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 Life in an Airline

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Tailwind

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Male Number of posts : 15
Age : 41
Location : Where the streets have no lanes
Registration date : 2007-06-29

PostSubject: Life in an Airline   Wed Sep 26, 2007 12:39 pm

In the movies, they always seem to swagger a bit. A hat cocked slightly
to the side, shoes polished to a high shine. They move at a steady
pace, never looking rushed, always relaxed and followed by a well
dressed gaggle of flight attendants, all walking through a brightly
lit, impeccably clean airline terminal somewhere. A hushed reverence
silences the gate area when they show up, doling out a nod and a smile
to the small children who point up at them, maybe a wink for the pretty
girl stealing glances at them. And then as suddenly as they appeared,
they are gone, disappearing down that long dark jet way. That was your
flight crew, ladies and gentlemen, and that old stereotype, like Elvis,
has just left the building.

In reality, there is usually a more of a concerned look on your flight
crew's faces. The airplane they just flew in is more than likely parked
6.3 miles from the next plane they are scheduled to pick up and fly you
to your wildly exotic destination on. They have been given just 30
minutes to get to that new plane, set it up, get flight plans ready and
welcome you aboard with a smile. That swagger is quickly turning into
an incredibly quick power walk bordering on a flat out sprint, with
bags flailing crazily behind them. That welcome aboard drink has been
replaced with a gentle admonishment to find seats quickly so an on time
departure can be achieved and the crew can avoid a waltz on the company
carpet when called in to explain the reason for their late departure.
Things are not like they are in the movies.

The airline industry has undergone numerous changes throughout history.
Flying used to be regarded as something of special occasion, with a
family decked out in their Sunday best and bearing a giddy sense of
adventure and mystery as they boarded that shiny jet. Pilots handed out
small wings and gave children an awe inspiring tour of the cockpit.
Flight Attendants in beautifully tailored uniforms came around offering
gustatory delights that could not be gotten at home. Fine wines and
France's best bubbly flowed freely in First Class, and even back in
coach, a simple meal was placed on your tray table along with a vast
selection of drinks. These days, Flight Attendants are armed only with
flaccid sandwiches and bags of odd nuts and snacks loaded with enough
sodium to parch a herd of camels. These are sold at 4 star restaurant
prices. First Class options on long flights still remain good, though.
Menus still include things that fly, swim or moo most of the time. The
wings the pilots handed out are now rare antiques, for the most part, a
victim of cost trimming. The flight deck, as it is now known in the PC
world, is mostly off limits, a well lit cave that is sealed off from
the wandering eyes of passengers by a bullet proof door. The glamour
has been taken out of flying, distilled by a race to find the cheapest
way to sell you a ticket from point A to point B.

Your average Pilot or Flight Attendant found their way into this
industry for a variety of reasons. The glamour, travel, wads of money
and prestige. The flying public, for the most part, still believes all
of these enticements are still there. The image of an airline captain
using a wheel barrow to haul his paycheck to the bank is still what
many people believe happens every week. The Flight Attendants, or
"stewardesses" as they are sometimes referred to, are, for a good
portion of flying America, seen as glamorous, globe trotting vixens,
spending their free time strolling happily on the Left Bank of Paris or
dining in Italy on truffles and veal. Sadly enough, these myths are
pitifully far from the reality.

By the time you catch the first glimpse of your flight crew being
roughly fondled in security long before the sun rises, they have
probably been up for an hour or so already, repacking and waiting for a
hotel van that takes them to the airport. With any luck, they will have
gotten in the night before and had 10 or 12 hours to wind down, eat and
get some sleep. If, by chance they were delayed, they may have had a
solid 8 hours to do all of that. This first flight might be the start
of a 14 or 15 hour day with 4 to 5 more flights after this one. With
weather and delays, it may go up to the legal limit of a 16 hour duty
day, at which point the crews must all be swapped out. Some of the
passengers, at the first scent of a delay, slowly begin a downward
spiral to devolve into frothing rabid animals, screeching like hyenas
that they have paid an inordinate amount of money to get to their
destination and that their time is too valuable to waste here in an
aluminum tube. They verbally abuse and threaten flight attendants, eyes
rolling and spit flying from their enraged mouths, howling about
conspiracies to keep them away from their destination. The Flight
Attendants have been expecting this, as they get this kind of "star"
treatment on a fairly good number of flights. Hopefully, they can
explain that they relinquished control of the weather to God, have no
hidden agenda to keep anyone on the plane and that the Air Traffic
Controllers have the other remote controller for the delays. In rare
instances, the mildly psychotic passenger will force the plane to
divert or return to the gate so some finely uniformed, well armed
gentlemen from the police department can show that irate traveler the
exit. In his/her wisdom, he/she has now delayed the plane even longer.

Now that the flight is underway, service can be provided, coffees
filled and it should all be a smooth ride. The seat belt sign comes off
and people are now free to stroll leisurely around the cabin. It is
during those times where some surprises are bound to happen to the
Flight Attendants, who have probably seen more strange and foul events
than they will ever care to divulge. A mother sits serenely, smiling as
her young son heads up to use the lavatory. Only he sees it occupied
when he arrives and proceeds to relieve himself on the galley carts.
His mother, watching this and still smiling, embraces him with open
arms when he returns. Her big boy just had to go, and he took it upon
himself to do so! Who wouldn't be proud of their little man? The Flight
Attendants may be forced to interrupt an "interlude" in the bathroom,
where a dangerously large couple, heady with excitement and hormones,
decided to join the mile high club by stuffing themselves into a
lavatory that is 3 sizes too small. Or maybe it is the elderly woman
who decides that her Depends is made of Kevlar and is vacuum sealed but
still manages to clear out the 2 rows in front and behind her as her
fouled diaper causes violent gasping and retching all around her. Yes,
this is the glamour we all signed on for.

