Thursday, August 12, 2010

How to Keep Your Flight Attendant From Using the Emergency Exit on Your Flight

When I started this blog, I didn't really intend it to be a place to vent about dumb things that I witness airline travelers doing. I really love my job and yet, as you can imagine, there are times when it frustrates me. I am always professional, but there are times when instead of my usual, pleasant PA introducing myself and welcoming passengers on board, I just want to say: " Get in, sit down, strap in and shut up!" But I don't.
So, in light of the recent incident involving the now famous Flight Attendant for Jet Blue, Steve Slater, I am posting these simple "Airline Rules for Knuckle Heads," or "How to Keep Your Flight Attendant from Using the Emergency Exit Slide to escape passenger stupidity."

Rule #1: Don't call them a "stewardess" or "steward." They are "Flight Attendants (FA's)" and are there because the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) mandates it. They are there to ensure that you can safely exit the aircraft in the event of an emergency and that you obey FAA mandated regulations. They don't just "make up" rules. Your massive purse or carry on cannot be on the floor in front of you. This is so people can actually walk out of the seat and into the aisle instead of tripping if they have to get out quickly. It would be cheaper to put self service soft drink machines on each flight and let you serve yourself if FA's weren't required.

Rule #2: Flying is not a right. It is a privilege that you pay for. Airlines are in the business to make money, not cater to your every whim. If you are not happy with the service, choose another airline or mode of transportation. Write a letter to the company president. Do not take it out on the flight crew. Chances are they are just as sick and tired as you are, possibly having flown three to five legs that day. If you are running late, they are too. We are just as anxious as you are to get to our destination, which might be where we can rest in a hotel room or actually go home after being away for four days. We hate delays probably more than you do. After all, you are traveling at over 500 mph in the sky while sitting down in relative comfort! Stop whining or go greyhound!

Rule #3: Listen to what the FA or the pilot says on the PA! Yes, we all know how to buckle our seat belts, but there are other things that are said that are actually relevant and pertain to you. There may be a useful nugget of information that will actually help you. Pull the ear buds out, postpone your cell call, and donate five minutes of your precious time to listening. You just might learn something, like: how long the flight will be, what gate we will arrive at, where your carry on bag will be when you deplane if you are on a smaller plane that requires a plane side check. What beverage options you have when the FA comes around to ask you what you want, so he or she doesn't have to repeat the list of options to every passenger because they weren't listening.

Rule #4: Don't be a pig! Please try to collect your trash and dispose of it. FA's are not "trash ladies" as one child innocently called a FA once. If you have small children, pick up after their mess. I once saw a young boy with a huge trash pile on the floor in front of him. His mother sat across the aisle and did nothing. This kid drank four or five soft drinks during a one hour flight and monopolized the only lavatory on the plane, inconveniencing everyone else. Planes fly constantly and don't often sit during the day. Often the "turns" are less than 30 minutes and do not allow time for real cleaning. DO NOT CHANGE YOUR CHILD'S DIAPER ON A SEAT. Don't even think about handing a crappy diaper to the FA. In fact, try to take care of all of your business before you board the plane. I personally avoid using airplane lavs if I can. I know that is not possible on longer flights, but it is amusing to see people board then head straight for the lav.

Rule #5: Cell phones and smart phones: No one wants to hear you screaming into your phone. Text quietly, then put it in "airplane" mode or shut it off. Does it really affect navigational devices? Consider that all cell phones have GPS capability. Our airplanes use GPS (as well as other things for navigation). Fifty to one hundred cell phones left on, all seeking a GPS signal CAN ACTUALLY AFFECT THE NAVIGATION. Besides, who cares? It is an FAA regulation that we are forced to enforce. What makes you so special that you have to be an exception to that regulation?

Rule #6: Be extraordinarily polite to your crew, regardless of the situation. You get more flies with honey than vinegar. I don't care how many bizillion miles you have or what your frequent flyer status is. None of us responds well to rudeness. One time we were told to delay a flight because of a large group of people coming from an international flight that was running late. If they missed our flight, the last one that evening, they would have had to spend the night at the airport. We left about thirty minutes late. About half way through the flight, my single FA calls me and is in tears because a passenger who had been on board while we waited for these people to arrive was not happy about it and started taking it out on her. Now, I have to worry about her, this unruly passenger AND fly the airplane. I radioed ahead and had the police greet him. I wanted him thrown in jail. "Interfering with the duties of a flight crew" has a broad interpretation. In any case, you as a passenger are going to lose. Don't mess with my crew! You are affecting the safe operation of that aircraft.

