Before I begin this post, I have to clarify a few airline terms for those of you out there who do not fly, to make this post comprehensible.
- TT: trip trade; to trade your trip with another flight attendant for whatever reason your heart desires. (I.E: you need a trip that returns earlier, or one that’s commutable, or to be honest you just don’t like your trip.)
- Commutable: many flight attendants don’t actually live in the city they are based out of, so they need trips that either let them fly in the morning before a trip, or return early enough so that they can fly home after a trip. While that may sound weird to the average person, keep in mind most people jump in the car and drive to work, or hop on a train/bus/ferry/tram/dingo, and some of us simply hop on planes to get to work.
- Purser: the #1 flight attendant on an aircraft. In order to obtain a purser qual, you must have a good relationship with your manager, no bad letters in your folder, and attend some training where the company attempts to indoctrinate you some more.
- Speaker: a flight attendant that is designated on each flight that speaks the language of the country you are flying too. This person is required to make all necessary announcements, help translate if needed, and essentially be “Google Translate,” for all crew members on a layover. A special test is required in order to qualify in a language, and you can qualify in as many languages as you speak.
- Galley: the flight attendant that is responsible for the flow of service in each of cabin, making sure catering has provided us with all the necessary meals, setting up the carts, and preparing for each service. This persons designated primary position on international flights on most air-crafts is the galley, and if everything goes smoothly, you may never actually see this flight attendant for the entirety of the flight.
- Aisle Position: the opposite of the galley. These are flight attendants who interact with the passengers, and serve them their meals and beverages, and so much more.
- Electronic Trade Board: where flight attendants post there trips with comments specifying how they would like to trade or drop them.
- Drop (a trip): to rid a trip off your schedule to another flight attendant, so you don’t have to work this trip for whatever reason you may have.
- Leg: a flight worked. (A 3 leg day usually means a flight attendant is working 3 flights).
- the 757: a slave-ship. The worst aircraft known to mankind. And believe it or not, this single aisle plane does go to Europe.
- Rocket: when you fly a leg to usually South America or Europe, layover during the day with minimal rest time, and immediately fly back to your base that evening. This is an extremely effective method for getting lots of hours in, in short periods of time. Especially good for high time flyers, (flight attendants who fly beyond their guaranteed number of each hours each month).
- Senior Mama: a flight attendant that has been flying for quite some time. While the exact number of years is debatable by everyone, a fair estimate is about 25/30 years or more.
Now that all that is cleared up, this post should be much more coherent to those of you without any former aviation knowledge!
Time and time again, when scrolling through the Electronic Trade Board, you see some clever postings by flight attendants who are trying to drop their trips, or trade them for something that suits their scheduling needs better. Some may need a commutable trip so that they can fly in that morning before work, some may not like a particular aircraft (*cough, cough 757 cough*) or position, and some are just desperate to drop to have a weekend off at home with their children and husband. But what amazes me every once in a while, is how particular these flight attendants can be when trying to trade a trip. For example:
TT my 3 day trip, 4 legs max each day, good crew, early sign-ins, must be A320,737,757 qualified, Tulsa- Detroit 10 hour layovers, for IFS only, no purser, no speaker, no galley, coach only, must be commutable on both ends, no 757, not 777-300 qualified, no U.K., prefer Rome. Same days only. Text with options.
Did you catch all that? I’m going to safely assume that’s a no. But that’s alright because to be honest, neither did I, and I’ve been attempting to decipher posts like these for the last two years. You would assume that for someone whose trip lays over in both Tulsa and Detroit, that they wouldn’t exactly be picky with what they were trying to trade for. I mean let’s be honest, just about anything is better then a Tulsa/Detroit 3 day trip, even if it is with a “good crew.”
In the second quarter of last year, the airline I currently work for had a genius idea to combine domestic and international based flight attendants all into one division. Meaning the fence in between domestic and international flying was dismantled, and we were given the ability to trade freely between divisions. Essentially this means that you could trade that gruesome four leg Boston shuttle for a 3 day Paris, or a long Fresno for a London, provided one of the senior mamas who held that trip wanted to make a trade. Sounds cool, exciting, and interesting right? Eh, like anything else it came with some drawbacks.
