The Replacements

Credit: Flickr/BriBri

In recent news, American Airlines has come out publicly to say that in the event of a flight attendant strike (over contract negotiations) the airline is committed to their operation and would consider training their managers and support staff as flight attendants.

Putting aside the ramifications and reasons over a strike, this is a bad, bad idea.

The managers and support staff would be put through a quick abbreviated flight attendant initial training course, focusing mostly on safety and security and not the customer service aspects of the position. Usually, flight attendant training courses range from 3 weeks to two months, depending on the airlines standards and training schedule. My fear, is that the airline will “push through” replacements that may not be 100% qualified for the position, in an effort to keep planes in the air.

With the recent influx of security scares at airports and heightened awareness of aircraft safety, would you feel safe with a full crew of replacement flight attendants working your flight?

It’s no secret that flight attendants have become your first defense in the air against terrorism and have proven time over time that they are properally trained to safely evacuate passengers from an aircraft in crisis, but can these replacements do the same?

Probably. The FAA needs to approve any abbreviated training program before American can legally train any replacement workers. Therefore, you would hope that any safety and security training modules that are imperative to doing the job of a cabin crew member wouldn’t be cut in lieu of time. But what worries me is the mindset of a replacement worker.

These people are being taken out of an office environment, thrown through an inflight training course (which, trust me, isn’t easy and is very stressful!) and placed in a metal tube for a ‘temporary’ amount of time with other ‘flight attendants’ new to the position as well. If they happen to encounter a medical emergency, diversion or god forbid an emergency landing no one on board that aircraft has any prior experience to draw upon to lead the other crew members through the situation. The best training after initial ground training is experience and guidance from those who have been doing this job for a decent amount of time.

Through you sit through a month of training on the ground, and run through various scenarios, being faced with a situation in the air is a completely different story. I remember my first medical emergency, it was a very scary experience. At first, I froze. I won’t lie. I did. I was in one of those moments where I thought “oh my god, this is really happening!” Luckily, I had 2 other flight attendants working with me, who had been flying for over 5 years, and to them this situation was “routine.” They sprung into action, assisted the passenger, and taught me the ‘real way’ of dealing with the situation. From that moment on, dealing with medical emergencies also became routine to me and I’m able to show our new hires how to handle this situation in the real world.

These flights being operated with replacement workers, won’t have experience to fall back on when things aren’t going according to the textbook.

In addition to these replacement workers, ex-TWA flight attendants (who have been laid off by American Airlines following the merger) have now come forward and said they would be willing to work in the event of a strike. Even though these are past flight attendants, with years of experience I would question their motive in returning to the skies for an airline that has jerked them around for the better part of almost 10 years. These flight attendants were stapled to the bottom of the American seniority list, laid off, offered buyouts, etc. and now what to “help the company out in a time of need.” Why?

All of this aside, the employees at American should understand where the flight attendant work group is coming from (as they too took paycuts to keep the airline running) and should support each other. Crossing a picket line isn’t going to win over new friends, just create more enemies which, in the end, will create further atomicity between work groups which will be seen by the passengers and ruin the airline.

Passengers need to understand that flight attendant’s don’t make as much money as they used to and have taken considerable paycuts through the last few years to keep their airlines operating. As the airlines are looking to increase revenue and decrease spending during the recession, it’s sad to say that in my opinion they are putting safety on the line as they further jerk around flight crews and allow them to work in a hostile work environment.

Though it is important to mention that not all airlines share the same beliefs and some take care of and work with their employees to make their company a great place to work.

When Complacency goes Up, Up, and Away.

The last week has been anything but quiet in the airline industry. On December 25, 2009 Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, otherwise known as the Underwear Bomber tried to take down Northwest Airlines flight 253. Thankfully, the passengers and crew were able to apprehend the terrorist when his explosives failed to ignite. Following this event, the Transportation Security Administration put a series of new regulations into place which made no sense what-so-ever. Passengers on flights arriving into the United States from international departure cities weren’t allowed to be out of their seats for the last hour of flight and further weren’t allowed access to any of their personal items and/or have anything on their laps or in their hands, crews weren’t allowed to report the location of the aircraft to their passengers and passengers could be and were frisked and patted down prior to boarding (in addition to the security check point).

Delta Airlines flight 2377 from West Palm Beach to New York’s LaGuardia took a two hour delay on December 26, 2009 when socialite Ivana Trump became belligerent when crew members asked her to stop screaming profanities at children running up and down the aisles. Trump was removed from the aircraft, and the FBI was contacted but didn’t pursue the matter.

