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A Day in the Life of a Flight Attendant

A day on the job. For a flight attendant that could mean... a trip to Paris... or an emergency landing. It can be fun, an adventure, or both... but is it work? I've found that working for a major airline this past year has been one of the hardest jobs I have ever had, and yet one of the most enjoyable. The schedule and the passengers challenge me in ways I never could have imagined. But nothing beats hanging out in Las Vegas for 24 hours with a company paid hotel room and expense money. The thousands of us flying encounter many different experiences during the course of a day. This is a day (well, technically a trip) in my life...

5:45 P.M. Friday: The Assignment

In the airline industry, seniority rules. Mechanics, pilots, flight attendants, customer service agents - all of these employees enjoy pay rates, schedules and benefits based on their length of service with the company. Among flight attendants, seniority determines status as a lineholder or reserve. Lineholders have a flying schedule set at least one month in advance; they know when and where they will work and on what types of aircraft.

The airlines use reserves to fill open flying time and to cover positions vacated by lineholders calling in sick or on holiday. If you are a relatively new flight attendant, like me, you can expect to sit reserve for a couple of years. Flight attendants often receive a set schedule (known as a block) after less than two years, but at some bases, flight attendants can sit reserve for more than ten years.

As a reserve flight attendant, my "work day" begins with a call from a crew scheduler. Each airline operates differently; at mine, schedulers call reserves on-duty to ask what trips they want to fly the following day. Trips are paid by the flight hour, from the time the aircraft door is shut to the time it is opened. And for every hour away from base, flight attendants are paid expense money.

This particular Friday evening, when crew scheduling calls, I choose a four-day trip on the Airbus 319 - one of our newer aircraft. It pays better than average and overnights in Raleigh-Durham, Washington, DC and Denver. Working what the airline labels the "C" position, I serve in the economy cabin and sit in the front, near the boarding door. With my trip set, I pack. I take a few extra pieces of my uniform and some clothes for the overnight. I go to bed early since I must check in early the next morning.

7:30 A.M. Saturday: Check-in

This morning, I go down to the crew room below the airport concourse in Philadelphia. Each base has a crew room complete with couches, computers and supervisors' offices. Pilots and flight attendants also have boxes or folders there for company mail. Before starting a trip, a crewmember must check in for it.

First things first, I use the computer to sign in for the trip. If you do not sign in an hour before the trip departs, you are liable to get written up by your supervisor. Since boarding begins 30 minutes prior to departure, there's not much time to spend in the crew room, but I have a few minutes to check my box for memos and chat with friends. I head to the plane to meet up with the rest of the crew.

Communication between the cockpit and the cabin plays a vital role in maintaining a safe environment, and the crew briefings at the beginning of a trip set the tone. Once on the airplane, Becky, the lead flight attendant, briefs Mike and me on safety procedures, delegates announcement responsibilities and confirms that we have our emergency manuals. Afterward, the captain conducts his briefing, reviewing safety-related issues, flight time, weather, and what he likes to drink.

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