Galley Gossip: Interview with a flight attendant – ME!

Dear Heather,

I know this is really random and weird, but I’m a Jr in high school and we were given an assignment to write a research paper over a job that we would like to do once we graduate and I have become very interested in becoming a flight attendant. Anyway part of the assignment is to interview someone that does the job we would like to do. It’s been very hard trying to find someone that is a flight attendant. Well I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions…

  1. How long have you been working at your job
  2. What kind of training/education is required to do your job
  3. Is college or a vocational school needed to prepare for this job?
  4. How have the things learned in school helped when beginning this line of work?
  5. What do you like most about your job?
  6. What do you like least about your job?
  7. What advice would you give a student that is interested in doing what you do?
Thanks for your time,


Dear Lacy,

I’d love to help you with your research paper and thank you for including me. When you’re finished, can I take a peek at what you wrote? Oh and if you, or anyone else, have any other questions please feel free to ask!

How long have you been working at your job: I’ve been working for a major US carrier for fourteen years. Before I began working for my current employer, I worked three months for a low cost carrier called Sun Jet International Airlines, an airline that is no longer in business. I’ve even done a little corporate flying on a GV (gulfstream) owned by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, which was actually purchased over the internet for $41 million, the largest internet purchase ever made. Talk about an amazing experience. My jumpseat alone was something to write home about.

What kind of training / education is required to do your job: It depends on the airline. However, I do not know many flight attendants who do not have a college education. Even with a 30% pay cut, longer duty days, and shorter layovers, all of which happened after 9/11, the job is still a highly competitive one to obtain. That means if you want to work for a major carrier your best bet is to go to college and get a degree.

Besides a college education, airlines are also looking for people who have good customer service skills. Remember, you will be dealing with people, all kinds of people and lots of them for up to 14 hours a day, and most of these people are not happy and want to tell you all about it. It’s important that you have the right kind of personality to handle this kind of job. Even people with the right personality can lose a little patience after a long duty day. Being flexible is also a must in the airline industry, as flights cancel and schedules change. And keep in mind, you probably won’t be based where you live now.

As for training the airline will provide, it was the longest seven and a half weeks of my life. It’s not that it was hard, because it’s really not, but there’s a lot of information to retain in a very short period of time. In training we learned everything from how to evacuate a smoke filled cabin to how to handle a “gassy” passenger without insulting them.

Trust me, it’s not all about doing a drink service. Things do happen in flight. Just a few months ago I walked out of the business class galley with a tray full of drinks and noticed the entire business class cabin had turned around in their seats, all eyes on me. That’s when I spotted the unconscious young lady lying on the floor. No one had moved a muscle. Immediately I went into action. Fortunately flight attendant training prepares you for anything and everything. Though I must admit I was completely unprepared once while working a Sun Jet flight when a passenger complained to me because she didn’t get a blueberry muffin inflight due to the fact that the flight diverted because of smoke in the cabin. Ya see, this is one of those times when customer service skills come in handy.

Is college or a vocational school needed to prepare for this job: I wouldn’t say it’s required, but as I mentioned above, the more educated you are the better your chances at getting hired, especially if you want to work for a major carrier. So if you have the opportunity to go to college, by all means go! If you are thinking about a vocational school, do it! I can’t tell you how many flight attendants I know who are trained in therapy and nursing. It’s just smart to have a backup plan in life, because even if you do get hired to work for an airline you never know what’s going to happen in the future. Airlines are struggling just to stay afloat in our weak economy and each month a different airline seems to be going out of business.

If for whatever reason college is not in the cards for you, don’t give up. Get experience! Customer service experience is what you’ll need, and you’ll need a lot of it! Try waiting tables (even if you are going to school), but not just at any restaurant, a nice restaurant. Years ago when I interviewed to work as a corporate flight attendant for a company called Million Air out of Dallas, I was asked about my experience with first class service. At the time I had none. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Oh sure I waited tables in college, but that was at a hole in the wall dive, so that didn’t quite count. Probably explains why I didn’t get hired. I’m sure the canary yellow suit I wore to interview in that day didn’t help matters, either.

