I just read in the paper today that Expedia bought Travelocity from the Sabre Corp., which is the big system that companies work with to sell airline tickets, hotel rooms, and rental cars. My family is a big fan of Expedia so I found this interesting and read on. Did you know Expedia also owns Hotels.com and Hotwire? News to me. I was under the naïve assumption that all the sites competing for not only ad space but travel dollars are separate and competing entities. Silly me.
And it’s not just Expedia. Priceline, another big booking site, also owns Booking.com, Kayak, and Open Table. I couldn’t find anything on Orbitz or new player Trivago, but I’m sure they’re next. In fact, Orbitz is rumored to have a “for sale” sign on it.
I don’t know about you, but I use these sites to find competitive airfares and to book travel packages that include flight, hotel, and rental car. I’m not sure how to feel that many of them are one big happy family. Doesn’t seem like much competition to me, and competition makes prices drop, right?
Flying is not fun anymore and no one will tell you this more than my husband, who has travelled for years on business and wants nothing to do with it even for fun. I get it. Flying is a pain in the tail and I don’t care what exotic locations you “get” to travel to for your job, my lack of envy will be sitting with me right at home.
Don’t get me wrong, I do still enjoy a trip or two, but my list of “gotta see” places continues to decrease mainly due to the hassles of flying. If it’s a driving road trip you’re talking about, I’m in. Boarding a plane that’s not non-stop? Eh, lemme think about it.
A Flight Attendant Comes Clean
This all made me remember a book I read some years back titled “Cruising Altitude.” It was written by Heather Poole, who was/is a long-time flight attendant for several major airlines. I loved reading the dish on what flight attendants and only flight attendants know and thought I’d share some of it with you. Fasten your seat belts, put your tray tables in the upright and lock positions, and enjoy the ride!
First and foremost Ms. Poole wants everyone to know that we are not receiving “bad service” these days but “limited service.” (Tell that to the passenger who gets Ms. Grump-a-Lump serving her on her expensive and crowded flight!) She vows flight attendants are doing the best they can with the limited and decreasing tools they are given. She says that you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat a flight attendant, who, by the way, lives and works amid one of the most serious ranking seniority around.
In fact, you might say seniority is everything in the flight attendant world. Those on domestic flights tend to get the least amount of respect and work the least wanted routes. If the plane you board has two aisles, is an overseas flight, and/or is a long flight, you more than likely will be served by the most senior of flight attendants.
Those long flights are often the calmest of flights, as passengers are least likely to carry-on big bags. Being away for a long period of time means more checked bags and a much calmer boarding time. According to Poole early morning or “red eye” flights also tend to be quieter, as passengers sleep during the flight, and as she says “a quiet cabin is a happy cabin.”
I prefer booking morning flights for perhaps another reason: in case of the dreaded (and more and more common) cancellation or delay of connecting flights, the odds of catching a later open flight are much greater than if your original flight was a 2:30 p.m. flight.
I have a very dear friend who is a flight attendant. She flies only international and is as sweet and professional as can be so I hate to even include this fact, but if you ask me, flight attendants just aren’t very friendly anymore. She, Poole, and probably any other FA will say that their job is not to make us happy but to keep us safe, but it seems like asking one for anything is like asking for a million dollars. I get it, it’s a stressful job full of probably very rude passengers, but without us there would be no flight attendant jobs.
Want to make one of those snotty flight attendants unhappy? According to Poole, order a Diet Coke from the bev cart. What? Yep, Poole says that for some mysterious reason the fizz in only Diet Coke doesn’t go down as quickly as other carbonated drinks so they are considered the most annoying beverage. Note to self!
Both Poole and “Conde Nast Traveler” report that nothing is more annoying than the NYC-Miami flight. Both say it’s “one of the most difficult routes in the system” and Poole added NY-Vail as well, claiming “every single person sitting in coach truly believes they should be in first class.” Then buy a first class ticket princess!
As a whole, business class passengers are Poole’s least favorite, and probably those of most flight attendants. Called “the most demanding passengers on an airplane,” they are usually given the most junior attendants. It makes sense, as coach passengers don’t expect much of anything anymore and first class passengers get all they want. It’s those middle business boogers who consider themselves better than coach but won’t or can’t ante up for first class.