For instance, it messed up the whole reserve system. During the divide, we had two separate reserve systems at each base- one for international, and one for domestic. Since reserve works based off of seniority, or rather your lack of it, when we merged the divisions, since international flying had been dominated by senior mamas, they were all instantly freed of reserve, (which after many of them served on average 24 years of reserve), I can understand their contempt toward the reserve system and their not wanting to do it anymore. However, this made our entire reserve system as we know it, change. It pushed some junior flight attendants back on, (junior being about 15/20 years seniority), pushing people around my seniority lower on the reserve list, giving us less flexibility with bidding, and no hopes of actually holding what we were accustomed to hold anymore.
But I’ll spare you the bureaucracy of the reserve system, (as we will save that for another post), because this blog is not about reserve, the collapse of the domestic/international wall, or learning airline lingo, rather it’s about how the merging of divisions provided an extraordinary outlet for finding your “niche.”
A few months back, I had the absolute pleasure of flying with a flight attendant named Kristina, on two trips in one week, (and for those of you who fly international for a major airline, know the odds of that are highly unlikely). Kristina was a gorgeous blonde, had been flying around 25/30 years, (pretty much senior enough to hold whatever she wants), and did not look a day over thirty. She was regal in mannerisms, etiquette, and speech, and truly embodied the values of an Upper East Side gal, (which if I recall correctly that’s actually where she lived). She was kind and poise and fluttered with grace. But I promise you this blog is not about Kristina, either.
It’s seldom that you fly with someone that says something that resonates with you, when you’ve grown accustomed to hearing the usual meaningless galley gossip, which generally always seems to include bickering about the union, the company, the CEO, how bad the trips have gotten, how delta gets profit sharing, how southwest employees are all super friendly, and how JFK as a base keeps losing all of its flying, blah, blah, blah.
But Kristina and I actually had a conversation of substance, a conversation that eluded the traditional galley gossip, a conversation that really stood with me to this day, even months later. Kristina talked about how every flight attendant needs to find their “niche” at work. Be it a particular trip you care for, a position, an aircraft type, all the above, none of the above, whatever it is, it’s your niche. And in finding your niche so to speak, isn’t necessarily an easy process.
Kristina went on to tell me how it took her years to find her niche, which for her, happened to be flying the 777 first class galley on the London Rocket. However, after years of flying the LHR Rocket, the company decided to cut the morning London flight which in turn eliminated that particular trip, and Kristina was left once again, searching for her niche. After thirty or so years of flying Kristina was thrown back into the same situation she had been in many times. But as I learned early on in flight attendant training, the only thing that remains constant in the aviation industry, is that nothing ever stays the same. And little did I know how amazingly accurate my instructors would be when they said this.
Kristina continued to explain to me that even though her London Rocket had been gone for quite some time now, and subsequently her niche, she had been exploring new trips; trips she would have automatically not even given a second thought to flying had her LHR Rocket had still been around. And all in all, she seemed grateful. Grateful for being able to seek out and experience multiple niches throughout her career. Grateful at the chance to try something new. Grateful for the opportunity to yet again embark on a journey searching for her newest niche.
And that’s the beauty of having combined operations. Kristina, nor any of us, are not confined to establish a particular niche. We are not confined to a trip, a route, a destination, a position, or an airplane, (within your seniority means of course). And just maybe, with all the different variety of trips you have at your fingertips, just maybe you will find your niche. But as Kristina mentioned, what’s the rush? Shouldn’t we enjoy all the experiences we have along the way? Cherish those moments in between, those moments that really matter; where you can have picnics at the Jardin du Luxomberg with a friend, or experience the best steak and wine you’ll ever consume in Buenos Aires, or take a leisurely stroll down Copacabana beach in Rio De Janeiro.
So you see, some of us take a lifetime searching for our niche. To others, it comes much quicker, like second-hand nature. But ultimately what really matters, is that you stop and truly engage yourself in the experiences along the way. Otherwise niche or not, did you really live? Live to see the world and all of the beauty it has to offer? Live to know that you’ve accomplished the majority of your dreams, if not all of them? Live to know that opportunity is there, and ready to provide a whirlwind of different experiences?
Because if we don’t step out of our comfort zone, or our niche, from time-to-time, have we really gotten everything out of the universe that it’s so loudly yelling at us for us to take? So perhaps, going from flying pure domestic to predominately international took me out of my niche for a while, but it provided me with so much more I could have ever imagined. And for that, and my small conversation with Kristina which helped me to put all of this in perspective, I am ever so grateful.
“Most of our life is a series of images that pass us by like towns on the highway. But sometimes a moment stuns us as it happens and we know that this instant is more than a fleeting image. We know that this moment, every part of it, will live on forever,”
Until next time, XOXO.