Speaking other languages always helps, too. Airlines love to hire bilingual employees. Just the other day I saw that a major US carrier is currently hiring ONLY flight attendants that can speak Mandarin Chinese. Those who speak Mandarin Chinese do not need more than a high school education to apply.

How have the things learned in school helped when beginning this line of work: Honestly, I can’t think of one thing that I learned in school that did not somehow help me later on in life as a flight attendant, or any other job that I’ve held. Just going to school, for one thing, is an education in itself. You are multi-tasking, learning how to deal with different people, handling responsibility, while studying and learning new things every day. Trust me when I tell you that airline training is not easy. There’s a lot of information coming at you at once, so the better you are in school, the better off you’ll be in flight attendant training.

While most days you won’t be handling onboard emergencies, thank goodness, the majority of your time will be spent dealing with passengers, and that includes passengers who have problems. A flight attendant has to be able to communicate not only with the mother and child in coach, but also the CEO of a very large company sitting in first class. That means you have to be knowledgeable and up to date on current events, as well as what’s going on in the aviation industry.

What do you like most about your job? What I like most about my job changes every few years. In my early twenties all the days off seemed to be the best thing about my job. Back then I worked about 12 days a month. That’s it. As I began to make more money, it was traveling (for free!) that I began to love. There’s nothing like flying to Paris in first class on a whim. Now that I’m married (to a man who flies over 100,000 miles a year) and have a two-year old son at home, I have to say it’s the flexibility of the job that I love most. When my husband is out of town, I can stay home and take care of my son. If the husband has to go away on business to…let’s say…Japan, my son and I can go along with him. If I want to make a little extra cash for the holiday season, I can pick up extra trips from other flight attendants.

What do you like least about your job? Reserve. Because everything is based on company seniority, reserve flight attendants are the most junior flight attendants at each airline. When you’re on reserve you have no life. Except for a few known days off, you do not have a schedule, which means you’re at the beckon call of the airline – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, until your official day off. Thank goodness I’m no longer on reserve. But that can always change. So now that I’m holding off reserve, I have to say that working holidays is what I like least about my job. Yes, I will be working Christmas day. Luckily I was able to drop my trip on Christmas eve.

What advice would you give a student that is interested in doing what you do? Finish your education and if you still want to be a flight attendant apply! Then, when you get called for an interview, make sure to read my blog so that you know exactly what you’re getting into, and talk a lot about customer service. Oh and whatever you do, do not wear a canary yellow suit. Think blue. Navy blue.

Hope that helps,

Heather Poole


Photos courtesy of Heather Poole (yeah, that’s me!)

Dubai hotel offers meals to those made redundant

This is definitely one of the most innovative promotions I have seen coming out of Dubai: 3-star Arabian Park Hotel in Dubai is offering free meals to anyone who has lost their job because of the credit crunch.

The promotion is not only open to Dubai residents, but anyone in the world who has been fired. All you have to do is bring your redundancy letter with you as proof, and you will have access to a buffet breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

It’s their way of adding “festive cheer” to those unfortunate to have lost their jobs in this down period. The offer is open to those unemployed after November 1, and will run from December 15-January 15, 2009. Guests that decide to take advantage of the offer can bring friends and family, but they will have to pay for their meals. Only one such meal will be permitted per person, although I’m not sure how they will control that.

Although Dubai is trying to show that it doesn’t have economy problems, that is far from the truth. Most companies are laying off hundreds of people, while others have frozen hiring.

As good intentioned as the promotion is, of course the hotel is doing it to attract more customers and perhaps make some money on the guests that the jobless people bring with them. Also, depending on the number of people who show up, the hotel thinks it will make interesting reporting statistics.

Losing a job can be quite traumatic, and I’m not sure I’d want to go to a restaurant where I’d be surrounded by other jobless people. It would probably more depressing that anything else. I have a few close friends who have lost their jobs, and I don’t have the guts to suggest going to this promotion.

I’d certainly be interested to see how many people go and also, what type of people will go. Knowing Dubai a bit, I have a feeling it will be more of the blue-collar workers and single unemployed men, but who knows?

Plane Answers: The outlook for pilot hiring

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

When I started Plane Answers a few months ago, one of the most common questions was how a person might go about learning to fly, getting their ratings and gaining enough experience to be noticed by an airline.

