Galley Gossip: A flight attendant Christmas story

Heather Poole, flight attendantI graduated from flight attendant training on the 8th of December in 1995. Two weeks later, on Christmas Eve, my roommate and I were called out to work a trip – together. The crew scheduling God’s must have been smiling down on us that day because it’s not often a flight attendant gets to work with their roommate who also happens to be their best friend on reserve. Although we were scheduled to layover in Buffalo, or maybe it was Albany (I can’t remember), we knew we were lucky. By the way, that’s us in the photograph.

What I remember most is glancing out the window and seeing rooftops and – Oh. My. God! – we were seconds from landing and I still had first class meal trays out in the cabin! I ran like crazy to collect everything and lock it up in the galley before we touched ground, barely making it to my jump seat in time. The Captain never made the prepare for landing PA, even though he swore he did when I called him on it later, which is why I had no idea how close we were to landing. As if that weren’t stressful enough for a new-hire, things went from bad to worse (at least in my head it did) real quick.

As we taxied to the gate, I began to make an announcement, you know the one. “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to….to….to -” Oh no…where the heck are we?! For the life of me I could not remember. My brain was shot after having flown to so many cities in just two weeks on the job. With my heart pounding like crazy, I frantically searched my pockets for the flight itinerary.

“Buffalo, we’re in Buffalo!” yelled a passenger. Or maybe he said Albany. I still can’t remember. But wherever we were that Christmas Eve, that’s when everyone on board started to laugh – at me. Mortified, I hung my head.

The following day my roommate and I wound up eating Christmas dinner out of a vending machine located on the second floor of our three-star hotel. The restaurant in the hotel was closed and there was nothing else open nearby. Although we would have been much happier eating turkey and dressing at home with our family and friends, we made the best of it with a couple packets of peanut butter crackers and Diet Coke. To this day, fifteen years later, it’s the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever had.

Four months later my roommate quit. I’ll never forget the day my cab pulled up to the curb outside our crash pad in Queens and I spotted her sitting on the stoop smiling from ear to ear. She couldn’t wait to tell me the big news. I hadn’t seen her look so happy since our first day of flight attendant training. The job is not for everyone, and being away from loved ones during the holidays certainly doesn’t make it any easier.

Today I still work for the same airline, and from time to time I still screw up. But not this Christmas! Seniority is everything at an airline and because I work out of New York, the most junior base in the system, I have the day off. New Years Eve, however, is a different story. So for those of you traveling to North Carolina in a few days, consider yourself warned.

NOTE TO SELF: North Carolina, North Carolina, I’m flying to North Carolina!

A special thanks to all the airline employees who went to work today! It’s because of them that many of you are having a very merry Christmas this year.

Photo courtesy of me! (Heather Poole)

snow globes gifts

Ten things you should NEVER do on a layover

That's a big margarita.
Until you can afford that private jet you’ve had your eye on, layovers are a necessary evil. Everyone copes in different ways with the prison-like feel of the airport between flights, and some people get creative about how to pass the time. Letter writing is good, working is good (sometimes, see #9) and of course, shopping is the closest to normal life layovers can get. Beware your own mind, though; your state of incarceration can lead you astray and make you forget the basics of not leaving your luggage unattended or any of the ten no-nos below.

Ten things you should NEVER do on a layover:

1. Drugs.

So you’ve got a few hours in Amsterdam. You can’t buy drugs and then get on the plane with them, so if you want to partake in the freedoms of the city, you’ll have to just go out, buy whatever you can, take it, and go back to the airport. This is about as good an idea as beating your face with a hammer on your 15 minute break during the SATs. Not only do airlines not have to board you if you are under the influence, but drugs are dangerous — even if you think you know what you’re doing, you might not know what you’re doing in Amsterdam, and you could have all kinds of bad reactions, including confusion — which would pretty much ensure you’d miss your connection.

2. Have a drink too many.

Like I said, they don’t have to board you if you’re under the influence. But furthermore, excessive drinking can lead to the dangerous world of cracking the kind of jokes that get you in trouble with TSA (“It’s not like I have a bomb in there.”), being an obnoxious person to sit next to and naps. Naps are bad.3. Nap.

Whether it’s alcohol, all the Xanax you took, the Ambien someone told you was a good idea or the fact that you’re just plain tired, going to sleep on a layover is a bad, bad idea. Bad! Think of sleep like fire and don’t play with it. There’s a one in three chance that you’ll sleep through an important announcement and/or the boarding of your flight (I just made that up).

4. Eat something you’ll regret.

Do you love ice cream, but know that it makes your insides explode? Don’t eat it. There’s nothing like boarding that next flight and having a gastric emergency during takeoff or meal service. Your seat partner will know you’re the one who stinks, even though it’s loud.

5. Not go to the gate if the flight’s delayed.

Even if your flight is delayed, make a stop at the gate. I once didn’t leave the Delta Sky Club because my computer kept telling me my flight was delayed. Then, suddenly, the online status was updated to “Pulled away from the gate.” I rushed down to the gate in a panic, only to discover that despite its delayed status, my flight boarded on time and was sitting on the tarmac — and no, there was no way I could get on it now. Other people I know have had this happen to them on multiple airlines. Check at the gate.

