Galley Gossip: Bids are out! (my schedule, a little airline lingo, and a flight attendant poll)

“Bids are out!”

Those three words are exclaimed each and every month by flight attendants (and pilots) around the world. Perhaps you’ve even witnessed a crew of four (or more) call out the three words above as they briskly walk through the terminal and pass another crew of four (or more) on their way to the gate.

Maybe you’ve wondered, what does that mean, as you stood waiting for your delayed flight to board. And while you continued to stand there impatiently waiting, you watched as four (or more) cell phones were simultaneously flipped open and placed to the ear. Rest assured that call must be made upon hearing those three words. If it can’t happen right then and there, it will happen very shortly, even if the flight attendant has to hide in the lavatory during the boarding process to make it happen. Why? BECAUSE THE BIDS ARE OUT!

BID, BIDS, BIDDING, BID SHEET – 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, which is why those flights to Asia and Europe always have the most senior flight attendants working the trip.

LINE, LINE HOLDER – a sequence of trips a flight attendant is offered each month. A line holder is not on reserve and works each of those trips in consecutive order.

RESERVE – Reserve flight attendants do not have a line. They bid for days off only. When they don’t have a day off, they remain on-call, meaning the company can (and will) assign the flight attendant a trip at any time of day (or night), with at least two hours time to get to the airport. Reserve duty is much like an on-call doctor. We must stay within a manageable radius of our base (mine covers three airports JFK, LGA and EWR). The flight attendant must be duty ready whenever on reserve. This means you must be ready to board a flight within one hour of its departure, which means there are no late nights out and absolutely no alcohol, since you can (and will) be called out to work any time of day or night. I remember one night having a quiet evening at home with a movie and Chinese take out. The food had not even arrived to my apartment and I was already leaving for a trip to London! There’s no warning, no lead time, and no excuses.

JUNIOR, SENIOR, 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, which is why the merging of most airlines does not happen smoothly. Junior flight attendants have to serve on reserve. In order to avoid having to do reserve duty , I commute from my home in Los Angeles (one of our most senior bases in the system) to New York (our most junior base). For me it is better to commute and be a big fish in a little pond than to work from home and have the uncertainty of my schedule loom over our family.

BASE – City in which a crew member originates and ends a trip. All trips start and end from ones base.

COMMUTE, COMMUTER, COMMUTING – the process of getting to your base city. I commute to work from Los Angeles to New York before each trip. Most airline employees who commute to work spend the night in a crash-pad. Like many flight attendants, my crash-pad is located very close to two of the three airports in my base city.

TURN, TURNS, TURNAROUND – any trip that originates from and returns to the same city on the same day. It is not uncommon for a flight attendant to see several cities over the course of 48hrs, only to arrive back to the city they left from. I have flown from LGA to ORD to DFW back to ORD and arrived back in LGA only to come home, shower, sleep and do it all over again the very next day.

Last week, after spending a good four days in a row staring cross-eyed at the bid sheet, I found out that for the month of November I was awarded line 50. Chicago turns. My particular trip will depart to Chicago a little after noon and return to New York just before midnight on the same day. Turns, are not my trip of choice, but we’ll get to that later.

Flight attendants bid once a month, near the end of the month, for a schedule the following month. I know, it’s confusing, but stick with me. Each line shows exactly what days and which trips a flight attendant will be working for the month. So whenever you see a couple of crew members sitting in the terminal, or on the jump-seat, with their noses glued to a packet of papers for hours on end, nine times out of ten they’re studying the bid sheet. This is not the time for chit chat, so unless you have a serious concern to discuss, or food to share, do not disturb the flight attendant. Bidding, for a flight attendant, is very serious business.

TRANSCONS – a transcontinental, across country, or coast to coast flight.

TRADING, DROPPING, PICKING UP – the act of swapping, giving away, or taking another flight attendant’s trip.

BACK UP, BACKING UP: working several trips in a row in order to have several days off in a row.

WIDEBODY – any aircraft with two aisles. The bigger the airplane, the more senior the crew.

NARROWBODY – any aircraft with a single aisle.

When I bid, I choose to work the transcons because they are easy to drop. I’m a commuter, and because I don’t want to waste my precious days off flying back and forth across the country, I back my trips up. That means at some point during the month I’ll fly to New York as a stand by passenger, spend the night in my crash-pad, work back and forth across the country as many times as possible in seven days, and then fly home to Los Angeles, which is where I’ll stay because I’m done for the month. Yeah, I know, it’s a good life – until all the flights to base are oversold, canceled, delayed and I’m unable to make it to work.

But remember, unlike most of my colleagues, I’m a low time flier, which pretty much means I work part time. In order to do this, I have to hold something desirable, not necessarily what I want to work, but what others prefer to work. Transcons on the widebody are the most sought after trips. Since I’m now a domestic flight attendant, I bid the flights to Los Angeles from New York. They’re easy, worth a lot of money, rarely ever cancel, and if I do decide to work one, I can layover at home with my family, not the layover hotel.

The reason I bid Chicago turns, and not transcons, for the month of November is because that line was the first line I could hold with Thanksgiving off. Yes, believe it or not, this will be the first Thanksgiving I’ve held off in thirteen years of flying. I’m way too junior to hold a holiday off on a line of transcons. In fact, I can barely hold transcons on non-holiday months, and if I do, I’ll most likely be working in business class, the most junior position on the aircraft, which is not a position you want to work if you’re trying to drop the trip.

TRIP TRADE, TRIP TRADER – the act of trading trips with another flight attendant. As this can prove to be a daunting task, flight attendants hire a person who manages, (for a fee), several different flight attendant schedules at once.

The first thing I do when bids are finalized is call my trip trader. She is one of the most important people in my life. Without her I don’t know what I would do. She makes my life work. Actually, what she does is make it possible for me to work, because it’s not easy when you have a two-year old child at home and you are married to a man who travels over 100,000 miles a year, and you don’t have family around to help when you’re out of town.

Now I have no idea how my trip trader does what she does, but the girl works magic, and I love her for that! In fact, I just checked my schedule and most of my Chicago turns have already disappeared. YES! And I’ve got two fantastic San Francisco transcons backed up in the middle of the month on my schedule! WOO-HOO! I love my trip trader, and life is good.

So good, in fact, I’m about to purchase three airline tickets to fly home to Dallas for the Thanksgiving holidays. Remember, this is the first Thanksgiving I’ll be celebrating at a home, and not in a dumpy airport hotel. Yes, I can fly for free as a stand by passenger, but like I said, I actually want to make it home for the holidays. What I don’t want to do is spend the holiday weekend getting bumped from flight to flight traveling with the family on the busiest holiday of the year. Oh no, I want to eat delicious turkey and dressing at my mother’s house, not a turkey sandwich and fries at Chili’s in the Los Angeles Airport.

Are you a flight attendant? If so, take the following poll. If not, check out this cool website and test your knowledge of even more airline lingo.


Photos courtesy of: (flight attendant legs) Laszlo-photo , (airplane interior) Carrib, (turkey) Xbermathew