How did I end up here?

August 27, 2009 3 Comments A+ a-

Ever wonder why Flight Attendants are working the particular position they are on the aircraft? Why is the mean one working in YOUR cabin, or how did that really sweet one end up in the Galley, where she barely interacts with passengers at all?

At some airlines, the Flight Attendants are awarded their positions based on how they bid. Basically, they will bid for the Purser, Galley and Aisle in a certain cabin (First, Business, Coach) on a certain aircraft (777, S-80, Airbus 320, etc.) They know what position they will be flying all month long.

At my airline, the line-holding (read: more senior) Flight Attendants bid for International or Domestic, and within those two, they may or may not bid for the Purser position. (The Purser at other airlines is also known as the "Lead" or the "A" position.) And, none of this takes into account Reserve Flight Attendants--but, then it gets complicated.

So, the Purser at my airline is generally known in advance, especially on International flights. These Flight Attendants complete a separate training program and can be differentiated by the big ol' wings with the giant letters that say "Purser."

Our positions are chosen by seniority in a "briefing." The Purser conducts the meeting--usually this is in one of the small briefing rooms in the domicile, but sometimes it is done on the aircraft.

The Purser will introduce herself, and we go around the room and follow suit. She then gives us basic info on the flight we are just about to work: video in seat 34G doesn't work, we have three wheelchairs (passengers needing assistance), the plane is in remote parking (meaning everyone, passengers and crew, takes a bus to get to the aircraft.) She will also tell us who the Flight Deck crew is, what time we are expected to begin boarding, what the aircraft number is (used to know which part of our manual we use for our safety checks), what the passenger/standby load is, who the language speakers are, what the block time is (time between closing the door and opening it again at our destination) and the expected flying time.

Then, using a computer generated seniority list, we go around and select the position we want to work. The Senior Mamas pick what they want to work and it goes around to usually the last position on the list that is leftover for me.

Since I am on Reserve, and very low on the totem pole, I never know what position I am going to get. I really don't care what I work. To me, the best positions, generally, on a three cabin aircraft, are in First Class. There are fewer people to take care of, so it is easier, I think, to anticipate their needs and be of service to them. Of course, different strokes for different folks--and a lot of people enjoy other positions, for a variety of reasons.

One of the most dreaded or most desired positions is the Business Galley on an International flight. It is a ton of work, and has to be timed just right: cocktails, hot nuts (I'm sorry, I mean to say cocktail snacks!) hot towels, load the meals into the ovens, take the lids off the salads and appetizers, line the baskets, oh! get the rolls in the oven, how many pastas do we have, where is the silver for the coffee service, I can't find the oven mitt, I think we are running out of orange juice, 15 B needs more red wine and the cork puller isn't working, gotta set up the dessert/cheese & fruit/coffee/liqueur cart, has anyone seen the port?

And on a 777 with 49 people in Business, your head can be spinning in several different directions if the service starts to slow down or gets screwed up. On top of that, you can have bitchy Flight Attendants working with you in Business Class that would rather be a part of the problem instead of helping to smooth things out. I have been blessed with liking the Business Galley position, as well as having super Stewardesses that jump in to lend a hand the moment they see help is needed.

(Click on this to see it bigger.)

So, positions get picked, and Duty-Free is also chosen. The Senior Mamas generally like to work the Duty-Free carts because they earn a small commission off the things that are sold. I have never worked it, and suspect I may go the rest of my flying career without working it.

All of this information is written down on a briefing sheet, like the one I had from a trip last month, from Frankfurt (FRA) to Washington (IAD). You can see I worked as the #7. I was the very last person to pick my position and I worked the Galley in the Economy section. The briefing sheet also tells me that during passenger boarding, I am assigned to be somewhere in the Left or Right (L/R) aisles in Rows 17-30. It also tells me where my jumpseat is (4L--the last, or 4th door from the cockpit on aircraft left.)

Once we complete our 10-15 minute briefing, we disburse into the airport. Some stop by Starbucks or an ATM, while most just go straight to the aircraft. Once onboard, most of us open our Flight Attendant Manual to the specific aircraft we are flying, to locate the safety checks we are responsible for-which correspond to our position on the aircraft. Since the vast majority of our Flight Attendants are qualified on every aircraft in every position, it is imperative that we look up our Safety Checks. Looking up these positions also shows us exactly where we are to store our tote bag and suitcase, and where we have to be for the safety demo. It also tells us what our responsibility is in an evacuation--every position is different.

And, before we know it, the Purser makes an announcement over the PA: "Boarding!" which lets us know she sees passengers walking down the jetbridge to the airplane. Then, we all get into our wanted-or-not positions and our real work begins. Welcome Aboard!


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August 28, 2009 at 7:23 AM delete

You always have something to teach us. Thanks, I'll be more appreciative when/if I do fly. Bon Qui Qui better step it up!

August 29, 2009 at 5:06 PM delete

What a great post. I love to know what other airlines do. My airline is similar but quite a few things are different. This whole US thing of bidding for certain positions really confuses me thought. But all great to learn!

August 29, 2009 at 8:24 PM delete

Kirsten--WHEN you fly--I expect to see you here over the holidays!

Anthony--American Airlines Flight Attendants bid for position/schedules for their monthly bids. So, they could bid all the positions on a certain trip and depending on their seniority is what they get. Here at "the friendly skies" the Flight Attendants bid on trips/schedule and positions are worked at the at briefing. We never know what we'll end up with!