideBoba baby wrap (formerly Sleepy Wrap)
One of my favorite purchases so far in Turkey is the Cybex first.go baby carrier, unique due to the horizontal infant insert used up until 3-4 months. The lie-flat insert allowed me to set the baby on a flat surface without worrying she’d roll over (with constant supervision, of course), perfect for traveling. Everywhere I went with it, we got comments and questions. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the US, but if you can get your hands on it, I recommend it. My other favorite carrier is the Sleepy Wrap (now called Boba), suitable from birth without any special insert, up to 18 months. It’s very easy to pack in a handbag or tie around yourself without having lots of straps to get tangled in. Since it’s all fabric, it works well for airports and metal detectors, and unlike other wraps, the stretch means you don’t have to retie it after taking the baby out. Choosing a carrier is different for everyone, a good comparison chart is here.family travel gift guide
M Coat convertible winter coat
Leave it to the Canadians to make a winter coat that can stretch (pun intended) to accomodate a pregnant belly, a baby carrier, and then return to normal, while keeping you both warm and stylish. While not cheap (it retails for about $366 US), it’s a good investment that will work for many winter trips, and potentially, many babies. Filled with Canadian down and available in a wide array of colors, it would suit any pregnant or babywearing traveler.

family travel gift guideTraveling Toddler car seat strap
For the first year or so, most car seats can fit onto a stroller, creating an easy travel system. For older babies and toddlers, having a gadget that makes a car seat “wheelable” frees up a hand and makes airport transit easier. This strap essentially attaches your car seat to your rollaboard, creating a sort of hybrid stroller-suitcase. Now you probably won’t want to carry your suitcase on the street throughout your trip, but at under $15, it’s any easy way to get through layovers until you reach your destination. If you want a car seat that can do double duty and then some, our Heather Poole recommends the Sit ‘n’ Stroll, a convertible stroller-car seat-booster-plane seat. It’s certified for babies and children 5-40 pounds, but as it doesn’t lie flat, may be more appropriate for babies over 6 months.

family travel gift guideKushies easy fold baby bed
Most so-called travel beds for babies are about as easy to pack as a pair of skis, more suited for road trips to Grandma’s house than increasingly-restricted airline baggage. Not every hotel has baby cribs available and sometimes you want something that works outdoors as well to take along to a park, beach, or on a day trip. The most useful travel product I’ve bought since my daughter arrived was the Samsonite (now Koo-di) pop-up travel cot; it’s light, folds up like a tent, and takes up less room than a shoebox in my suitcase. The Samsonite cot is not sold in the US, but Kushies Baby makes a similar product for the American market. Their folding baby bed weighs only a few pounds and can be collapsed into your suitcase. It also has mosquito netting and UV-protected fabric for outdoors, and loops for hanging baby toys.

family travel gift guidePuj and Prince Lionheart bathtubs
With a steady set of hands and some washcloths for padding, small babies can be bathed in most hotel or kitchen sinks, or even taken into the shower (beware of slipperiness!). For more support, new babies can lie in the Puj baby tub, a flat piece of soft foam that fits in nearly any sink to cradle your baby. Children who can sit up unassisted can play in the foldable Prince Lionheart FlexiBath, which can also serve as a small kiddy pool. While both products fold flat for storage, they may be too cumbersome and take up too much room in a suitcase for airplane travel, and thus may be better for car trips.

family travel gift guideLamaze stroller toys
The best travel toys are small, attach to a stroller or bag so they don’t get lost in transit, and don’t make any annoying sounds to bother fellow passengers (or the parents). Spiral activity toys can keep a baby busy in their stroller, crib, or in an airplane seat with no batteries required. Rattles that attach to a baby’s wrist or foot take up little space and are hard to lose. Lamaze makes a variety of cute toys that can attach to a handle and appeal to both a baby’s and parent’s visual sensibilities. We’re partial to this Tiny Love bunny rabbit who can dangle from her car seat, makes a nice wind chime sound, and can fit in a pocket as well (we call him Suleyman since he’s from Turkey but I’ve seen them for sale all over the world).

family travel gift guideThis is…books by Miroslav Šašek
Get your child excited about visiting a new city, or just add a travel memento to your library. Originally published in the 1950s and ’60s and reissued in the last few years, these are wonderful children’s books visiting over a dozen cities worldwide (plus a little trip to the moon) as Czech author Miroslav Šašek originally captured them. Fun for children and adults to read and compare the cities in the books to how they’ve changed. Going to Europe? The Madeline books are French favorites, Paddington is essential London reading, and Eloise is a great companion for Paris and Moscow. For more wonderful children’s book ideas published this year, check out Brain Pickings’ Best Illustrated Books of 2011.