On December 27, 2009, the same day Umar Abdulmutallab was to appear in Court, Northwest Airlines flight 253, again, from Amsterdam to Detroit made an emergency landing due to an unruly passenger who spent an “abnormal” (what exactly is “abnormal?”) amount of time in an aircraft lavatory. The flight was parked at a hardstand while all passenger carry on items were checked by bomb sniffing dogs and the passengers and crew were bussed to a secure location to be interviewed by the FBI and TSA. Later, all passengers, including the man who was “unruly” were let go, when Officials determined that the man, was in fact, sick and became unruly when passengers and crewmembers opened the lavatory door and dragged him out of the restroom.

Later that day, the 27th, two passengers were removed from US Airways flight 192 in Phoenix, AZ after the flight made an emergency landing inbound from Orlando. Passengers alerted the crew of two Middle Eastern men “speaking loudly in a foreign language” and whom were watching the terrorism thwarting movie “The Kingdom.”

What are we thinking? Are you following the ridiculousness?

The number one thing that should have come of the Underwear Bomber is a jolt out of complacence that America is safe. We must remember the events of September 11, 2001 and remember that we are currently a country at war. There are many organizations and groups out there that time after time make threats against us as a nation, and sometimes, it seems, they might actually try to carry them out. We must not allow them to do so.

Frayed underwear from 'The Underwear Bomber' via ABCNews

However, how far is too far? Did we really need to call the FBI in Palm Beach when Ivana Trump thew a temper tantrum? No. Come on now, they have bigger underwear to fry at the moment. And, did those “unruly” passengers plucked from airplanes in the days following Christmas need to be removed, probably not. Had the events on Christmas NOT taken place, would they have been removed? Would the FBI be called in on Ivana Trump? No.

We overreacted. And, that’s okay. The TSA learned from their mistake in the days following and retracted many of their original directives, President Obama called for a study of our current homeland security policies and procedures and individual airlines now have policies in place to better handle a situations like this.

In the last few days there’s been a major call-to-action to beef up airport security and to ensure men like Umar Abdulmutallab never get into the United States or onboard on of our airplanes. But what strikes me as funny, is the civil war going on trying to decide how exactly to keep our airports safe.

Some airports have a body scan machine which allows the TSA agents to get a “naked” view of your body to pinpoint any concealed weapons and contraband that might be on your person. Some people view this machine as an invasion of privacy, so for the time being while its an optional screening level, they bypass it and opt for a more through check using the regular metal detector and a physical patdown.

@ediableguys: I don’t want no dog sniffing at me. Can you imagine being sniffed every time you have to travel? Bring on the scanners I say

In addition to this machine the TSA is also using bomb sniffing dogs at airports to detect any explosives in checked bags, cargo and carry on items. It has been mentioned that these dogs could also be used to detect explosives on your person, but again, some people view this as an invasion of privacy and don’t want a dog sniffing them every time they travel.

@MsWendy23: Hell yes they [bomb sniffing dogs] should be allowed! Why wouldn’t they ?!?!

America doesn’t know what we want. What we do know is, we want to be safe when we travel, but we don’t want to give up our privacy to do so. And, in my opinion, you can’t have it both ways.

When you’re traveling you should no longer have [your] privacy for the time it takes you to proceed through the checkpoint. The TSA and Department of Homeland Security are not just checking your body and your belongings to keep you safe, but also checking them to keep the other 150+ people on your aircraft safe. At that point, it’s no longer about you, but about everyone else, including you, that you’ll encounter on the other side of the checkpoint.

It’s time to wake up America. We all agree that we need to remain safe and secure, so we should be doing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING possible within our power to do so.

[Note: The above post is my opinion and my opinion only. It doesn’t reflect the opinion of my employer or co-workers.]

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Can’t we all just get along up in the air?

I came across this blog post on Gadling, via Twitter. The author, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog, writes about passengers and crewmembers being polite to one another up in the air. He writes about the famed orange juice incident on American Airlines and a few personal situations he’s found himself in. He also comments:

When asked, “Can I get you something to drink sir (or ma’am)” by a flight attendant (or by a waiter for that matter), it is not acceptable to bark out “Coke” without looking up from your Sudoku. It’s not acceptable in the air, and frankly, it’s not acceptable on the ground, either. But especially not in the air. Flight attendants are trained to save your life if there’s an incident.

He goes on to say,

and it is not acceptable when handed your beverage to skip the “thank you.”