6. Get currency for the layover.

If you’re going to be in one foreign country for a few hours and then fly to another, don’t get currency. You’ll end up paying that conversion fee twice when you get that money changed for your destination’s currency. What do you really need cash for at the airport? Use a credit card with a low/no foreign transaction fee.

7. Go too crazy at the Duty Free store.

The Duty Free store can be a tempting beast, but be careful. You don’t want to have to lug a bunch of stuff around on your trip, and any liquids you don’t consume will have to be checked on the way back. If shopping on your way to somewhere else, you can have Duty Free hold the items for you to pick up upon your return. Just don’t forget! Furthermore, don’t go too crazy at the Duty Free shop; having over $5,000 in purchases can look sketchy to the customs officials.

8. Buy something that won’t fit in the overhead bin.

Even if that computer or hand-carved statue is available at a great price, you’re going to be sorry when the box doesn’t fit in the overhead bin and they ask you to check it. Get your larger purchases shipped.

9. Take an organized tour.

It’s great to go visit a city on a long layover, but the last thing you want to do is give up control over your time and location. What could go wrong with an hour long tour on a four hour layover? A lot. Go look around on your own, but if you take an organized tour, you’ll be in agony every time one of your co-tourists wants to stop and look in a gift shop or stand in line for a restroom.

10. Conduct business over an unofficial wifi connection or on a public computer.

Technology has created so many ways for us all to get ripped off. People can create an nefarious wifi network for you to use or put a keystroke logger on a public computer to steal every single letter you type — that means passwords, bank numbers and the rest of it. Pay for your wifi connection through a major company if you’re not getting a free one in a lounge or restaurant. If you’re suspicious that your wifi connection isn’t safe, stick to surfing and clicking and stay away from your bank accounts and logging into say, your stock portfolio or your company’s payroll system.

Ask Gadling – What can I do on a layover for free?

Today’s Ask Gadling question comes from Linda in Indianapolis.

“What can you do in airports for free? I have a five-hour layover in Seattle next month, and a shorter one in Detroit on the way back. It seems like every time I have a layover, especially when I’m by myself, I end up spending about $50 on food and beverages because there’s nothing else to do. Is there anything that’s free?”

Gadling: Linda, I feel your pain. Airports, movie theaters and ballparks all rob you blind because they know they’ve got you captive. Now that few (if any) airlines provide meals on domestic flights, you’re even more likely to be suckered into buying a $10 sandwich that’s worth about 50 cents. You’ve gotta eat, right? And, if you’re anything like me, a bloody mary or beer is a standard way to pass the time, and they’re not cheap, either. There is very little to do for free in the airport, so you have to bring or make your own fun. Here are some ways to do that:

Treat the layover like part of the flight.

No kissing of the ground, no snacks. This really only works if you have a short layover, or you could get really hungry, but when you’ve got under two hours to kill, just park yourself in a chair and pretend you’re still on the plane. Read your book or Kindle, chill out with your iPod and enjoy the lack of turbulence.

Shop for future reference.

Do you keep a wishlist of any kind? Creating one or adding to it is a great way to kill time at most airports. Go try on clothes, look at new gadgets and browse the book selection. Keep a record of what you like (and your size in the clothes), then find it all cheaper on the internet when you get home — or just add it to your What I Want For My Birthday list. See? Layovers can be productive.

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.

Play games with the travelers.

There’s nothing like playing games with people who don’t realize it. Make up a game for yourself like counting mullets or bright orange accessories, or try to guess who in the waiting area is flying first class (and see who jumps up when pre-boarding is announced). If a whole slew of travelers walks by, try to guess where their plane came from, and then go look. These games are better with friends, but if you keep track of your “scores,” you can play against yourself at various airports.

Treat it like an afternoon at home.

Imagine you were just going to sit at home for five hours. What would you do? Watch TV? Well, you may not get channel control in the airport, but there are TVs with news and weather running, and you can always download some TV shows to your computer, phone or iPod. Would you work? Draw a picture? Would you feast on carrot sticks? Preparation is key; bring yourself a snack, a magazine and anything else you’d pay double for at the airport.

Brush your teeth.

Five minutes down.

Remember that layovers are a normal thing and everyone else is waiting, too.

I know part of the reason I end up at the bar is that I feel sorry for myself. “Poor me. I have to sit in the airport and wait again. I deserve a chardonnay and a cheeseburger.” If I think about it, that’s pretty lame. Everyone has layovers sometimes, it’s just how it goes. If I think: “I am not a special snowflake, I am one of a bazillion travelers waiting in the airport.” — the notion helps me resist the urge to pamper myself with impromptu manicures, massages and $12 margaritas. Strike up a conversation with someone else who looked bored (but do remember that reading does not equal bored, nor does sleeping, eating or working).

Got more than four hours? Get out of the airport.

Awhile back, we did a series of Layover articles on Gadling. You can search Gadling for “Layover” and the name of the city you’ll be stranded in, and if we covered it, there will be an article about how to best spend some time there, both in and out of the airport. Not all the activities are free, but if you’re spending money to see the city, doesn’t that feel better? Here are Detroit and Seattle.

