Galley Gossip: A question about being a flight attendant on reserve

Dear Heather,

I am intrigued by reserve. Must you queue up each day?

Have fun but be safe,


Dear Geno,

You are correct, we do queue up each day on reserve. Today I’m # 61 on the reserve list. Because there are 34 other flight attendants who are good to work four days in a row, like me, I’ve just made an appointment with Alice – master of hair. But now that the weather channel is reporting ice in Dallas, even though I’m based in New York, I’m getting a little nervous about my appointment with Alice today. When one airport is affected by weather, all the airports will eventually be affected by weather. Trips will cancel and crews will go illegal and that’s when my phone will ring.

RESERVE – Reserve flight attendants do not have a line (schedule of trips). On reserve we bid for days off only. When we don’t have a day off we remain on-call. The company can (and will) assign us a trip at any time of day (or night) with at least two hours time to get to the airport. Reserve duty is much like being an on-call doctor in that we must stay within a manageable radius of our base (mine covers three airports – JFK, LGA and EWR) and there are no late nights out and absolutely no alcohol, since you can (and will) be called out to work any time of day and night. I remember one night having a quiet evening at home with a movie and Chinese take out. The food had not even arrived to my apartment and I was already leaving for a trip to London! There’s no warning, no lead time, and no excuses. You just have to zip up your bag and go!

On the days we are good to work we have a four hour window to call in and retrieve our assignments for the following day. Because there are only so many available trips each day, not every flight attendant on-call will get one. Flight attendants who are not assigned a trip will be awarded a number. This number is based on the hours the flight attendant has flown during the month. The flight attendant with the least amount of hours is assigned the lowest number and will be called out first if a trip comes up.

While a high number on the reserve list is always a relief to a flight attendant who did not get awarded a trip, a flight attendant who is just about to go to bed, that flight attendant may still get a call in the middle of the night from crew schedule to fly. Here’s why…

LEGALITIES – While layovers can be as short as eight hours (no less), a flight attendant is guaranteed 12 hours off between trips. That means some flight attendants will not be legal to fly until a certain time the following day. For instance, # 5 on the reserve list may get called out first to work a trip because # 1- 4 are not legal to work until noon.

NUMBER OF DAYS ON-CALL – A flight attendant will usually be on-call for five to six days in a row, and then the flight attendant will have anywhere from two to five days off, depending on the line the flight attendant was awarded. Because not everyone has days off at the same time, some flight attendants are good to work one day while others are good for four days. That means if # 1 on the reserve list is only good to work one day, but a two-day trip pops up in the computer, the trip will be assigned to the first flight attendant on the list who is legal to work the trip, and that could be #10 on the reserve list.

EQUIPMENT – The airline I work for has several different types of aircraft and each flight attendant is trained to work on the equipment they fly, but not all flight attendants are trained to work on all the equipment. At least that’s how it is at my airline. For instance, the airline I work for has six different types of aircraft. I’m only trained to work on four of those airplanes. If I’m #1 on the reserve list, but a three-day, 737 trip pops up, which is an airplane I’m not trained to work on, I’ll be skipped over and the trip will go to the first 737 qualified flight attendant who is good to work the two-day trip, a flight attendant who is also legal for the departure time.

I know, I know, it’s all very confusing, which is why flight attendants have a tendency to be on edge when they’re on reserve, why they go to sleep with their cell phones right beside the bed, why they have a tendency to jump five feet into the air and curse whenever the phone rings, and why they have no life. This is why reserve sucks. And this is why I commute from Los Angeles (where I live) to New York (where I work), even though I am on reserve this month.

Last week I went to bed # 28 on the reserve list and got called out in the middle of the night to cover an early morning departure to Los Angeles out of Newark. There were a lot of sick calls that night. Three nights ago I was # 2 on the reserve list and couldn’t fall asleep because I spent the entire night tossing and turning, dreading the unavoidable call. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than hearing, “Crew schedule calling for flight attendant Poole,” in the middle of the night. So imagine my surprise when I awoke to the sun shining through my window, not a ringing cell phone. Of course by five o’clock that same day I was on the airplane and headed to Las Vegas.

“You’re not trained on the 737!” my husband just exclaimed when I read him this post over the phone. He’s in Los Angeles and I’m in New York.

“No!” I told him, and then I went on to explain why. Ya see, as long as I’m on reserve I’m not going to get trained on another aircraft. No way. Not unless I’m forced to. I’m going to sit in my crashpad and let someone else work the twenty hour, three-day, 737 trip, while I wait for a cush twelve hour, two-day, 767 trip to Los Angeles. Hey, that’s just me.