I agree! A lot of travelers have been complaining about delays, cancellations and missing/timed out flight attendants on Twitter after this past weekends snow storm on the East coast. We take a lot of heat and disrespect from the traveling public but I still manage to be polite, and as nice I can be under the circumstances.

As I mentioned on the UPGRD.com podcast, I reward passengers who are polite. On my flights, if you’re the first person to say “please” and/or “thank you” – I’m going to offer you a free drink. You would be VERY surprised to learn that sometimes I go 4 hours into a flight or days into my trip before someone actually says it.

One of the comments on Geroge’s post particularly infuriated me

SpadesHead: Let me get this straight, you want me to thank her, after being treated rudely by every single employee of her airline until now? After her airline is adding fee after hidden fee? I’ll tell you what, I’ll start saying “thank you” after they do. Listen after you conversation at the ticket counter, do they say “thank you”, no, usually not. How about security? “Thank you.” No.

To you, Mr. SpadesHead, I want you to keep one thing in mind. We are all different people and our own person. Just because the company I work for implemented additional fees for checked bags, food, etc.,  and the agent at the ticket counter didn’t say “please” or “thank you” doesn’t mean I’m not going to or I agree with what they did. I deserve the same amount of respect you would pay to any stranger you meet on the street. I just so happen to be your flight attendant today, and could, potentially, save your life.

Would you say “thank you” to that?

George, thank you for writing you did. Flight Attendants across the world, I’m sure, thank you as well.

I don’t know why flying has to be a battle of negativity. Flying used to be a luxury and something everyone dreamed to do, now, it’s dreaded because of the supposed lack of customer service and humanity.

I for one like my job, enjoy what I do, and that shows in my work and my interactions with my passengers.

Being polite will get you everywhere.

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Alaska Airlines Flight Attendant’s file lawsuit due to Turbulence

Yep. You read that correctly. I was just as shocked as you are when I first read this story.. and frankly, I’d love to meet these ladies.

Donna Dacko and Inga Isakson were working a flight to ONT (Ontario, CA) from SEA (Seattle, WA) on December 25, 2007  when just prior to landing the flight hit “previously unreported sever turbulence.”

Inga allegedly hit her head on a seat armrest and metal rod below the seat which left her surrounded in a pool of blood and foaming at the mouth. Donna, was reportly thrown “at least” 6 rows of seats after hitting her head on the ceiling and landed on top of Inga.  In their lawsuit, they claim that Weather Service International (WSI) neglected to properly predict the weather and/or warn Alaska Airlines of the weather and are seeking payment for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages and emotional distress. They also named the U.S. government in the claim because they think Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Air Traffic Organization should have warned them about the severe weather because their injuries were “totally preventable.”

Are you KIDDING me?!

If I filed a lawsuit for every time I hit turbulence, when I was told by the pilots reading their weather reports, that it should be smooth- I’d be spending my days in a courthouse filing paperwork.  Nevermind the lawsuits I could file claiming “emotional distress”  when the flight deck asks me to take my seat because the aircraft in front of us reported hitting some bumps, and after strapping in, we never encounter them. Smooth as glass. A lot of aircraft get their reports of turbulence from other aircraft in the area who have already experienced it, whose to say that Alaska 464 wasn’t the FIRST aircraft to encounter the turbulence and that no one else in the area or on the ground knew it was there. I mean, can the meteorologists and the FAA Air Traffic Organization really SEE the disturbed air?

This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

Yes, of course, if they really got hurt, I do feel sorry for them and send my deepest heartfelt well wishes. Going through severe turbulence isn’t a fun situation to be in, and can be very scary. However, I find it odd that they file this lawsuit one week before the statute of limitations expires. Why wait until now to file this claim? Why wait 2 years? What happened to the other one or two FAs on board? Are they okay? Furthermore, are you to say that when a meteorologist forecasts a foot of snow at 11pm and the next morning there is only 2 inches, because the storm got weaker through the night, that we can now sue them? It could be claimed that schools closed and flights canceled which caused lost revenue for those businesses, much those flight attendants lost wages from being out of work.

I’m really stunned at the audacity of these flight attendants. Turbulence is always something to be unexpected in my book, and proper precautions are should always be made in the event you hit “previously unreported” turbulence.  It comes with the job. When you going through training your taught about the many things that can happen to you on board an aircraft, including aircraft crashes. Turbulence is one of those things that we encounter on an almost every day, every flight basis. This is nothing new for them.

