Guest Post: Eating on the Road

Guest Blogger, Brad (a.k.a Brajit) from Pop Slingers Paradise.

If you fly for an airline most places here in the United States, Crew Meals are a thing of the past.  So are having ovens, serving meals to your passengers, or having open seats in your premium cabin that would allow everybody to pick on the leftovers on that long flight.

Bringing food on the road is a difficult task, especially if you are doing multiple day trips or commute, or both!  However, over the last 9 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to find some great ideas to help keep your hunger away while working:

1. Nuts of all Types – They are full of fiber and protein to keep you feeling full and help to give you extra energy throughout those long duty days.  Eating the nuts provided on board (if you are fortunate enough to have them) is great, but if you can get to a market that sells unsalted nuts, this will be your best bet.  We all know staying hydrated in the air is a challenge and adding any excess salt to the diet just makes it that much harder.

2. Food Saver Plus Vacuum Sealer by Tilia – My family has owned one of these since they came out and they have only gotten better and easier to use every year.  The initial investment is worth it, because you can size your own bags based off the amount of food, and make bags that can fit easily into your lunch tote.  These bags are resistant enough to hold up to boiling water and are also microwave safe.  The company has also even added steamer bags for those that like to have steamed fish or veggies in your room.

3. Mainstays Foil Pans – I just recently found these at my local Wal-Mart and it is their in-house brand.  These foil tins come in two varieties that I have found so far: single compartment and dual compartment.  If you are fortunate to have access to a toaster oven or galley oven, these are GREAT!  Just remove the plastic lid, pop in your cooked (or uncooked) food until completed, and you have a hot meal on board.  They are also small enough to really pack a variety of food in your lunch tote (or bring enough to share!)  QUICK TIP: Use your Food Saver Vacuum Sealer to seal each of these individually with the lids on, to keep from making a big mess in your bag.  In a pinch, you can also boil the entire package if your oven in INOP (Inoperable).

4. Tuna and Chicken in a foil pouch – These can be found any grocery store these days and although you do pay a premium for having them neatly packed for you, they weigh less and you can fit them in every nook and cranny of your bags.  I have yet to find an airport that doesn’t have some sort of mayonnaise packets to swipe, so this is a quick and easy nosh.  (And if you can stomach eating it without mayonnaise, you can cut the fat!)  Also, if you have an airport with a salad bar, you can save on the heavy meat and just get some lettuce and mushrooms and bell peppers to make it even cheaper!

5. Individual Serving Vegetable Cups – These are something new I have also seen and so far have only been found in Green Beans and Corn.  They are non-perishable and need no refrigeration, and are great for a quick side item to anything you might have.  I personally crave vegetables only, and sometimes it can be difficult to find steamed veggies in an airport.  Having a cup of these, even at room temperature, can really quench a craving.  (But don’t forget to pour out the juice they are soaking in and rinse with some bottled water.  This will help reduce the amount of sodium you are eating.)

6. Dried Fruit – Bags of this stuff are easily found everywhere but my personal favorite is from Costco and is the Mango and Berry Blend.  (Wal-Mart also has a Tropical Trail Mix that I enjoy.)  Again, this is non-perishable, will last as long as you want it to, and can make an awesome salad topper in a pinch.  The dried fruit does contain some fiber and will help keep your appetite at bay on those long nights flying, and will help keep you awake on those redeye turns.

7. A Protein or Energy Bar – This is self explanatory.  You never know when you are going to be able to run off a plane to grab some meat, so having this will help make it through your day.  And, with those early show times when NOTHING is open or they are serving eggs (and who wants to eat cold eggs in the morning), this can really be helpful to make it through the day.

8. A Candy Bar – Who doesn’t like a sweet treat to end their day.  Yes, it is loaded with sugar (but there are so many sugar-free options out there these day) and sometimes you just have to take one for the team and go for it!

These are only some of the things you can do to help the hunger pains while on the road.  If you are a flight attendant, airport food can be dull and boring, day after day, week after week.  With a little foresight, you can help both your hunger and your wallet.

You can read more from Brad by visiting his blog, Pop Slingers Paradise.