[Photo credit: Annie Scott]

Galley Gossip: 10 deep, dark, dirty, hotel secrets

How dirty is your hotel room? Very. Surely you’ve seen those undercover news reports where investigators use a black light to show us things we never wanted to see like body fluids all over the walls and bedding. And what about the video clips of house cleaners unknowingly being filmed using the same rag they used to clean the toilet rim on the bathroom counter. One news team even caught a maid spraying Windex inside a drinking glass – and she didn’t wipe it off!

Now you understand why flight attendants never touch the duvet and wash out the mugs in scalding hot soapy water before drinking coffee! I have a flight attendant friend who covers the television remote with a shower cap and wouldn’t be caught dead walking around her bare feet. But hotels aren’t the only ones to blame. What about hotel guests?

Hotels are a lot like airplanes in that people do things they would never in a million years do at home, like leave wet towels all over the floor. Even I have a deep dark dirty secret that only happens at layover hotels. Two words. Tanning lotion. I’d hate to stain my own white sheets a slight shade of orange. I’ve heard rumors of flight attendants using coffee pots to clean pantyhose. Not so sure I believe that. But one flight attendant told me he uses the pot to heat up soup. I’ve tried using it to make oatmeal but it turned out completely inedible. Better doublecheck the bottom of the iron before pressing it against your nice white shirt since it may have been used to make grilled cheese sandwich. Did you know you can even heat up restaurant leftovers using an iron and a little tin foil? It’s true.

Well all of this got me thinking. Besides the obvious of course, I couldn’t help but wonder what other kinds of disgusting things people were doing in hotels rooms. So I sent out a tweet asking people to confess their deep, dark, dirty, hotel secrets. The responses came pouring in, many of which I’m unable to share here. We’re keeping it clean, people!Hotel patrons share 10 deep, dark, dirty secrets:

1. I let my kids run around without a diaper on. I’m a mother of three. Accidents happen.

2. I “borrow” the towels.

3. Bodily fluids and what not (toe jam) I’ve left on the underside of furniture, bottom of desk, and above top dresser drawer

4. Supergluing the toilet freebies to the counter and the hangers to the rack is fun.

5. Hide all the $5 water bottles in the closet. On the last day put them all back and then deny the charges at the front desk.

6. Towels under the door plus a hot shower equals a free sauna.

7. I don’t want any accidental stains in my home bathroom so I only color my hair in hotels.

8. Those huge mirrors with the bright lights are great for plucking, especially gray hairs. You can get a great back view with some of those door mirrors!

9. Booked a hotel room just so I could use the swimming pool for my daughters fifth birthday party. The hotel found out and was kind enough to let us use the conference room to eat cake and open presents.

10. I leave the bathroom a mess on purpose so the maids have to give it a good scrub for the next guest!

Galley Gossip: Do flight attendants hang out with pilots on layovers?

Dear Heather,

is it common that you associate with pilots when on layovers? Also after each leg of a trip, does everyone go to the bar? I can’t imagine this is a great family lifestyle for those married.

Just My Thoughts

Dear Just My Thoughts,

Do pilots and flight attendants spend time together on layovers? Sometimes. Depends on the crew. Also depends on the length of the layover. At my airline, the majority of our domestic layovers average 10 hours. Add a delay or a mechanical into the mix (they happen!) and that 10 hour layover quickly becomes a nine hour layover. That’s not enough time to do much other than sleep, eat and shower.

As for international flying, imagine you’re in a foreign country far away from home with twenty four hours to kill and you don’t speak the language. Now imagine yourself in a strange city several times a month – month after month, year after year after year. It’s only natural for people with things in common to spend time together. Would you prefer to spend all that time away from home alone? Now keep in mind that airline crews who do have time to meet up at a hotel bar for a quick drink are probably just too exhausted from jet lag to do anything other than take an elevator downstairs and sit on a stool. Not to mention, the majority of our layover hotels offer airline employees discounts on food and beverage. If there’s one thing crew members have in common, its we’re a frugal bunch.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, working for an airline is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle, a very unusual one. Not many people can handle it. Our schedules are always changing, making it difficult to create long term plans. We work holidays and weekends and we’re away from home for days at a time. A lot of that time is spent associating with coworkers – on the airplane and at hotels. This is why we need a significant other who is confident and loyal, a person who is independent and can deal with last minute changes. They also have to be able to make spur of the moment decisions that include back up plans A, B, & C – just in case something goes wrong, because when you work for an airline, something is bound to go wrong.

Because my husband is a frequent flier who travels over 100,000 miles a year for business, he knows what it’s like, really like, to travel. That’s why he doesn’t get worked up if I find myself exploring the city with a colleague of the opposite sex. In fact, we encourage each other to to go out and enjoy ourselves. The time spent away from each other actually does our marriage good. We certainly don’t take each other for granted and we always cherish the time we have together. If that doesn’t make for a good marriage, I don’t know what does.

Photo Courtesy of Gurms