Alaska Airlines says they know nothing about this legal action. Frankly, good luck to them. They have to prove that two years ago SOMEONE else prior to them descending to 8,000ft knew that the patch of rough air they went through, was already there. The only patch of rough air I can see, is in the same location their brain is supposed to be.

If you’d like to read their 18 page filing, click here.

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Shame on Schumer

Shame on you, Senator Chuck Schumer (NY)! The same Senator who advocated and voted for passenger rights on board an aircraft called a flight attendant a “bitch” after being asked to power down his cell phone prior to departure of a US Airways Shuttle flight from New York to Washington on Sunday.

According to reports the Senator argued with the Flight Attendant saying he was allowed to keep his phone on as long as the cabin door was open. However, the announcement was just made that it was time to power down all electronic devices in preparation for departure. The Flight Attendant said that he was “obligated to turn it off whenever a flight attendant asked,” technically true. You must obey all crew member instructions, lighted signs and posted placards… you’d think one of our nations Senators who flies as much as he does — would know this.

After the flight attendant walked away, Schumer turned to his seat mate and uttered “bitch.”

His seat mate, another Senator was quoted as saying he powered down his phone when asked, and was polite to the flight attendant. However, other passengers on the plane said that a few moments after the conversation between Senator Shamer Schumer took place, his phone rang again. “It’s Harry Reid calling,” the passenger quoted Schumer as saying. “I guess health care will have to wait until we land.”

For someone who takes an active part in creating law and enforcing that everyone be treated equally, you, Mr. Schumer, a representative of your constituents in New York State, should be embarrassed. You fought for the passenger bill of rights, but it’s evident you are one of those people I encounter on my planes daily who don’t respect the job we do and our main purpose on board the aircraft, your safety and security. Just because you help to make the ‘rules,’ doesn’t mean you can break them.

I hope US Airways lost your bag.

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Flight Attendant Bags in the Overhead Bin

First off, I’m kind of mad at what I’m about to show you, and at the same time, I find it kind of funny. Below is an excerpt from USA Today’s Letter section where readers are commenting about an article written about the recent spike in carry-on luggage in aircraft cabins:

Apply carry-on rules to crew as well as passengers

Paco Martinez-Alvarez – Arlington, Va.

USA TODAY’s article “For air travelers, a ‘fight for the overheads,’ ” failed to mention the many times that flight attendants disregard their airlines’ own rules by bringing on roller bags, large purses and zippered lunch bags (News, Cover story, Thursday).

It is not uncommon to see first-class and front-coach overhead bins filled with bags labeled “crew.” I have yet to see crewmembers check their carry-ons at the plane door so that paying passengers can store their bags. Perhaps airlines need to start monitoring their own staff to help reduce overcrowding.

Dear Mr. I Don’t Know What I’m Talking About Martinez-Alverez,

Hello, sir. Welcome aboard. I’m glad you decided to fly with us today, and furthermore, decided to join us in First class. What do you mean there’s no space for your bag…the overhead bin above your first class seat isn’t reserved, its preferred space. Please feel free to put your bag after of the First Class cabin.

Mr. Martinez-Alverez, though we chose to do be a flight attendant because of the benefits and work schedule, when we are at work – we are also away from home. We’re away from home for up to 5 days at a time domestically, and maybe longer if flying internationally.

When you’re traveling, what do you pack? I for one pack a supply of clothes, shoes, beauty necessities, my laptop, and maybe book. My company requires me to carry a flashlight, a passport, a manual (that’s over 800 pages, so it’s big!), a wine opener and other items which need to remain in the aircraft cabin in the event of an emergency. Oh yeah, also, I pack food. Though my airline supplies meals to the cabin crew, it’s always the same meal — it gets old. Therefore, I travel with 3 bags.

Luckily, for us as cabin crew, the “one plus one” carry on requirement (one carryon + one personal item) doesn’t apply to working crew members. Why? Because we live and work out of our luggage. Your suggestion to have cabin crew check our luggage at the plane door, so YOU can put YOUR bag there wouldn’t work. Here’s why.

All bags “checked” go down to the cargo hold, which means that when you reach your arrival city, they are sent to baggage claim.  If I had to go to baggage claim and wait for my bag after the flight I worked, which happens to be the night before the flight you’re scheduled to take, and it doesn’t show up – how happy are you going to be the next day when your flight is cancelled because a crew member is missing their manual, uniform, or other required items? I’m guessing from the tone of your original letter: not very happy.

I invite you to take a look at the Flight Attendant RV section of my blog and look at what we do travel with. It’s nothing excessive, nothing over the top- just the necessities to get by while at work as well as our required items to make sure you make it to your destination safely.