Flight Attendant Confession: No Fly List

Though I wrote a post about Flight Attendant Camaraderie, there is, however, the flip side to that. Not only between airlines, but within each airline.

I usually bid for 4 day trans-continental trips.  Doing this, results in our crew of 3 usually becoming very close. Not only are we working together for 8-9-10 hours a day within those 4 days, but sometimes we go to dinner together and explore our layover city as a group. The majority of the time the other FAs awarded the same trips as myself are fun, hard working people and we mesh very well together. However, with as many flight attendants as airlines have you’re bound to meet someone that you just don’t work well with; and, because you’ve been together for 4 days, you may now have a deep disgust for this person.

For example, a few years ago my crew and I reported for our flight to SFO from LAX that was supposed to continue onto JFK. When we got to the airport, the aircraft arrived missing 2 oxygen bottles. Unfortunately, LAX didn’t have any more in the stock room and we had to wait for some to be flown in from San Francisco. 4 hours later, we departed. Upon arrival into SFO, we thought for sure the company would have used a spare plane & reserve crew to dispatch our JFK leg ontime. Wrong. A spare airplane was used, the passengers were boarded with Airport Reserves, all they were waiting on.. was us.

As we approached the airplane an InFlight supervisor was outside the door. She informed us that because of the delay the company decided that everyone on board would receive a free meal for being inconvenienced. We were 100% catered. As the purser, I spoke to Lauren & Jill, who were both working main cabin, to find out if they had any preference on how to do service. It was decided, as a whole, that a beverage service would be done and then both of them would go through the cabin with the food cart and pass out an item to each passenger to ensure everyone got something to eat.

Once InFlight, Jill approached the first class galley (where the extra food was being stored) and very loudly yelled

Whose idea was it to do service this way, anyway?! We’re in the aisle entirely too long — this is taking forever!

I reminded her that we all decided this was the best way to ensure everyone got something and no one was left out. She then stated that she never agreed to this, then she grabbed another drawer of sandwiches and headed to the back.

About 15 minutes later she came back to the front threw the empty bin on the floor and again reiterated her disgust for still being in the aisle 1.5 hours after take off. Again, she took more food and headed aft. 15 minutes later,  just as I had picked up two trays of food to deliver to my passengers, she again comes to the front  but this time holding a hot water cup and proclaimed her need for hot water. I looked at her with raised eye brows, as my hands were full, and said: “you know where it is” as I headed into the cabin. Spitefully, she then proceeded to hit the “hot water” button without placing her cup under the spicket making the hot water flood my galley counter, and destroying my paper which had my first class orders written on it. Unbeknown to her, I saw this happen as I was waiting for her to exit the galley so I could continue my service. As I re-entered the galley she told me the button ‘got stuck’ and walked away.

This is how Jill got added to my “no-fly” list and why flight attendants as whole secretly keep one.

When bidding for schedules, some airlines allow you to actually enter your no-fly list as a bid preference such as “Avoid Trips with Employee XXX” or “DO NOT Award Same Schedule as LASTNAME, FIRSTNAME” but some airlines don’t allow you these bid options. They view it as being anti-team building and not being a team player. Most FAs then resort to dropping or trading the trip away – some even pay money for you to take the trip from them just to ensure they don’t have to work with the particular flight attendant they are avoiding.

Though it can be viewed as not being a team player, if you know you don’t get a long with a particular person and don’t trust their judgment within sticky situations I believe you should be allowed to avoid trips with them. Not only for your personal sanity, but for the sake of the passengers as well. If you’re constantly dealing with this co-worker and trying to talk them through situations, how much customer service are you providing to the paying passengers?

Therefore, yes, as a flight attendant I agree with the traveling public. There are those of us that don’t belong in this position. The problem is we aren’t the ones who hired nor are we the ones that can fire them. We can just avoid them.


A Day in the Life: Flight Attendant Pay

“A Day in the Life” is a new series I’ve started aimed toward those readers interested in learning about  what flight attendant’s go through on a daily basis and those who are interested in becoming a flight attendant.

We all work to make money to provide a decent living for ourselves and our family. Some do jobs they dislike just for the paycheck, and some do work in a field they love even if the money isn’t there. The latter statement is true for anyone working as a flight attendant with less than 10 years seniority.