The most challenging flyers are also those who feel entitled. Everyone is all about being a “gold status gazillion mile frequent flying champion,” but who isn’t today? The days of flashing your mileage reward card and impressing anyone are long gone. You fly a lot on business? Well unless it’s for your dream job, I feel sorry for you!
Everyone, me included, has always thought flight attendants live a charmed life and should smile from take-off to landing. That is not necessarily the case though. Their jobs are hard and they are a grind. Yes, they have the perk of flying “non-rev,” but have to do so stand-by, usually in the middle of the week and rarely for holidays, and getting a seat with family members flying with them is almost unheard of. Okay so the flight is free, but how would you like to fly everywhere stand-by? Think about it. You really can never check a bag and you will more than likely spend hour upon hour waiting at a gate. This is the case for even the most senior of attendants.
Until you have reached that coveted senior status, your personal life is literally and figuratively “up in the air.” As Poole wrote, single flight attendants find it difficult to have relationships as their schedules and availability are erratic and they are generally fairly independent people. Saying “good-bye” is an everyday thing for a flight attendant! Maybe that’s why today’s flight attendants last either only a few months or a lifetime. Veteran flyers consider flying not their job, but a lifestyle.
I always figured New York City would be considered the “end all” of flight attendant base cities, which are where their flights begin and end, but it’s actually considered a junior base and is home to many a newbie. In fact, many NYC flight attendants permanently live elsewhere, which somewhat explains the line of motor homes and campers along the back fence at JFK.
If they do permanently live the New York City area, it’s probably in what’s called a “crash pad.” These multi-level and multi-room houses are where flight attendants merely “crash” between flights and do so with several fellow attendants. Queens is a popular location for them as it’s centrally located between LaGuardia and JFK.
All this seems much different than the old days, when flight attendants were called stewardesses and were considered glamorous, like on the recently cancelled TV show “Pan-Am,” which I loved. They were also required to be childless and single and of certain height and weight. Today there are some clothing regulations regarding how flight attendants wear their airline uniforms, but other than that the only height and weight restrictions are that they must be able to sit in the jump seat without an extended seat belt and fit through and emergency window exit. Oh yeah, they’re also officially only on the clock when the door closes and the plane backs away from the gate so delays are just as aggravating to them as they are to you! Add to that having to deal with demanding passengers, standing on your feet all day, being one of very few people who say “thank you” when someone hands you trash, and you quickly realize that flying the friendly skies isn’t all that friendly for anyone anymore!
Pilots have it a little different but are under probably even more stress. I cannot even imagine. A few fun facts about pilots that Poole shares are the fact that they often keep a family photo under the brim of their hat to distinguish it from those of other pilots, captains have four stripes on their sleeves while first officers have three, the heavier and bigger a plane pilots fly the more money they are making, and pilots on one flight are never fed the same thing on board as a precaution against food poisoning. Good to know, right?!
All of this may bore you (and if so, you probably have read this far anyway!), but it fascinates me. Here are a few other random tips Poole gives:
- Because of lower oxygen levels on a plane, the same amount of alcohol goes a lot further so please drink wisely!
- Afraid of flying? Tell the flight attendants right away. They are there to help you. Also, the back of the plane is always bumpier so avoid sitting there if possible.
- Count the number of rows from your seat to the closest emergency exit. Keep in mind that if an emergency does occur, it will probably be dark so you will need to feel your way to the exit.
- Those seat blocking device that you can use to prevent the seat in front of you from reclining look like great carry-on ideas, but they will be confiscated by a flight attendant so don’t bother buying one.
Yes, airlines have taken the fun out of travel with smaller seats and carry-on bag charges, but in most cases don’t blame the flight attendant unless he or she is extremely rude or unfriendly. Maybe they could all take a page from Southwest Airlines flight attendants who almost always are nice and happy. Amazing too, being that the majority of their flights are short ones. We’re all paying a lot of money to fly and withstanding a lot of irritations do so too so is it asking too much to ask for a simple smile and common courtesy? Or maybe even a snack or a blanket? I think not.
One last thing: SkyMall magazine, that fun little “seat pocket in front of you” magazine that contains all those things you really don’t need but seem to want at 20,000 feet, has filed bankruptcy. Seems on-board TVs, laptops, and notebooks have taken the place of the in-flight shopping catalog that has been a cabin mainstay since 1989. Although I always have a book, my own magazines, and my tablet on board, I will miss browsing through SkyMall. Will you?