Galley Gossip: Flight attendant interview – The pros and cons of speaking a second language and how it affects reserve

Dear Heather, I am hoping to become a flight attendant soon (have a face to face interview next week!) and have a question about reserve status. I speak Japanese fluently and was wondering how different things are for flight attendants who speak a different language. Are they on reserve for the same amount of time? Is anything different? – Natasha

For the first time in history being a flight attendant is considered a profession, not just a job. Fewer flight attendants are quitting, turnover is not as high as it once was, and competition to become a flight attendant has gotten fierce. Ninety-six percent of people who apply to become a flight attendant do not get a call back. In December of 2010 Delta Airlines received more than 100,000 applications after announcing they had an opening for 1,000 flight attendants. Even though it is not a requirement to have a college degree, only the most qualified applicants are hired. Being able to speak a second language will greatly improve your chance!

The only thing that affects reserve status is company seniority (class hire date). Seniority is assigned by date of birth within each training class. This means the oldest classmate will become the most senior flight attendant in your class. Seniority is everything at an airline, and I mean everything! It determines whether you’ll work holidays, weekends and when, if ever, you’ll be off reserve. So it’s important to accept the earliest training date offered.

While speaking another language doesn’t affect how long you’ll serve reserve, it will have an impact on your flying career.


1. MORE MONEY. “Speakers” earn more per hour than non-speakers. Unfortunately it’s only a few dollars on top of what a regular flight attendant is paid. Remember most flight attendants make between fourteen to eighteen thousand a year the first year on the job, so every dollar counts.2. GOOD TRIPS. Speakers on reserve are assigned trips to foreign countries where people speak their language. No offense to cities like Phoenix, Pittsburgh or Portland, but a layover in Paris is just a tad bit more desirable. Not just because it’s a foreign city with exciting things to do and see, but because international routes pay more per hour (on top of speaker pay).

3. DAYS OFF. An international flight usually ranges between eight to fourteen hours, while domestic flights rarely go over six hours. Because flight attendants are paid for flight hours only – all that time we spend on the ground is not considered flying time, which means the flight attendant greeting you at the boarding door is not being paid – it takes domestic flight attendants a lot longer to get in their hours each month. Flight attendants who work international routes work what is considered “high-time” trips and high-time trips equate to more days off.


4. BAD TRIPS. Speakers get what is called “bid denied”. What this means is they get stuck working the same trip until they have enough seniority to hold something else. I know a number of speakers who became so tired of working the same route week after week, month after month, year after year, they chose to drop their language qualification altogether. In the beginning of ones flying career, a thirty-six hour layover in Paris might sound great, but even Paris gets old after awhile.

5. LESS FLEXIBILITY: The best thing about being a flight attendant is the flexible lifestyle. Because we’re paid only for the hours we work, we’re free to manipulate our schedules however we like. We can work high-time one month and not at all the next month. We can also “back up” our trips. Most flight attendants are scheduled a few days off between each trip. By trading trips we’re able to adjust our schedules so that we can fly several trips in a row in order to get a big chunk of days off to go on vacation or just hang out at home. Speakers have a harder time doing this because they can only trade, drop, and swap with another speaker that has the same qualifications.

6. PROBLEM FLIGHTS: On domestic routes problem passengers have no trouble letting us know what’s wrong. At my airline international routes are only required to be staffed with one speaker per cabin. If we don’t speak the language, we have no idea there’s a problem or if we do know there’s a problem, we have no idea what the problem is, and the flight goes on as peacefully as it had been. Unfortunately those who do speak the language get stuck handling all the problems.

Photo courtesy of Dmytrock’s

Galley Gossip: A letter to the producers of Project Runway regarding flight attendant uniforms

Dear Project Runway Producers,

Have I got a challenge for you! With the premiere of the new television show Pan Am airing September 25th on ABC, there’s been a lot of talk about airlines in the news lately. One can’t help but compare stewardesses of yesterday to flight attendants today, and yet the job rarely resembles what it once was so many years ago. Long gone are the days of glamour when stewardesses had strict age, weight and height requirements, and only averaged 18 months on the job. Nowadays flight attendants are allowed to be married, grow old, and gain weight – just like the rest of society!

Image is important to an airline. This is why most airlines have established very strict grooming standards flight attendants must abide by. I’ve been told passengers have more confidence in an airline when its employees look good. That makes sense considering when I look good, I feel good, and that in turn has a positive affect on passengers. But in America we come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors, opposed to our foreign counterparts who are hired because they are a specific size, shape and color. This is why it’s more difficult for US carriers to design a uniform that looks good on everyone.

Since 9/11 airlines have had to reduce expenses to stay in business. I’ve been working as a flight attendant for sixteen years, so I’ve experienced first hand just how much travel has changed in the last decade. Food was the first thing to go, followed by magazines, pillows and blankets. Even a few colleagues and a couple of airlines disappeared. This might explain why our polyester uniforms are no longer quite as impressive as they once were when air travel was considered a luxury and only the wealthy could afford to fly. Needless to say our uniforms have to be cheap enough to outfit tens of thousands of employees.