Through bankruptcy, mergers and buyouts the pay scale  for flight attendants has dwindled over the past 10 years. Starting salary for a United States domestic flight attendant averages around $14,000 a year. Not nearly enough to live on.

Many folks don’t really understand how a flight attendant is paid, and still believe it is one of the most glamorous, high-paid jobs out there. Let’s break it down.

Usually Flight Attendants get paid twice monthly. Each airline has designated a “minimum” hours that flight attendants will be paid for and the first paycheck of the month is 1/2 of their guaranteed hours for the month. Your second paycheck has the remaining guaranteed hours, any hours you flew over guarantee and your per diem payment (details on this can be found below).

On paper, the starting salary of $16-19 per hour looks great but don’t be fooled! Flight Attendant’s are paid per block/credit hour. In other words, the flight attendants are only paid when the aircraft door closes or when the plane is pushing back from the gate and their pay stops accruing once the door opens or the chocks are placed around the tires (otherwise known as “block in”).  So, this means your flight attendant is not getting paid for one of the most hectic and labor intensive part of their job, boarding.

For every hour a flight attendant is on a trip (trips usually range from 1 to 4 days for domestic and longer for international and they detail all of the flights a flight attendant is work within the designated period as well as includes time on layovers and hotel information) they also earn per diem. Per diem is the company’s way of reimbursing a flight attendant for food/beverages on their layovers, this hourly rate varies for international and domestic trips. The average U.S. domestic per diem is around $1.75 an hour or $42 a day. Per diem is NOT usually earned if the flight attendant is on a 1 day trip. Some airlines advertise that their flight attendants are paid “for every hour at work and on a trip” which is only true because of the FAs per diem payment. Therefore, it can be argued for boarding, your flight attendant is actually paid their per diem payment of $1.75 for the hour.

Some airlines offer their flight attendants “ground hold pay.” This pay comes into play when an aircraft is fully boarded and ready to push back from the gate but then air traffic control assigns the flight a delay due to traffic, congestion, etc. or the airport shuts down due to weather. For every hour on board the aircraft, with passengers the flight attendants begin to make a set wage until the door closes. This rate of pay is solely determined by the airline, but at mine it is currently set at $10/hr.

Alternatively, if a flight has not yet boarded and is delayed because of weather, air traffic control, a late aircraft, etc., your flight attendants are not getting paid (once again, unless you consider their 24/7 per diem payment “pay”).

At most airlines the flight attendant working in the front of the aircraft is also making a few extra dollars an hour. The “lead,” “A,” or “purser” is paid extra to oversee cabin service, handle extreme complaints on board and to handle paperwork unaccompanied minors

Pay rules vary greatly from airline to airline, but the general pay structure seems to be a standard. If you’re lucky, your airline pays you per duty hour. The only airline I know of that does this is USA 3000. They pay their flight attendants per hour they are on duty, just like any other job. This includes check-in, boarding, etc. How awesome would that be!

If you’re not a flight attendant, keep this post in mind. Though not an excuse for the flight attendants to be less than friendly and customer service focused, you may understand why some flights don’t board early even though the aircraft and crew are present or why you’re asked to deplane or boarding is postponed because of an extended delay. And, if you’re looking to become a flight attendant, when you are informed of what your regular hourly rate will be multiply it by around 70 hours. That should give you a low-ball estimate on what to expect every month without your per diem payment.


Let’s Talk About: Us

I never noticed it until it was pointed out, but when in the company of other flight attendants, away from the job, all we talk about is, well.. work. Which aircraft has the worst smell, what the crazy passenger said, the drama between flight attendants and pilots and recent company announcements. Is that really the only thing we have in common?

Sure its a major part of our lives and it is something we can easily converse about but don’t we talk about it enough at work?

Now being aware of whats going on, I purposely try to sway the conversation away from work related topics and I always seem to fail. I manage to get the topic changed to something else but it always seems remind someone of something related to work and we’re right back to where we started.

I’m beginning to wonder what I talked about before I became a flight attendant. I can’t even remember. I was a communication major in college, worked in a hospital (with a lot of drama) and even worked for a couple television shows but I can’t remember ever talking about those topics as much as I talk about flying. Hell, I started this blog to talk about flying. I didn’t have a blog talking about the Advertising 101 test I took the day before or the show I was going to tape tomorrow. Why is talking about this job so interesting, even to those who also do it?