Thanks for the question, Geno. If you, or anyone else, have another question email me at

Heather Poole

Photo courtesy of Frak-tal (man sleeping) and volliem (hand holding phone) – from

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

Galley Gossip: Rock of Love – on the airplane!

“When he walked aboard the flight the first thing I saw were the boots, and then the cool jeans and long blond hair. He didn’t wear any makeup and his skin was clear and soft, a beautiful complexion. Then I noticed the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. We were flying from Orlando to Los Angeles, I think,” said my mother, who is also a flight attendant for the same U.S airline that I work for.

“I remember thinking to myself when he walked past me to his first class seat, Oh no, this is going to be a difficult flight. Because of the rock-n-roll connection. I don’t like trouble on my flights,” my mother added rather sternly.

“How did you know it was him?” I asked as I plopped down beside her on the sofa in the crashpad. Together we sat side by side watching him, the guy wearing the cool jeans and the long blond hair, on television.

“I just knew. Maybe it was the bandanna,” she said.

My mother was talking about Bret Michaels, of course, star of the reality TV show Rock of Love Bus on VH1.

So what do two flight attendants who are both on reserve at the same time do when they’re waiting for crew schedule to call and send them who-knows-where at a moments notice? They watch TV, and I mean a lot of TV. Me, I like the reality shows. I’m not afraid to admit it. My mom, she likes to watch the weather channel and Fox news. So imagine my surprise when I came home from a horrendous two-day trip, a trip that I’ll be writing about soon, and found my mother – my mother! – sitting on the sofa and watching Rock of Love Bus.

“I don’t know how he can stand looking at all of them,” my mother said, not once peeling her eyes away from all of them, all of those scantily dressed women desperate to get Bret’s attention on the television show. “They all look the same, don’t they? I’m surprised he doesn’t go for a more classy type of girl, a Jacquelyn Kennedy type.”

I burst out laughing. I mean we were talking about Bret Michaels, were we not? Somehow I couldn’t imagine Jackie Kennedy on the bus, particularly that bus!

“I just think he deserves better than this!” She pointed at the television just as one of the female contestants began dancing around a pole. She shook her head. “He’s a smart guy. Believe me, there’s a lot more to him than this show and these goofy girls.”

As I watched the man being manhandled by several half naked women, I mumbled to myself, “I can’t remember which band was he in.”

“Poison,” my mother said matter of fact. I looked at her. She looked at me. “Oh wipe that stunned look off your face!”

Now flight attendants see celebrities sitting in first class all the time. In fact, on my very first flight back in 1995 I had Goldie Hawn onboard. Last night I saw Peter Greenberg and Kanye West. After awhile you just get used to seeing them. It’s no big deal. And while some celebrity passengers make good impressions, others don’t. I won’t be going there. But trust me when I tell you that flight attendants have all kinds of celebrity passenger stories to share. Only when it comes to celebrities on the airplane, my mother is the last person to get star struck. Except for the time she chatted with one of the lead singers in the band Air Supply and the time Al Gore said hello to her in the airport terminal, she rarely ever mentions famous people.

“Why do you like Bret Michaels so much,” I asked, because…well…I know why I like him. He has a great sense of humor! But my mother?

“He just made a very good impression,” she said. “Which is why I don’t get what exactly is going on with all these girls on this bus!”

So what was it, exactly, about Bret Michaels that made such an impression on this somewhat conservative woman, my mother?

“His manners,” she said. “That’s what really stood out about him.” A few seconds later she added,” As I was refilling beverages in the aisle, I noticed him having a long and friendly conversation with his seatmate, not a young hot bimbo, but an older conservatively dressed business man. They really seemed to be enjoying each others company. He seems to be the kind of guy who can get along with anyone and everyone, and he’s one of the most pleasant passengers I’ve ever encountered.”

Which just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover – or bandanna. And that goes for passengers and flight attendants alike!


Photos courtesy of (Rock of Love bus) Robot_Zombie_Monkey and (Rock of Love, the first season) Hortensia V

Galley Gossip: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Happy New Year, everybody! For the first time in fourteen years I’ve actually got the day off. I know, even I can’t believe it. “So what do you have planned for New Year’s Eve?” several people have recently asked.

They always look a little surprised when I say, “Not much. Just hanging out at home and making my famous spicy blacked eyed peas.”

“You’re not going out?”

