It’s true, although it depends on what makes one a “good” Flight Attendant. If it were only about being nice, I’d be great. I am, in my own humble opinion, pretty darn nice. I like being nice. It feels much better than being mean. But it’s also about all this other stuff, that I just can’t stand.
So if you were to ask my manager, certain flight attendants, or sometimes my trip trader, they could rightfully say I’m terrible. That’s because my record is littered with little dramas created by that fact that I just don’t care about the details, especially when “detail” means “one of a million technicalities”. Combine that trait with a job that is governed by a contract the size of the Old Testament and you’ve got yourself a Terrible Flight Attendant. I used to try hard to remember every “rule”, but I often got stung by one I missed, so now I don’t even try. I show up, do my job, go home. End of story. Except sometimes that doesn’t work…
Take my last trip. It was day 5 of waiting, scheduling finally called with unexpectedly brilliant news. Not only did I have a London trip, I was going to deadhead there; I only had work the return leg. Whaaaaat?! I never get to deadhead. Talk about thrilled! This will be the easiest trip ever! I pictured myself sitting in First Class, watching movies all night, eating smoked salmon…
I got ready for work, jumped on the subway, strolled into ops and signed in for my trip. What I didn’t do was look up any details. Was I the only one deadheading? Was the flight full? Would I actually get in Business/First Class? Did I know anyone on the crew? What hotel was I assigned to? Did I have to go through customs with the passengers or with the crew? Who cares! None of these things mattered. Remember: show up, do job, go home…I’d figure the rest out along the way.
But when I stroll up to the gate, the agents pointedly ignore me. When I primly offer my ID, I expect a boarding pass. Instead the air feels weird. “Who are you?” they ask tartly.
“Er, I’m a deadheader.”
The lead agent’s face pinches with scorn. “What?” Uh-oh. Something’s really off here. The passenger next to me is being offered $650 cash or a $850 flight voucher in return for accepting the next flight just one hour later. This looks…wrong.
“I’m a deadheader,” I say again confidently.
The agents cluster and whisper. “Didn’t you check in for the flight?” they cluck at me from their huddle.
“Um, I signed in..for the trip. Isn’t that all I had to do?” A warm dread settles over me. I think back on just how long it’s been since I got to deadhead. Did I have it backwards? Did I just have to check in for the flight like a passenger; instead of sign-in like crew? No no nononoooooo. I remember that you’re supposed to do one of them, but nobody ever does. Oh god, I picked the wrong technicality! Are they really going to take off and leave me standing here like I never showed up for work?
There is good news, kindof: I am not the only one who has screwed up here. I have showed up to the gate in time, my seat should not have been given away. The agents should have known they were missing a deadheader. Do I know this? Noooooo. Of course not. But luckily the working flight attendant who is taking tickets at the door does. And when the words, “Well she’s S.O.L.” float firmly from the agents’ huddle, this kind flight attendant jumps to my defense and asserts their guilt in this debacle.
Blah blah blah, cue lots of drama: The flight is massively oversold. They’re going to have to buy off another passenger for me – all of whom are already on the plane! The flight is ready to depart; we’re going to be delayed for this. Oh god, this is Major. I’m standing silent as a mouse, sweet as honey, praying that I don’t get a Missed Trip. Managers are being called in…this is going to screw everyone. I tell the nice flight attendant to tell them I will volunteer to sit on the jumpseat.
He fights back. “You cannot do that. That’s ridiculous.” And he’s right: all night long, awake, on the crew jumpseat, only to have 10 hours of daylight as a layover, then to work the flight back to America. I am exhausted at the mere thought. But I am not one to play “who’s more at fault?” I want to keep my head down and get on with it. So he relays the message, and on I go. As I board, at the very least, the lead agent is falling over herself to apologize. Apparently she’s been reminded of her role in the matter and thinks I am saving her skin. I am a relieved to see that, though I’m not sure how true it is.
All night long the working crew are incredulous that I am sitting on the jumpseat. They are angry for me. When I confess my role in the matter they say it doesn’t matter; it’s the agents’ fault. Then I shrug and say, “Well, I played my part in it. I have to take responsibility for that much.”
One steps back and looks at me like I’m odd. “Well that’s very un-flight attendant-like of you,” she says with a wry smirk. I’m not sure how to respond. If she only knew how often I feel that way – and how many ways that can get one into trouble.