Galley Gossip: Is it okay for passengers to dump their drinks on the floor during turbulence?

Dear Heather, Today I heard an announcement in-flight I’d never heard before and was wondering if you make it often, or ever. After serving drinks, it got a little turbulent and the flight attendants had to sit down. A few minutes later the purser came on and said, “if you’re having trouble controlling your drinks, please just dump them on the floor.” WHAT? And waste all this good wine, I thought. I just chugged mine and it was not an issue, but wondered if anyone poured theirs on the floor. What do you think of this? – Frequent Flying Ron

I’ve been a flight attendant for sixteen years and while I have yet to make a PA like the one you heard, I have suggested doing the same thing to passengers sitting near my jump seat after they rang the call light and then held up their drinks in the air during a rough patch of air. This right after the Captain made the announcement, “Flight attendants take your jump seats now!” When you hear those words, you know it’s going to be bad.

There are four types of turbulence: light, moderate, severe, and extreme.Light turbulence causes a slight, rapid and somewhat rhythmic bumpiness without appreciable changes in altitude or attitude. Sometimes pilots refer to it as light chop. It’s the kind that rocks babies, and even a few overly worked flight attendants, to sleep. The seat belt sign may be on, but flight attendants are still able to conduct the food service with little to no difficulty.

Moderate turbulence is a little more intense. It causes rapid bumps or jolts without changes in aircraft altitude. Passengers will feel the strain of their seat belts. Unsecured objects in the galley may dislodge. Conducting a food service or checking for seat belt compliance is difficult.

Severe turbulence causes large or abrupt changes in altitude. The aircraft may be momentarily out of control. Passengers are forced violently against their seats. Walking is impossible. If flight attendants haven’t strapped into their jump seats already, we may not be able to do so and we’ll have to grab the nearest available passenger seat. If there’s not one open, we’ll sit on a passenger – any one will do. Make sure to hold on to us tightly.

Extreme turbulence rarely happens, but when it does it will violently toss an aircraft about, making it practically impossible to control. Structural damage is possible.

According to the FAA’s website, over a million people travel by air every day. From 1980 through 2008 there were 238 accidents involving turbulence, resulting in 298 serious injuries and three fatalities. Of the three fatalities, two passengers were not wearing their safety belt while the seat belt sign was on. Of the 298 seriously injured, 184 involved were flight attendants. So if you see flight attendants sitting in the jump seats when it starts to get bumpy, it’s safe to assume we’re just trying to make sure we don’t end up in a hospital far away from home or be forced into early retirement!

So is it okay to dump your drink on the floor during turbulence? I’m not going to say it’s okay. But I’m also not going to say it’s not okay. What I will say is we’d rather you do what Ron did and drink faster! Or wait for us to whisk it away when it’s safe to be up in the cabin.

Photo courtesy of MikeCogh

Galley Gossip: The art of maintaining service (when service is the last thing on the mind)

Sitting on the jump-seat in the back of coach, working a flight from New York to Los Angeles aboard a 767, I turned to Stephanie, my coworker, and sighed. “I have to tell you, I was getting a little nervous there for a minute.”

“I know,” Stephanie laughed, even though she was not laughing an hour ago.

I should have known it was going to be one of those days when I spotted the flight attendant slipping her navy blue pantyhose feet into a cheap pair of white house shoes, the kind you snag from a nice hotel, just to go through security.

“Ma’am,” I said eyeing her Travelpro suitcase, not her funny feet, as I placed my own wheelie bag onto the moving conveyor belt, “Are those three large cobs of corn sticking out of the back of your rollaboard?”

“Yes,” she said matter of fact.

I laughed, attaching my tote-bag to my rolling bag, but she did not laugh back, as she slipped her feet into a pair of black leather heels, placing the house shoes inside the back pocket of her rollaboard next to the cobs of corn, and walked away.

Okay, that’s weird, I remember thinking, as I walked to flight operations. Little did I know, that was just the beginning of weird.

We were midway through the beverage service in coach when it hit me. I had just poured a cup of coffee when I smelled a strange smell. It was the kind of smell you do not want to smell, particularly in flight. Now this wasn’t that smell flight attendants often use coffee packets in the lavatory to disguise. Oh no, this was a burning smell. Maybe even a plastic burning smell. Or was it an electrical burning smell? I couldn’t tell. While I tried to figure it out, I handed a passenger a cup of water, no ice, and looked across the cart at Stephanie who had three cups of orange juice in one hand.

“Can I get you something to drink?” I asked the next passenger, not making eye contact, as I still stood staring at Stephanie, who would not look at me no matter how long I stared at her.

I cleared my throat, but she did not look, so I glanced across the aisle at Ben, another coworker, who had just handed a passenger a breakfast sandwich. Too busy counting a wad of cash, Ben did not notice me either. As for his partner on the other side of the cart, she was bent over a passenger plugging in a set of headphones into the armrest. Just business as usual flying across the country, except for that strange scent in the cabin that only I seemed to smell.