“Nope. I never go out. Usually I’m working,” I say because I am, usually working.


“Really.” And that’s a good thing! Trust me

This year, unlike other years, I plan to stay home and celebrate quietly with my family. Because in three days I’ll be on reserve, which means that except for a few scheduled days off, I’ll be on-call to the company 24/7 for the entire month of January. I’ll be stuck in New York where I work, not in California where I live, which is why I’m trying to make the most of what little family time I have left before packing my bags and heading back to work on the 3rd. Don’t worry, you’ll get to hear all about my time waiting around at my crash-pad for crew schedule to call and send me who knows where at a moments notice. It’s not fun.

In the past I’ve always bid to work New Year’s Eve, because most times when you bid to work one holiday in December you can usually get the other, more important, holiday off – Christmas. However, even though I’m working on such a festive night, I’ve been fortunate enough (a few years) to descend into Kennedy or La Guardia airport just at the right time. There’s nothing like being in that dark, quiet, cabin, everyone so still and content, the lights of the city twinkling on the ground beneath us, when the Captain or a flight attendant makes the announcement I’ve been waiting for all night.

“Happy New Year!”


And just like that every single passenger, and flight attendant, is smiling. It’s always a beautiful sight.

2008 was a good year, and not just because of all the amazing flight attendants I was fortunate enough to work with on each and every trip, but because of all the wonderful passengers I met, and I did meet many. Some I’ll never forget. So here’s wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2009. Happy travels to all and to all a good flight!

The photo gallery above consists of photos taken from one of my last flights in 2008

Galley Gossip: Bids are out! (my schedule, a little airline lingo, and a flight attendant poll)

“Bids are out!”

Those three words are exclaimed each and every month by flight attendants (and pilots) around the world. Perhaps you’ve even witnessed a crew of four (or more) call out the three words above as they briskly walk through the terminal and pass another crew of four (or more) on their way to the gate.

Maybe you’ve wondered, what does that mean, as you stood waiting for your delayed flight to board. And while you continued to stand there impatiently waiting, you watched as four (or more) cell phones were simultaneously flipped open and placed to the ear. Rest assured that call must be made upon hearing those three words. If it can’t happen right then and there, it will happen very shortly, even if the flight attendant has to hide in the lavatory during the boarding process to make it happen. Why? BECAUSE THE BIDS ARE OUT!

BID, BIDS, BIDDING, BID SHEET – a request of choice routes made by each flight attendant to fly specific monthly schedules. At the airline I work for, our bid sheet offers over hundreds of lines to choose from. Bids are awarded by company seniority, which is why those flights to Asia and Europe always have the most senior flight attendants working the trip.

LINE, LINE HOLDER – a sequence of trips a flight attendant is offered each month. A line holder is not on reserve and works each of those trips in consecutive order.

RESERVE – Reserve flight attendants do not have a line. They bid for days off only. When they don’t have a day off, they remain on-call, meaning the company can (and will) assign the flight attendant a trip at any time of day (or night), with at least two hours time to get to the airport. Reserve duty is much like an on-call doctor. We must stay within a manageable radius of our base (mine covers three airports JFK, LGA and EWR). The flight attendant must be duty ready whenever on reserve. This means you must be ready to board a flight within one hour of its departure, which means there are no late nights out and absolutely no alcohol, since you can (and will) be called out to work any time of day or night. I remember one night having a quiet evening at home with a movie and Chinese take out. The food had not even arrived to my apartment and I was already leaving for a trip to London! There’s no warning, no lead time, and no excuses.

JUNIOR, SENIOR, SENIORITY – Refers to a flight attendants years of experience. Years of experience with an airline is based on date of hire. Seniority is everything at an airline, which is why the merging of most airlines does not happen smoothly. Junior flight attendants have to serve on reserve. In order to avoid having to do reserve duty , I commute from my home in Los Angeles (one of our most senior bases in the system) to New York (our most junior base). For me it is better to commute and be a big fish in a little pond than to work from home and have the uncertainty of my schedule loom over our family.

BASE – City in which a crew member originates and ends a trip. All trips start and end from ones base.

COMMUTE, COMMUTER, COMMUTING – the process of getting to your base city. I commute to work from Los Angeles to New York before each trip. Most airline employees who commute to work spend the night in a crash-pad. Like many flight attendants, my crash-pad is located very close to two of the three airports in my base city.