Before I’ve even had the chance to answer that, the industry has taken a sharp turn for the worse and now I’m getting questions about whether or not it’s even worth it to pursue a flying job.

Here are two such questions:

Michael asks:

I’ve been reading your column for a couple of weeks now, yet I haven’t noticed you talk about the state of the industry for college students who want to become professional pilots. I’m enrolled in a pilot training program at Arizona State, and on track to receiving an internship when I graduate. In your opinion, with the way the airline industry is now, do you think I should still pursue a career as an airline pilot?

And Steve asks:


My grandson would love to be a airline pilot. He is building flight
time and attending college at the same time and it’s a very expensive
burden for the family. With the layoffs and pay cuts that pilots in
the industry are recently experiencing-is he wasting his time and our
It’s feast or famine with regard to the cycles that define airline hiring in the U.S. Just last fall there was talk about how the pilot pool was drying up for some of the larger regional jet operators. A few of these airlines were reducing their experience requirements and snatching up pilots with less than 300 hours.

This trend seems to have come to a halt as we’ve moved into 2008, a year that’s seeing the highest fuel prices in the history of the industry. As airlines are coming to grips with the idea that oil prices aren’t coming down anytime soon, they’re pulling capacity out of their networks–most of which will start taking effect this fall.

The hope is of course, that airlines will be able to price their product at a level that exceeds their costs at some point in the near future. As long as the oil prices stabilize, they might be able to pull it off, but the ever-increasing fuel costs are making it difficult to price a product that may not be used until one to three months into the future.

Just as it’s hard to predict these costs, it’s even more difficult to predict which way pilot hiring may go, especially in two, three or four years from now. In Michael’s case, he’s well along through the program, and I think he might want to see this investment through. He may have to do something else on the side until he gets a chance to instruct or fly for a regional airline once things improve. But he probably shouldn’t give up.

The same might be said about Steve’s grandson. He’s well along on the commitment to flying. If you’re thinking he may be able to pay back his loans quickly once he lands a cushy airline pilot job, you might want to familiarize yourself with some of the pay at most companies.

Airline Pilot Central, a website that offers details on pilot pay, minimum hiring requirements and the current hiring status of companies, is a good source for hourly pay rates. Remember, pilots and flight attendants are only paid for the time the airplane is pushing away from the gate to the time it’s back at the gate at the destination.

This industry does have a way of spitting out some people who were unfortunate in their timing. I know a few who are looking at their second furlough, and are considering taking a job outside of aviation permanently.

When pilots were being recalled last year, it wasn’t uncommon for an airline to see 30% of those pilots recalled decline the option to come back since they found employment with other airlines or outside of the industry.

But if this is what you’ve always wanted to do, and you don’t think you’ll be happy doing anything else, then stick with it. I’m relatively certain that someone will be flying airplanes in the future, and they’ll need pilots.

Just try to load your resume up with extra ratings, (a float rating, sailplane license, a specific jet type rating) to stand out from the rest. The internship that Michael is pursuing is a fantastic example.

Good luck!

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Friday’s Plane Answers feature.

How to take a year-long vacation without ruining your career

I just finished reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which the author takes a year-long hiatus from her life to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia. In a way, I wish I hadn’t read it, because goshdarnit, I want to take a year off. Alas, I am not a best-selling authoress so working is definitely on the agenda for the next few years of my life at least.

But taking a year off doesn’t have to be out of everyone’s reach — even if you have a lucrative career, you can make an extended vacation part of your 5-year plan, according to this article from Forbes. In fact, some companies will even pay you to work in another country for a developing corporation. But if that’s not an option, and you’d have to quit your job to travel for a year or at least take an extended leave of absence, here are some tips:

  • Test it out first. It’s true — some people just don’t like to be on vacation 24/7, and that person might be you. Take some time to do nothing first before committing to do nothing for a while. This doesn’t rule out travelling completely — you can always work in another country!
  • Budget. When you’re not working, this is key. Make sure you have a nice travel fund set up too
  • Give lots of notice to your employer. It’s just the right thing to do.
  • Maintain a good relationship with your boss. Maybe you’ll find yourself and pursue a different career path. But then again, maybe you’ll return home broke and in serious need of your old job back, so stay on good terms.