family travel gift guideSnuggle Pod footmuff

In a perfect world, we’d always travel with children in the summer while days are long, you can sit at outdoor cafes, and pack fewer layers. Adding a warm footmuff to a stroller makes winter travel more bearable for a small child or baby. While not the cheapest gift, the Snuggle Pod adapts to any stroller up to age 3, and can be used in warmer weather with the top panel removed, or as a playmat when unfolded. It’s also made of Australian sheepskin, which is safe for babies when shorn short and used on a stroller (babies older than 1 year old can sleep directly on a lambskin, younger babies can lie on one for playtime or with a sheet cover for sleeping). A more budget-friendly option is the JJ Cole Bundleme with shearling lining.

Have any favorite gear or gadgets to add to our family travel gift guide? Tell us about your favorites in the comments and happy shopping!

Galley Gossip: A flight attendant Christmas story

Heather Poole, flight attendantI graduated from flight attendant training on the 8th of December in 1995. Two weeks later, on Christmas Eve, my roommate and I were called out to work a trip – together. The crew scheduling God’s must have been smiling down on us that day because it’s not often a flight attendant gets to work with their roommate who also happens to be their best friend on reserve. Although we were scheduled to layover in Buffalo, or maybe it was Albany (I can’t remember), we knew we were lucky. By the way, that’s us in the photograph.

What I remember most is glancing out the window and seeing rooftops and – Oh. My. God! – we were seconds from landing and I still had first class meal trays out in the cabin! I ran like crazy to collect everything and lock it up in the galley before we touched ground, barely making it to my jump seat in time. The Captain never made the prepare for landing PA, even though he swore he did when I called him on it later, which is why I had no idea how close we were to landing. As if that weren’t stressful enough for a new-hire, things went from bad to worse (at least in my head it did) real quick.

As we taxied to the gate, I began to make an announcement, you know the one. “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to….to….to -” Oh no…where the heck are we?! For the life of me I could not remember. My brain was shot after having flown to so many cities in just two weeks on the job. With my heart pounding like crazy, I frantically searched my pockets for the flight itinerary.

“Buffalo, we’re in Buffalo!” yelled a passenger. Or maybe he said Albany. I still can’t remember. But wherever we were that Christmas Eve, that’s when everyone on board started to laugh – at me. Mortified, I hung my head.

The following day my roommate and I wound up eating Christmas dinner out of a vending machine located on the second floor of our three-star hotel. The restaurant in the hotel was closed and there was nothing else open nearby. Although we would have been much happier eating turkey and dressing at home with our family and friends, we made the best of it with a couple packets of peanut butter crackers and Diet Coke. To this day, fifteen years later, it’s the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever had.

Four months later my roommate quit. I’ll never forget the day my cab pulled up to the curb outside our crash pad in Queens and I spotted her sitting on the stoop smiling from ear to ear. She couldn’t wait to tell me the big news. I hadn’t seen her look so happy since our first day of flight attendant training. The job is not for everyone, and being away from loved ones during the holidays certainly doesn’t make it any easier.

Today I still work for the same airline, and from time to time I still screw up. But not this Christmas! Seniority is everything at an airline and because I work out of New York, the most junior base in the system, I have the day off. New Years Eve, however, is a different story. So for those of you traveling to North Carolina in a few days, consider yourself warned.

NOTE TO SELF: North Carolina, North Carolina, I’m flying to North Carolina!

A special thanks to all the airline employees who went to work today! It’s because of them that many of you are having a very merry Christmas this year.

Photo courtesy of me! (Heather Poole)

snow globes gifts

Ask Gadling: You left something on the airplane

It’s not a good feeling, walking toward baggage claim or a connecting flight, and realizing you forgot an item on the plane. Especially if it’s something valuable, like a brand-new digital camera (not that that happened to me). Okay, it did. I flew Varig into Sao Paulo, and deplaned to catch a connection to Rio. I was halfway to the gate when I realized the camera was missing. I’d removed it from my carry-on to review my pictures mid-flight, and, because I was cracked out on Xanax to quell my aviophobia, forgotten to tuck it back into my bag.