What most people don’t realize is that flight attendants today work ten times harder than ever before. A 12-14 hour work day followed by an 8 hour layover is not uncommon. Nor is working three back to back trips in a row. This adds up to a lot of wear and tear on a uniform in a short period of time. That being said, durability should play a major factor in our uniform design. Comfort would also be nice. Remember being able to move, stretch, bend and work in a cabin that alternates between hot and cold is very important.

The pencil thin, girdle wearing stewardesses of yesterday have evolved. Even so we, too, would love nothing more than to walk through the airport terminal with the same pride they felt by wearing a distinguished uniform that is fashionable, but also age appropriate and practical to work in. Why not take on this challenge for those of us who work the not so friendly skies and design stylish coordinating uniform pieces that are affordable and comfortable and will look good on your daughter, son, wife, brother, mother or father. Not an easy task, I know. This could be your biggest challenge yet. Think you can do it? Millions of flight attendants would be forever grateful if you could at least give it a try.


Heather Poole

Photo courtesy of JFithian

Galley Gossip: Age, weight and height requirements for flight attendants (and why Christina Ricci could never be a Pan Am stewardess)

“In this male-dominated world, in that famously openly chauvinistic culture, these women were really taking the reins and running their lives in a way most women didn’t,” Christina Ricci said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about her upcoming television show, Pan Am, a night time soap opera revolving around the lives of flight attendants and pilots in the 1960’s. Think Mad Men at 30,000 feet.

Christina Ricci has been cast to play Maggie, a head stewardess. What’s funny about this is Ricci wouldn’t have been hired to be a stewardess back in the day. At five foot one, Christina is too short. Pan Am required its stewardesses to be at least five foot two and weigh no more than 130 pounds. They also couldn’t be married or have children. On top of that the mandatory retirement age for flight attendants was 32. So even if Ricci had managed to squeak by Pan Am’s minimum height requirement, she wouldn’t have flown for long. The actress, born in February, is already 31 years old. With Pan Am scheduled to air in September, Christina only has five months to travel the world before being forced to hang up the uniform and retire. That’s not enough time to establish oneself as a head stewardess for a major airline. At my airline it takes six months just to get off probation! But back in the 60’s stewardesses averaged eighteen months on the job. A year and a half. By those standards, Christina Ricci would already be three-quarters of the way through with her career. Sad, but true.

Thankfully a lot has changed since 1960…

HEIGHT: Today US airlines have height requirements for safety reasons only. Flight attendants must be tall enough to reach overhead safety equipment. Typically flight attendants range between five foot three to six foot one. There may be a lower height restriction at some regional airlines where the aircraft type operated has a maximum height allowance of 5’10”.

WEIGHT: In 1990 all US airlines dropped weight requirements for flight attendants. The only requirement today is that weight must be in proportion to height. If a flight attendant can not sit in the jump seat without an extended seat belt or fit through the emergency exit window, they can not fly.

AGE: Most airlines have a minimum age requirement, usually between 18 and 21 years old. There is no maximum age limit. As long as a flight attendant can pass their yearly recurrent training, and does not have any health or physical problems that would prevent them from flying, they can continue to work for as long as they like.

NOTE: Foreign carriers still follow strict height, weight, and age requirements.

Photo courtesy of ABC

Galley Gossip: Electronic devices & the passenger with the cat-like reflexes

When a passenger said to me with a straight face that he had cat-like reflexes, I tried not to laugh. Only it’s impossible not to laugh when a person says something like this, and actually means it. FYI: I’ve been around a lot of passengers and I have yet to meet one with these kind of reflexes. At least not in this day and age of distracted air travel.

How did I meet my funny feline friend? We had just touched down at La Guardia airport in New York. While taxiing to the gate, I spotted him, a business man, sitting in the aisle seat of the last row of coach with a mammoth-sized computer resting on his lap, fingers typing away.

From the back of the airplane over the roar of the engine, I called out, “Sir, excuse me, Sir! “

Either he couldn’t hear me or assumed I was speaking to someone else. I unbuckled my belt and gently tapped him on the shoulder. “You’re not supposed to be using that right now.”

Fingers continued to peck at the keys. Eyes remained glued to the screen. “I thought we were allowed to use electronic devices after landing.”

“It’s okay to use your cell phone after landing, but not a computer. That should be off and stowed.”

On a mission, the fingers kept moving. “I’m….almost…done.”

Almost was not soon enough.