I think its because what we see on a daily basis, even though some of us have done this job for years, still amazes us. The traveling public seems to get weirder on a daily basis and there is never a lack of funny passenger stories. The industry keeps changing creating buzz on new products, services or the lack thereof. And finally, this job is just interesting. We fly for a living, stay in hotels, visit different cities, meet over 100 new people per flight, and in the process have over half a month off and the travel benefits to see the world on your time off. Who wouldn’t want to talk about this job?


Crew Meals: The Love/Hate Relationship

Pilot Crew Meal

Pilot Crew Meal

At my previous airline, the pilots were the only crew members to receive meals. It was written into their contract that any flight over 3.5 hours a hot or cold meal would be provided. Of course, before giving the meal boxes to the pilots or heating up their meal (which was the worst! We had to cook THEIR meals and we couldn’t eat anything!)  we would raid their meal for items we wanted such as cookies, chocolate, snacks, etc. Sometimes, though rare, the pilot would even offer us the whole meal if they weren’t hungry.

Apparently, the flight attendant’s gave up provided meals for a $1 pay raise at the time their contract was renegotiated in 1999. I’d rather the crew meal. We could be on duty up to 14.5 hours a day, without a break to get off the plane and buy food.  I couldn’t afford to eat on my $16/hr starting pay (and that was WITH a $1 paid raise) for a mainline carrier, it barely paid the bills! However, it helped me to create my “FA4Day” Diet, but that’s another blog or another day.

Now, at my current airline we have crew meals. We fly primarily transcontinental and sometimes the flight times are well over 7 hours depending on your city pairings. My airline sells a wide variety of fresh food items and we’re permitted to select one option as a crew meal after we pass the 2 hour mark during flight. In addition, first class is boarded with 2 extra hot meals per flight. This is done to ensure those passengers not seated in the first row of first class still have shot at their preferred meal selection. However, this leaves 2 extra hot meals per flight to be consumed as crew meals. Some pilots expect to receive the hot meals, but not on my planes. I offer them to the FAs working the main cabin first, since they work the hardest out of the 5 of us.

Though its nice to know I have a meal when I’m hungry, I don’t always eat them.

Granted, after a while the same choices on every flight gets old. Part of you doesn’t want to eat it just because your sick of the selection. There is only so many turkey wraps you can eat in 4 days. Nutritiously, I try to stay away from the on board meals. Though the food is good (and my airline has won awards, they are really good!) eating the same items day in and out cannot be good for my body. I almost wish we had nutritional information on our products. It might make me feel better about eating them.

Alternatively, one of the options currently in first class is Eggplant Rollitini. I’m a sucker for Eggplant and always pray that it becomes one of the leftover choices. If it does, I always eat it. I know what you’re thinking “you’re worried about calories in the turkey wrap but your eating something loaded with cheese;” and all I can say to that is… yes. I guess I’m just more conscious of the food I’m eating now. I like to try and stay fit and ensure my uniform fits well. I don’t want to become a C/D queen (a flight attendant whose arse hits the C and D passengers while walking down the aisle.)

The aspect I didn’t expect crew meals to help was my wallet. I am higher paid now then I was at the mainline carrier, so I can afford to eat and pay bills. However, having the crew meals is also a savior for those lulls between paychecks or for when I’ve spent my mad money and don’t want to spend $15 for a cheese burger. As it is, I’m expected to spend $8 on a 4 day tipping van drivers for doing the job their supposed to do (but, I’ve already covered that [See: Tipping Your Flight Attendant]). You don’t realize how much money you can save on a 4 day by eating crew meals and not eating out. For that, I’m very thankful, and so is my savings account.

So in conclusion, though they may be higher in calories and sodium than I would like and not the most nutritious meals; they are free, taste good, and satisfy my hunger. Additionally, I am grateful to be provided a crew meal as it helps to make my per diem payments go a little bit further and I believe all airlines should provide a crew meal to flight crew working a flight over 3.5 hours.

Does your airline offer crew meals? If so, do you eat them? If no, do you want them?