Rule #7: DON'T EVER JOKE ABOUT DRUNK PILOTS OR FA'S! We take our job very seriously. If you board the aircraft and say something like "I hope the pilot isn't drunk" that is just like joking about a bomb being on board. I have actually had passengers say things like that as they were boarding and I'm standing there greeting them. My response to them is a serious deadpan face and the statement, "Sir, ma'am, we don't even joke about that." My other response could be this: I leave the plane, the flight is cancelled or delayed while I go get a urinalysis to clear my reputation and protect my job. Think about it. If a passenger hears you say that, they may not know that you are joking. Now a sliver of doubt is in their mind and they may actually believe that the pilot is drunk. They may relay this to other passengers and before you know it....well you get the picture. If something were to happen, then this may even be brought up in the media when passengers are interviewed. There have been well reported incidents of "drunk pilots." These are infinitesimally rare, but they make good press. We are all extraordinarily strict about this. Despite the frustrations of the job, we love what we do. I would never jeopardize it by breaking that rule.

Rule #8: Weather is beyond our control. Air Traffic Control (ATC)delays are beyond our control. Mechanical delays are beyond our control. I don't fly non-airworthy airplanes. I do not have a death wish. I don't fly through thunderstorms. I will not take off without permission from ATC. As I said, I love my job. We follow rules. We fly safely. Once, I had a mechanical delay in upstate NY. We were able to get the issue resolved and were finally cleared to go. A woman passenger told the flight attendant she wanted to speak to the pilot. She came to me and wanted me to assure her that the plane was "safe to fly." I believe I masked the incredulous look on my face pretty well and politely told her that I had a wife and children that I wanted to see when I got home and that I would not fly the airplane if it was not safe to do so.

Rule #9: Do not try to board your flight if you are drunk. You will be denied boarding. The FAA prohibits us from boarding drunk passengers. If you are drunk and get past the gate agent and onto the plane and you are a "quiet" drunk who falls asleep right away and makes no commotion, then you might get away with it. If you are an "obnoxious" drunk and bring a lot of attention to yourself, then I will personally see to it that you are removed from the flight. The FA's have enough to do with out having to worry about obnoxious drunks. Besides, in the event of any emergency, you will be a liability. Also, do not get drunk on an airplane. If you become unruly, the police will greet you upon arriving at your destination.

Rule #10: Wear appropriate clothing. If you are a hairy, overweight man, do not wear a wife beater undershirt. No one wants to see that. Tank tops in general are not a good idea because temperatures are often difficult to precisely control inside an airplane. Blankets are becoming rare. Flip flops are not a good idea. Consider that if you have to evacuate the aircraft in flip flops there is a good chance that you will be doing so barefoot because it is likely that you will lose them in the process. Business casual is always the most practical dress. You can stay warm, or get cool. Your footwear is solid and will keep you safe in an egress. You don't offend any one.

Finally: Share the air! You are in a pressurized tube. Though air circulates through the cabin, we are in a confined space. I have actually made a PA advising a passenger in the back to please put away her (or his) fingernail polish as I could smell it all the way up in the cockpit. Be considerate. Bathe. Use deodorant.
Hold your flatulence until you can go to the lav. Avoid getting really obnoxious smelling foods.

OK. I hope these nuggets of wisdom will help. Meanwhile, enjoy your flight and don't be THAT PASSENGER that we all talk about after work.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rock and Roll and a Lakeside Stroll, CLE

Cleveland has always gotten knocked around, forever having to live down the years of "Dennis the Menace" (Dennis Kucinich) as mayor and the Cuyahoga River being so polluted that it actually caught fire. There is even a funny Youtube video that was made about the city, (Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video) and Randy Newman wrote a song about the river fire (Burn On).
Today, on a warm, sunny August day I had an opportunity to walk around the downtown area. It has been a busy summer for us and I have been flying way too much. When I get home tomorrow, I will have been working six days in a row. So I welcomed the nineteen hour layover in CLE. We stay down town about a fifteen minute walk from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I discovered a vibrant, clean and attractive city. Lots of modern buildings intermingled with well preserved older ones. There were flower beds and clean sidewalks, and I only encountered one panhandler.
The breeze coming off of Lake Erie and the mid eighties temperature was a welcome respite from the scorching 102 degrees of Memphis, where our flight originated. I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was buzzing with people. It was great and I would encourage anyone to go (especially those my age). I walked by Voinovich Park on the shore of the lake and relaxed in the cool breeze. The city scape view from there is beautiful and impressive. You could spend a whole day in that area alone, visiting the Great Lakes Science Center and The William G. Mather Museum, a retired 1925 Great Lakes Freighter permanently docked and open to visitors during the warm months, which is key to coming to any city located on any of the Great Lakes. The last time I was in Cleveland was January. I didn't step outside of the hotel at that time.
So enjoy the self effacing humor of Cleveland dwellers, but know that it is really a nice place to visit, at least in the summer.