I’ll admit that after having recently attended recurrent training, where flight attendants go to review everything from security procedures to CPR, I was a tad bit sensitive when it came to things that were…well…out of the ordinary, even just slightly out of the ordinary things, which I have to think is a normal reaction for most flight attendants after going through two stressful days of torture at the training facility each year. I mean I’m sure that’s why we go through recurrent training in the first place, so that we don’t become desensitized to all the different things we experience out on the line, so that we don’t become complacent and ignore the things that should not be ignored, no matter how trivial they may seem, or smell, at first. However some of us may have a tendency to become a wee bit paranoid , like me, after being bombarded with all those what-if scenarios, especially the fire fighting scenarios, at training.

As I continued to stare at Stephanie, I popped open a can of cranberry juice. Finally she met my gaze. I opened my eyes wide, cocked my head, and mouthed, Smell that? I could see her nose at work as she sniffed the air. She made a face and nodded in agreement. Together we glanced across the aisle at Ben, who was now looking at us curiously.

What, Ben mouthed at me, while placing a can of apple juice on a passenger’s tray table.

I tapped my nose three times, and then handed a passenger a napkin and a glass of ice. Ben nodded. I gulped. It was getting stronger.

“I’m going to call the cockpit,” I told Stephanie.

On my way to the back of the cabin, a call light rang. I stopped, turned off the orange light, and asked the man with the messy hair and the blue eye mask wrapped around his neck, “Need something?”

“There’s a strange smell in the cabin,” said the man with a British accent, rubbing his blinking eyes.

“Yeah, I smell it, too,” mumbled a woman, his seatmate, who had, until that moment, also been sleeping.

I rang the pilots in the cockpit, along with the flight attendant working in first class, and watched as Ben and Stephanie professionally maintained the beverage service in main cabin. After going over the details involving the smell – the type of smell, the strength of the smell, the location of the smell, the passengers seated near the smell, how long I’d smelled the smell, etc – I asked the purser, “Can you come back here and check it out?”

Two seconds later the purser, a no nonsense kind of woman, a take charge kind of person, the kind of flight attendant you want working with you whenever there’s a problem on-board a flight, came strolling down the aisle. She leaned over Stephanie and whispered, “I smell it. The cockpit wants you to feel the floor to see if it’s hot.”

I gulped. “Okay.”

Now if I hadn’t recently gone to recurrent training just a few months ago, and had not seen the video of the flight attendant who had fought a fire during flight, and the brilliant thing she had done prior to fighting the fire located under the floor boards of the airplane, I may have actually bent down on my hands and knees and touched that nasty carpet, which is something you probably don’t want to do when eyes are focused on you. Not when your main priority is to keep the passengers calm. Instead I slipped off my shoes, just like the flight attendant had done in the training video, and smiled as I walked down the aisle, very slowly, into the back galley where I grabbed a stack of plastic cups. Back to the cart I walked, very slowly, feeling the floor for heat. Of course the woman who had been sleeping next to the British man had seen me slip off my shoes, and was now looking at me exactly the way I imagined I had looked at the flight attendant with the corn cobs sticking out of her bag, like I was weird.

“That’s strange,” I heard her whisper to her seatmate, as I passed her row.

Back at the beverage cart, I slipped my shoes back on, simultaneously grabbing a couple packets of equal and a stir stick, handing them to the passenger I had last served, before asking Stephanie, “Can you pass the milk?”

As Stephanie handed me a small carton of fat free milk, I shook my head no, indicating that the floor was not hot. Thank god.

We clicked the brake and moved the cart three rows back, and while watching the purser communicating to the cockpit via inter-phone, I asked a passenger, “Care for something to drink?”

The purser hung up the phone and walked back to the cart, very slowly. With a puzzled look on her face, she handed Stephanie a stack of napkins and whispered, “I don’t smell it anymore.”

“Me neither,” Stephanie and I quietly said simultaneously.

And just like that the smell was gone (never to return again), the British man and his seatmate had fallen back to sleep, and the beverage service continued as normal. The rest of the flight, I’m happy to report, went without further incident. Thank god.

So the next time you find yourself trapped on a miserable flight, just remember that the flight attendant, that overpaid waitress in the sky who is taking entirely way too long to get to your row, isn’t just there to help you find a place to stow your luggage and serve you the beverage of your choice, even though it may appear to be so, she’s really there for your safety, and while she’s there, always monitoring the cabin at 35,000 feet, she’ll ask you if you’d like something to drink.

Galley Gossip: Vegas Baby! (It’s not the same)

Due to short layovers, long work hours, multiple cities flown in a day, and the number of passengers aboard the aircraft, flight attendants can become very forgetful, particularly when it comes to you and something as simple as your drink order, even the one you just ordered.

“I’m sorry did you say orange juice?” I asked the man who had probably said just that, as half the cabin had already ordered exactly that. Orange juice.

Curtly the passenger nodded. I filled a plastic glass with ice, and that’s when I realized he may not even want ice, so I asked, “Ice or no ice?” even though I was fairly certain the answer would be no ice. Half the cabin had already requested no ice.