One other question, if you’re in “first class” or the “front of coach” you should be in one of the first boarding groups to board the aircraft, so, why were the bins full when you boarded? Oh wait..let me guess, you’re the one person we were waiting for– one minute prior to departure, weren’t you?

Sincerely,

Your Flight Attendant


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Why hasn’t NW188 decended yet?

Much like the rest of the country, I’m confused about what really happened on Northwest Airlines (Delta) Flight 188 from San Diego to Minneapolis.

msp

For those that might not have heard, the pilots were having a “heated” discussion about company policy and procedure and were distracted enough that they managed to fly over the Minneapolis airport by 150 miles. However, there have been mixed reports about what actually happened from within the aircraft cabin.

Initial reports stated that the passengers and the cabin crew didn’t even realize that they had flown over their destination. As the day progressed, stories began to change. FOX9 in Minneapolis quoted a passenger on board the aircraft as saying

A couple of people I overheard said I thought we were landing at 8 or 8:15…That was where it was a little bit different. The captain came on and said after some back and forth bickering, we should be landing in 15 to 20 minutes.

That story contradicts what The Star Tribune, also in Minneapolis, reported

Brent Bjorlin and his fellow airline passengers didn’t have a clue something had gone wrong at 37,000 feet until federal officials with badges and guns boarded the Northwest plane after it landed in the Twin Cities on Wednesday night.

I can only assume that Brent wasn’t sitting near Amy. Anyway, the burning question remains: what finally made the pilots realize they overshot the runway, and what were they doing before hand? According to the Associated Press controllers on the ground, pilots of other planes, and even a flight attendant tried to alert the flight deck as the Northwest airliner flew past Minneapolis at 37,000 feet.

Many articles and blogs quickly jumped to say that a flight attendant wouldn’t know how far an aircraft was to their destination, and immediatly discounted that report. I say, not so fast.

Flight Attendants and Pilots are required by FAA regulations to have a pre-flight breifing before every flight. In this briefing, information such as flight time, weather enroute, and possible delays are relayed to the cabin crew. The flight time reported to the cabin crew is from “wheels up,” which means actual flying time from when the aircrafts wheels leave the ground. If the pilots tell me that the flight will be 5 hours and 30 minutes, the second the wheels are off the ground I calculate, to myself, our expected arrival time. Of course, things change and weather happens, however, it shouldn’t deviate that much. Though the flight attendants may not have known they flew past Minneapolis airport they may have realized that the flight is taking longer than expected and were calling the flight deck for an update. I call and ask the flight deck about every hour to check on them and our arrival time.

The Wall Street Journal is now reporting

According to the recollections of the Northwest crew, a flight attendant’s question on the intercom demanding to know why the jetliner hadn’t started its descent startled them out of their distracted state, according to one person familiar with the matter.

The Pilots of NW188 seem to be very stern saying that they weren’t sleeping, but I don’t believe them. Latest reports from interviews with the cockpit crew say that they were without radio contact for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Do you mean to tell me that you were so involved in an hour long conversation about company policy that you blocked out the radio in the background repeatly attempting to gain contact with you? Mind you, Pilots do have the ability to change the volume in which those transmissions are received, but what Pilot would knowingly turn the volume down to the level in which they cannot be heard, period.

I almost primarily fly the Airbus A320, the same model aircraft in this incident. When the cabin crew makes a phone call to the flight deck, the noise heard in the cockpit is very much like an alarm clock. It sounds almost like a digitized alarm / phone ringer and is annoyingly loud. It is very possible, in my view, that the phone call from the flight attendant questioning the time of decent woke up the pilots.

Many airlines have procedures in place to  have the cabin crew call the flight deck on a regular basis to ensure the pilots are okay, and to check on their needs. Procedures are also in place in the event contact between the cabin and the flight deck can not be obtained.

We need to remember that a situation with pilots sleeping happened just last year at Go! Airlines. The Official NTSB report determined that the pilots were fatigued. It might be time that the FAA step in and raise the limits for minimum rest on layovers. Remember, a crew members required rest begins from “aircraft door open” at  your arrival city until “aircraft door close” the next morning leaving that same city. It does NOT account for time passengers are getting off the plane, walking to the terminal door, getting in a van to the hotel, checking in, and/or eating. At the current time the “minimum” rest set by the FAA is 8 hours.

I truly hope that the truth surfaces during this investiagtion. We can only learn from our mistakes, and the result of this mistake, might save lives down the line.

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