“Do you know why you’re supposed to have that stowed?” I asked. Finally the fingers came to a stop, and for the first time during the course of a two and a half hour flight, the gentleman and I made eye contact. “If there’s an emergency and I have to pop the slide and evacuate this plane, you’re going to waste a lot of precious time fumbling around with that fifty pound laptop! Do you think your neighbor wants to gets blocked in, or worse, whacked in the head? Also what if I need your help?!”

Sheepishly he smiled. “What if I told you I have cat-like reflexes.”

And there you have it. That’s how this passenger, a middle-aged man, became known as The Cat Man. As for his amazing reflexes, I’d seen them in action and I was not at all impressed. During the flight when I went to put a cup of club soda down on his tray table, I had to wait a few minutes for him to figure out what to do with the laptop. And the Blackberry. And the other Blackberry.

On a recent flight a first class passenger thought nothing of pulling out his cell phone and texting while I stood right in front of him demonstrating the safety announcement! Another chatted away in coach as we turned onto the runway. “I heard you!” barked a woman when I asked her to turn off a game boy. Now I had already asked her twice to put it away and I kinda-sorta needed to take my jump seat before takeoff, so now wasn’t a good time to discuss why she couldn’t keep it in “airplane mode.”

Last week on a flight from New York to Aspen, after the lights were turned to bright and the flight attendant in charge made the announcement about turning electronic devices off, stowing bags, and putting seat backs in the upright and locked position, I went through the cabin and row by row had to practically invite each and every passenger to do as they were told – not once, but a few times! No joke, my four year-old has better listening skills than most of the adults on this flight. And there were 124 passengers on board! Never in my life has it taken me so long to prepare a cabin for landing! Because some of these passengers had more than one electronic device in use, I couldn’t get their attention, and when I finally did, they still couldn’t grasp what I was saying. I had to resort to a game of charades. Try acting out “head phones off. Power down computer” twenty times in flight and you’ll know what it’s like to be me.

Now when I encounter these kind of passengers, I can’t help but think of my old friend and his not-so cat-like reflexes. But instead of laughing, I feel more like hissing and scratching. Just consider yourself warned.


Photo courtesy of Svacher

Galley Gossip: Why are so many male flight attendants gay?

Scary flights. International layovers. Old flight attendants. Gay flight attendants. In that order these four topics often arise whenever someone who doesn’t work for an airline finds out what I do for a living. I have no problem discussing my job. In fact I love sharing interesting stories and helpful travel tips with those who are interested. While sexual preference has nothing to do with the job, the fact is a majority of male flight attendants are not straight and people want to know why.

I’ve never felt comfortable writing about coworkers whom I see as colleagues and friends, not gays. But because so many people seem truly curious I asked a few flight attendants who are openly gay if they’d be willing to write something about the subject that I could print here. Without hesitation, they agreed to share their thoughts. Unfortunately I never heard back from them after our flight. So I decided to do the next best thing and contact my friend, and coworker, Brian, author of the blog Straight Guy in the Queer Skies, to hear what his thoughts were on why there are so few straight men in our profession. Here’s what he wrote…

The industry is already gay friendly, so it only makes sense that the next generation of flight attendants will be gay as well. Every confused, awkward gay teen going through puberty, desperate to fit in during high school, dreams of being a flight attendant. It’s the promised land! This could be why the job may not seem as appealing to straight men. Some “straights” don’t like working with “gays”, while others might be nervous that the general public will perceive them as gay, so the majority of straight males stay away from the profession. Some guys just aren’t secure enough in their masculinity, or maybe they don’t want to always fight that battle every time someone asks what their profession is.

There are gay men in every profession, but there are certainly some arenas that are more accepting of gays than others. The service industry is one of those areas where gay men are very much accepted and do a fantastic job. Most of us straight boys aren’t nearly as good when it comes to customer service. I’m not sure why this is and I don’t really care. All I know is working under the customer service umbrella in some ways is like being a performer; you’re in the spotlight. You do things and all eyes are on you. You say things and everyone listens. The world is your stage. This might not be appealing to most straight men.

I never wanted to be a flight attendant. I graduated from college and was trying to figure out what to do next when my mother suggested I apply to an airline because her cousin worked for one, the same one I work for now. I doubt I would’ve pursued it on my own but my mom went behind my back and sent in my application without me knowing. A week later she told me I had a flight I needed to show up for and an interview in another city. I didn’t have anything else to do that day so I just went with it. Even after I got the job, I didn’t really think it was something I’d want to do for very long. I didn’t think I’d fit in. I stuck with it though and eventually I grew to love it. But that’s how randomly I got into the business. I would have never come up with this occupation on my own. I don’t think it’s something straight men really think of whilst contemplating their career path.

The most honest answer is the reason why people do anything. Why start a band? Why go out for a sports team in high school? Why buy a Corvette? Why get out of the bed in the morning? Why shower? You do it in hopes of getting laid. Gay men know there are a million opportunities for fun on and off the plane provided by the job, therefore they apply for it.

Photo courtesy of Augapfel