Galley Gossip: A question about why I’m based in New York when I live in California

Dear Heather,

Reading your comments about being on reserve in New York made me wonder; why don’t you fly out of LAX? I know quite a few people at United who commute west coast to IAD, but that’s primarily because you can’t get the great international flying anywhere else in the system and their seniority goes a lot further.

John in MRY

Dear John,

Good question, John! In fact, it’s a question that my own family and friends have asked often. But first I’d like to address the airport / city codes you mentioned in your question for our readers who are not familiar with airline lingo…

Back in 1995, my classmates and I were offered several base choices prior to graduating from flight attendant training. Because the bases were rewarded by class seniority and class seniority was determined by age, which made me one of the more junior people in the class, I only had three real options – San Francisco, Miami, and New York. My plan was to eventually live at each and every base the airline offered. That’s why I took the job in the first place. To travel. To experience new things. To live in different places.

San Francisco: San Francisco would have been my first choice, except for the fact that the base was (and still is) one of the most senior bases in the system. When it comes to working for an airline seniority is everything. It determines what you fly, when you fly, and days off. Not to mention, the cost of living in California was (and still is) expensive for a flight attendant. A new hire back in 1995 only made a salary of $17,000 the first year. And because only a handful of people from my training class were going to San Francisco, all of whom were from San Francisco, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to find a couple of roommates to share a small place in the short four days the airline allotted before we were all off and flying our very first trip. Though I didn’t go to San Francisco, I knew that one day I would transfer there as soon as I acquired a little more seniority and my pay checks were just a wee bit bigger.

Miami: The majority of the people in my training class wanted to go to Miami, whether they had enough seniority to hold it or not, and most of them did not. The base was (and still is) the second most junior in the system. Of course the weather is always nice, the beaches are beautiful, single life, for me, would have probably been a lot of fun, and the cost of living in 1995 was not bad, not bad at all. I remember seeing an ad in the newspaper for a one bedroom apartment near the beach for $500 a month. It seemed like a dream, a dream that I could actually attain as a flight attendant. Miami was the base for me – but there was just one other place I wanted to go to first.

New York: An hour after my silver wings were pinned to my blue lapel, I was whisked away to the airport where I quickly boarded an airplane that flew to New York. At a window seat I sat, and I’ll never forget looking out of that window at all of those twinkling lights down below as we descended into La Guardia Airport. It was a beautiful sight. Nor will I forget freezing my you-know-what off as I stood outside the deserted airport in the middle of December, two large suitcases lying at my feet, with absolutely no idea what to do next. A not so beautiful sight. I chose New York because I just wanted to go to the one base I knew I’d like the least, just to experience it, and then transfer out as soon as possible. Since I knew most of my classmates would get stuck in New York, I figured it’d be fun to experience flying life with all my new friends. As bad as it seemed at the time having to share a small house in Queens with six other full-time flight attendants, two commuters, a Border Collie named Monica, and Boris, a Russian yellow cab driver who lived in the basement, those were some of the best days of my life.

It’s been fourteen years and I’m still based in New York, even though I live in Los Angeles. Here’s why…

Seniority: New York is the most junior base, yet we have, I think, the best flying. Now, fourteen years later, I’m holding pretty good trips, like transcons from New York to the west coast. That’s one long and easy flight. If I were based in LA, a very senior base, I’d be stuck working up and down the west coast, multiple legs a day, and because flight attendants don’t get paid until the aircraft pulls away from the gate, you do not want to spend very much time on the ground, which is exactly what happens when you work multiple legs a day – waiting in the airport between flights, boarding, deplaning, etc. A flight attendant can easily be on duty for twelve hours but only get paid for eight of those hours when working this type of trip. I work a reduced schedule, so I have to make the most of my days at work. That’s why it’s very important I hold good trips in order to be able to drop them.

Reserve: Reserve, to put it quite simply, is hell. There’s is not one flight attendant I know who enjoys being on reserve. When on reserve, except for a few scheduled days off, you are on-call to the company for a month. Because New York is a junior base, my chances of holding off reserve are good. In fact, I’ve actually held off for a year until this month, and now I am just 15 people from holding off again. For me, it’s much easier to commute to work than to be on reserve, and I do hope to be off reserve again soon. Fingers crossed.

Because I love New York – There’s just something about the energy in New York City, an energy I can’t explain, that does not exist anywhere else. The moment I step off the airplane and walk into the JFK terminal, I feel alive, and creative, which is good when you write about what you do for a living. I love New York so much, in fact, that I even enjoy the brief drive through Manhattan in the dark on the way to Newark airport after being called out for a 5 a.m. sign-in on reserve, which has already happened twice this month – two days in a row. Let’s all pray it doesn’t happen again.

And that, John, is why I’m based in New York. Thanks for the question, and if you, or anyone else, have another question feel free to email me at

Happy Travels,

Heather Poole


Photos courtesy of (Vintage airline poster), (New York City) Morrissey