The passenger said something, his lips were moving, but I could not make out what it was he said, so I held up the gray plastic ice scoop and pretended to put ice into his clear plastic cup, and asked, “Ice? Ice?” just as I had done for several passengers before him.

Again the lips moved, yet I still could not figure out what he wanted, so I made a judgment call. I filled up the glass with orange juice. Just juice. No ice. Then I smiled and placed the glass on his tray table. He nodded, took a sip, and on to the next row I went.

Orange juice no ice. Tea. Tea with milk. Tea with milk and sugar. Strangely enough, these were the popular drink choices on my last flight. No, this was not a morning trip to Seattle. This was actually a flight, an evening flight, on a Saturday night of all nights, to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Flight attendants can usually guess what you’re drinking based on where you’re going. For example, Californians can’t get enough bottled water, sparkling water, and club soda, while Texans drink us out of Dr. Pepper, and our Senior Citizens enjoy tomato juice, so imagine my surprise when I constantly found myself running out of hot tea and OJ while serving a rather subdued crowd to Vegas last night. Not normal. Not at all. This was Vegas remember!

“You’re going to have so much fun!” said my hairdresser yesterday morning after I told her where I was flying later that evening.

“It’s a fun crowd, but a tough one. They keep you busy,” I laughed, and then I told her our layover was short, as in ten hours short, which is not enough time to have fun. The days of fun are long gone. I really miss those days. My how things have changed.

“I’m so jealous! I want to go with you!” said a woman with foils in her hair sitting beside me.

“Oh no you don’t. Our layover is really short,” I said again, and then I told her about the demanding Las Vegas crowd, the one that keeps you busy the entire flight.

Now I hadn’t flown to Vegas in over six months, but the last time I found myself behind the drink cart I couldn’t get out of the aisle. Nor could I keep the liquor drawer stocked. Yet strangely enough on my flight last night the beverage service not only went fairly smooth, it also went somewhat quick, which is a flight attendant dream. I think I may have sold one alcoholic beverage on the flight. That’s it. Not that there’s anything was wrong with that – just the opposite actually. But it was strange, very strange, running out of tea bags, not liquor, on a drama free flight.

Or is it strange, considering how weak the dollar is these days, I thought to myself, as I handed an 81 year-old Argentinian woman traveling with a group of eleven a stir stick.

Of course it was strange, at first, when all those well dressed passengers boarded the aircraft. “Hello. (Nice shoes.) How are you? (love the glasses.) Welcome aboard. (Beautiful blouse.)”

Can you say so long to the American traveling attire – tank tops, flip flops, and shorts, and hello …I like the way you’re dressed. Let me tell you, it is so nice when passengers actually wear clothes, nice clothes, on the airplane, especially when there aren’t any blankets on board anymore.

After filling up yet another pot of hot tea and serving a row of Germans, Jaime, my coworker on the other side of the cart, asked, “Is this what it’s like to fly international?

International passengers they were, an international service it was not. That’s what I thought to myself as I asked the Iranian gentleman near the front of the aircraft traveling with seven others, whose around the world trip was taking them from New York to Vegas to Los Angeles to Hawaii, “Would you care to purchase a snack?”

“Not free?” he asked, inspecting the turkey and cheese croissant sandwich wrapped in plastic.

Nor did it feel like an international flight, though they, the passengers, were international travelers from all corners of the globe, when I had to explain to the British man seated near the rear of the aircraft that yes, we really had run out of sandwiches on a five hour flight. “All we have left is a very large, but very good, chocolate chip cookie.”

“You mean to tell me this is the only food service you provide and you’ve already run out of food?” he asked.

I gulped. “Yes. I’m sorry,” I said, and that’s all I said, before moving on to the next row. I mean what else could I say?

Although sometimes it doesn’t look like it at first glance, this is a domestic flight within the US. Not a long haul international flight where most of your wants and needs are still being met after purchasing a higher priced fair.

After we had finished our service, Kim, the first class flight attendant, made her way to our cabin and said, “You are not going to believe what he said.” I don’t know why I automatically assumed Kim spoke of the popular actor from the 80’s wearing the SARS mask throughout the entire flight, but I was right to assume so. He rang his call light and wanted to discuss our security procedures on-board the airplane during flight. “He doesn’t approve of what we do. He thinks we should have something more advanced in place, especially in this day and age.”

“Like what?” I asked. Really, I wanted to know, what else could we do in this day and age of air travel?

There’s a saying, it takes money to make money. Therefore it takes money to put in place all those security measures you feel that are inadequate, and the amenities you still expect on-board the domestic flights, along with that extra flight attendant that is often needed to provide you with the service you’ve come to expect. Believe it or not, one extra flight attendant can make a huge difference in the type of service you receive, particularly when there are 166 passengers and only 2 flight attendants working the aisle in coach on a 757. Things have changed in the world of travel, that much is true, and it continues to change, whether we like it or not, for passengers and crew alike.