TURN, TURNS, TURNAROUND – any trip that originates from and returns to the same city on the same day. It is not uncommon for a flight attendant to see several cities over the course of 48hrs, only to arrive back to the city they left from. I have flown from LGA to ORD to DFW back to ORD and arrived back in LGA only to come home, shower, sleep and do it all over again the very next day.

Last week, after spending a good four days in a row staring cross-eyed at the bid sheet, I found out that for the month of November I was awarded line 50. Chicago turns. My particular trip will depart to Chicago a little after noon and return to New York just before midnight on the same day. Turns, are not my trip of choice, but we’ll get to that later.

Flight attendants bid once a month, near the end of the month, for a schedule the following month. I know, it’s confusing, but stick with me. Each line shows exactly what days and which trips a flight attendant will be working for the month. So whenever you see a couple of crew members sitting in the terminal, or on the jump-seat, with their noses glued to a packet of papers for hours on end, nine times out of ten they’re studying the bid sheet. This is not the time for chit chat, so unless you have a serious concern to discuss, or food to share, do not disturb the flight attendant. Bidding, for a flight attendant, is very serious business.

TRANSCONS – a transcontinental, across country, or coast to coast flight.

TRADING, DROPPING, PICKING UP – the act of swapping, giving away, or taking another flight attendant’s trip.

BACK UP, BACKING UP: working several trips in a row in order to have several days off in a row.

WIDEBODY – any aircraft with two aisles. The bigger the airplane, the more senior the crew.

NARROWBODY – any aircraft with a single aisle.

When I bid, I choose to work the transcons because they are easy to drop. I’m a commuter, and because I don’t want to waste my precious days off flying back and forth across the country, I back my trips up. That means at some point during the month I’ll fly to New York as a stand by passenger, spend the night in my crash-pad, work back and forth across the country as many times as possible in seven days, and then fly home to Los Angeles, which is where I’ll stay because I’m done for the month. Yeah, I know, it’s a good life – until all the flights to base are oversold, canceled, delayed and I’m unable to make it to work.

But remember, unlike most of my colleagues, I’m a low time flier, which pretty much means I work part time. In order to do this, I have to hold something desirable, not necessarily what I want to work, but what others prefer to work. Transcons on the widebody are the most sought after trips. Since I’m now a domestic flight attendant, I bid the flights to Los Angeles from New York. They’re easy, worth a lot of money, rarely ever cancel, and if I do decide to work one, I can layover at home with my family, not the layover hotel.

The reason I bid Chicago turns, and not transcons, for the month of November is because that line was the first line I could hold with Thanksgiving off. Yes, believe it or not, this will be the first Thanksgiving I’ve held off in thirteen years of flying. I’m way too junior to hold a holiday off on a line of transcons. In fact, I can barely hold transcons on non-holiday months, and if I do, I’ll most likely be working in business class, the most junior position on the aircraft, which is not a position you want to work if you’re trying to drop the trip.

TRIP TRADE, TRIP TRADER – the act of trading trips with another flight attendant. As this can prove to be a daunting task, flight attendants hire a person who manages, (for a fee), several different flight attendant schedules at once.

The first thing I do when bids are finalized is call my trip trader. She is one of the most important people in my life. Without her I don’t know what I would do. She makes my life work. Actually, what she does is make it possible for me to work, because it’s not easy when you have a two-year old child at home and you are married to a man who travels over 100,000 miles a year, and you don’t have family around to help when you’re out of town.

Now I have no idea how my trip trader does what she does, but the girl works magic, and I love her for that! In fact, I just checked my schedule and most of my Chicago turns have already disappeared. YES! And I’ve got two fantastic San Francisco transcons backed up in the middle of the month on my schedule! WOO-HOO! I love my trip trader, and life is good.

So good, in fact, I’m about to purchase three airline tickets to fly home to Dallas for the Thanksgiving holidays. Remember, this is the first Thanksgiving I’ll be celebrating at a home, and not in a dumpy airport hotel. Yes, I can fly for free as a stand by passenger, but like I said, I actually want to make it home for the holidays. What I don’t want to do is spend the holiday weekend getting bumped from flight to flight traveling with the family on the busiest holiday of the year. Oh no, I want to eat delicious turkey and dressing at my mother’s house, not a turkey sandwich and fries at Chili’s in the Los Angeles Airport.

Are you a flight attendant? If so, take the following poll. If not, check out this cool website and test your knowledge of even more airline lingo.


Photos courtesy of: (flight attendant legs) Laszlo-photo , (airplane interior) Carrib, (turkey) Xbermathew