Since I don’t speak Portuguese, it was difficult to explain to airport personnel what had happened, and ask if I could retrieve said camera. I also had a flight to catch, so time was of the essence. I never imagined I would actually be allowed to re-board, due to security measures. Here’s the scary part: the Varig personnel just waved me back onto the empty plane, and let me rip my row apart. I found the camera, made my Rio flight, and vowed never to Xanax and unpack again.

My being allowed back on a plane-unattended, no less-was a freak occurrence. Says flight attendant/Gadling contributor Heather Poole, “Most gate agents/airline personnel can’t help, unless you’ve JUST walked off the flight.”

What to do if you’ve left an item on the plane after you’ve walked away from the gate

Immediately check with the airline’s “airport/terminal lost and found”; that’s where most stuff ends up. Poole says that a passenger’s lost fake tooth once made its way to lost and found.

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.

If the item doesn’t turn up at lost and found at your destination airport, call the airline and ask where the airplane flew to next. Explains Poole, “There’s a chance it won’t be discovered until the next leg. An airline employee might also have picked it up, and will return it personally, or leave it at your hotel.” Poole herself did this with a $500 check she found inside a book left onboard (can you say “good karma?”).

Realize that policies will vary depending upon the carrier, type of aircraft, and where you happen to be, destination-wise.

Try not to appear frantic or act demanding. You don’t want to arouse suspicions, or piss anyone off. Just calmly state the problem, while making it clear the item is of value.

If you don’t speak the language, hopefully you have a phrasebook handy. I keep a list of emergency phrases to cover my butt in situations like this, so I have them at my immediate disposal. I write them on the inside cover of my phrase book. Lonely Planet also has excellent phrasebooks that contain sentences like “Help, I’ve lost my….” Sign language, as I discovered in Brazil, also works well in a left-item scenario.

Leave your name and contact information, as well as where you’ll be during your visit (if this pertains) with lost and found personnel, or any gate agents/airline personnel you personally speak to. Also get the name and phone number of the person you speak to at lost and found, so you can follow-up, if necessary.

How can I minimize the chances of leaving an item on the plane, or losing it permanently?

  • Unpacking your carry-on, or fiddling with devices while under the influence is a recipe for lost valuables. If you’re flying solo, tape a Post-it note to the seat back in front of you, reminding yourself to to collect everything before deplaning. Sure, you’ll look like an anal-retentive freak. But who cares, as long as you leave with all of your belongings?
  • Don’t stuff valuables in the seat back pocket, especially if under the influence. I always try to keep everything contained to my carry-on, which I stow beneath the seat in front of me. If you normally stash in overhead, keep a compact, reusable shopping bag on you (some have small clips so you can attach to your belt loop). You can put whatever you might need in-flight inside it, thus minimizing the chances of items going astray or falling into the maw of the seat back pocket.
  • Always ID tag carry-on valuables like cell phones, iPod’s, cameras, etc.. I use stick-on address labels; if you don’t want the whole world to know where you live, just put a cell phone number and email.
  • Even if you didn’t unpack anything in-flight, do a sweep of your seat and floor before deplaning. I’ve had items fall out of not-fully zipped, or elasticized pockets on my carry-on.

Lost and found contact numbers for major U.S. carriers

While researching this piece, I quickly discovered that many airlines don’t have a general number for lost and found. Most require you to fill out an online form, or report missing items in person at the destination airport.

United: 1-800-221-6903.

American Airlines: If I may put my two cents in (and I will), AA has the most idiotic lost and found/customer service policy. There is no general number, so you must “call the Lost and Found office of the specific airport to or from which you were traveling.” Which is awesome, because none of these offices are open 24 hours. When I called the Delayed Baggage number to explain who I was and what I was writing about, and if they could provide me with a general number to assist readers, I was told, “You can send a written letter to customer relations.” Thanks, AA. You rock.

Delta: Click here to report your missing item.

Continental: Click here to report your missing item.

Southwest: Report missing item in person within four hours at your destination.

Jet Blue: “Articles found onboard an aircraft will be placed in the JetBlue lost and found area of the destination city. You may call the JetBlue Baggage Service office at the airport to inquire about your lost item.”

Alaska: 1-800-25-7522, say “More options,” then “Baggage information.”

Frontier: Click here to report your missing item.

Virgin America: Contact one of these lost and found offices.

If you leave any item at any TSA security check, call 1-866-289-9673.

[Photo credits: electronics, Flickr user Burnt Pixel; cat, Flickr user dulcenea]