Up front, on the "flight deck", the pilots have been ducking and
dodging through the storms that are causing havoc on everyone's arrival
times. Diversions, detours and descents are all tricks pulled out from
the pilot's bag in order to keep the flight as smooth as possible. In
good weather, the ride is beautiful, with a panorama of incredible
sights and sunrises/sunsets that continue to amaze and humble even the
most experienced pilot. But when the weather acts up, a crews work load
increases ten fold. There are approaches down to the barest weather
minimums to be flown, fuel usage to be calculated in case of a
diversion, violent turbulence to be avoided and a myriad of other
considerations that they crew must continually take into account. When
this is the last leg of a 14 or 15 hour day, it takes all the mental
strength a crew can muster. They want to arrive safely just as the
passengers do.

With all of these wild goings on, the belief arises that flight crews
are handsomely compensated for the job they do and therefore have no
room to complain and should accept the vagaries of their chosen
profession. That too is a myth. The cabin crew in that little "puddle
jumper", the one with the screaming propeller or whining jet engine
that spins dangerously close to your head when you sit down next to the
wing, will be lucky to have made $12 to $14 a flight hour for the job
they do. Their clock starts and stops when the airplane door closes and
opens, as does your pilots. When you see them at the restaurant or bar
on their layover, they are earning $1-2 dollars an hour at that point.
The First Officer, looking just old enough to drive or shave in many
cases, is tasked with assisting the Captain and will be making anywhere
from $14 to $26 a flight hour for the first few years, or possibly have
even have paid to fly the airplane in one of several flight programs
that allow newly minted pilots to buy their hours to allow them to move
up. The Captain, making possibly 2 or 3 times that depending on how
long they have been employed there, is tasked with the safe operation
of the flight, is responsible for all actions pertaining to the flight
and in charge of the crew. An airplane's pay scale will commensurate
with size of the aircraft as well as length of employment. It behooves
a pilot to stay at one carrier and gather seniority, for jumping ship
only puts that pilot back into the First Officer position and cuts his
wages in half or even a third until he can regain his seniority back.

All of these numbers sound phenomenal. Well above minimum wage, they
seem well set and able to afford the flight crew a chance at lavish
homes, expensive cars and fine wines every night. But those numbers
have restrictions that curb the income potential of all flight crews.
The legal limit of flight time for pilots is, for airlines, 1000 hours
per year. The chance to work a 40 hour week and load up on the overtime
is strictly forbidden by the FAA, which allows for only 30 hours of
flight time in a 7 day period. Take those wages and tack on the 13 to
18 days and 200 to 350 hours away from home in some cheap hotel with
oddly stained sheets and clusters of roaches playing Texas Hold'em
under the bed, and the golden veneer of glamour and exorbitant
paychecks with lots of zeros after the first digit is quickly stripped
away.

When asked why people stay in the aviation field, the most common
response if the love of travel, people and flying. Many "exotic"
destinations, such as South Bend or Jacksonville, still offer the crew
something novel they may not have at home, such as a warm day on a
serene beach, a boutique micro brewery to sample or a simple lakeside
park to go jogging through. Simple pleasures make this job worth
showing up to do. It may be the child who does get up to the flight
deck and is greeted with a big smile and an offer to sit in the
Captains seat to have their picture taken. It is the chance to buy a
young serviceman or woman a beer in flight to thank them for their
sacrifices. It is the "Thank you for getting us here safely" a Flight
Attendant or Pilot may hear from an elderly couple as they get to their
destination to see their first grandchild. It is the thrill felt as the
large silver tube gently un-sticks itself from the runway and lifts off
to find the sky and yet another "exotic" destination.

It may be a far cry from the movies, with their pristine images of
aviation, the dashing Pilots who wrestle with the controls in stormy
weather and the perfectly coiffed Flight Attendants helping to seat the
"peeps", but despite the reality of the job itself, with all of its
warts and deep seated drama that is inherent to dealing with masses of
the public, still keeps a steady stream of newcomers flocking to its
skies. As long as there are still the "exotic" destinations to visit
and planes to fly, it probably always will
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captbala

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Male Number of posts : 27
Age : 73
Registration date : 2007-06-02

PostSubject: Fantastic   Sun Sep 30, 2007 12:35 am

Fantastic aint the word , Captain ! You just relived my last 25 years on paper for me. Not only have you taken the trouble to meticulously depict the life in airline environment but have done it so in excellent prose. Hats off to you.

Every walk of life has it's own unique charms, tribulations , rewards and agonies....be it a Doctor, Engineer, Singer, Dancer, Movie actor etc etc. Generally, what is seen by the people are only the public facades and glamour . Eyeopeners like your post here are the ones that really show
"What is Beneath!"
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shekar



Number of posts : 2
Registration date : 2007-06-01

PostSubject: Re: Life in an Airline   Tue Oct 09, 2007 12:30 pm

Seriously WOW is not the word...what an excellent write capt.,HATS OFF!!

Would love to read more interesting anecdotes from the likes of you and Capt. Bala

Thanks for sharing.
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