Saturday, November 8, 2014

Adventures in Flight: Productive PIT Stop

I was dining at the airport in Newark, NJ a while ago. It was lunch time and there were few seats open so another flight attendant asked if I would share my table with her. She worked for the other side of our airline and we each had a lot of questions for one another, since one day we would be working together after our two companies merged.

She was on her way to San Francisco for an 11-hour layover. I was on my way to Cleveland for a 20-hour layover. Upon hearing that I'd be in Cleveland for 20 hours, she quipped, “That's so unproductive!” I recoiled. 

Learning history in Pittsburgh

Unproductive? Why would she say this. She had no idea of my plans while in Cleveland. Then I realized that she meant it was unproductive for the company. How odd, I thought, that she was that wrapped up in the company to want only productive trips, ones where flight attendants are constantly on the plane, much like how planes don't earn money when at the gate. Flight attendants must be robots in her world.

I let it go, thinking she was a little odd, which in our profession, meeting flight attendants who are a little odd is nothing new. But as time went on, I heard this saying over and over again from the flight attendants on the other side. “You guys like long layovers, they are so unproductive.”

Our complaints of them is how they work themselves to death. They are known for having a younger work force, who, for some reason or another, think flight attendants should be making $80K a year, so work, work, work. They work San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale turns, over 11 flight hours and a duty day of 14 hours, with no rest in between. Then, some of them will turn around and do it again the next day. (There are a lot of professions to earn beau coup bucks. Flight attendant is not one of them.)

Each side has flights to China. Ours is a 4-day trip, where theirs is 3-days. They like theirs and we like ours. We go out and shop and dine and explore before resting up for the flight home. They go out and shop and dine and then go right back to the plane without much rest or chance to explore local cultures. 

Seeing the sights in Beijing; Temple of Heaven

I've experienced what my future flying partner wants our work life to be like. I've had the short layovers, where you get to the hotel and try to decompress as quickly as possible, because you look at the clock as you slip out of your uniform and realize that horrid van that takes you back to the airplane will leave in only 9 hours. That was after a 13 hour day, and the following is almost as long. Considering you lose an hour in transit to and from the airport, an hour to get ready in the morning, an hour to get ready for bed, and hopefully 8 hours to sleep, the absolute minimum layover that I ever want to see is 11 hours, and that's if I don't want to sleep, make some calls, enjoy some television, read. And to venture out and explore takes more, yet.

One of my first trips in San Francisco was one leaving late at night with a 5 hour layover in Oregon before flying first thing in the morning to Chicago. I was a reserve and had been up all day long, not knowing I would be treated like this until the trip was assigned to me just hours before I had to fly it. That's the life of a reserve. Now that I've got 14 years under my belt, I shouldn't be treated like that unless I ask for it! I've dated that woman. I have the scars. I like to be romanced!

The comment I hear often from the other side is how much they enjoy their time at home. My response is, “Yeah, but then you're too tired and spend half the day taking a nap. I'd rather use that nap time sleeping in my hotel room!” I usually get silence in return as maybe they realize the truth of my sentiment.

Nice rooms and nice views; this one is in Beijing.

I got this job to see the world. When I'm in China, I want to see the sights and museums and experience some of the local culture. And not just China, I do that in any city I visit. I know a lot about most of the cities my airline flies to simply from going out to explore while on a layover. Working for the airline is akin to having an education paid for.

On a recent visit to China, my flying partners started talking about this. We decided that as a work group, our side is generally more cultured, better rounded, and more experienced, than their side. Our flight attendants seem better able to cope with various cultures and have a more thorough rapport with passengers. We are better rested and provide better service in flight, as well.

Sunset in Pittsburgh

I like my long layovers, but I'm tired hearing from others how they are "unproductive". Having just come home from a 24-hour layover in Pittsburgh, I accomplished a lot. Besides a nice long walk, learning some history and meeting nice people, I opened a new bank account, called my insurance company for information about my upcoming move, wrote a letter to my aunt, got caught up with a few friends on the computer, looked up information about the city I'm about to move to, edited a story, watched the news and then went out to grab dinner and eat in the park while watching the sun set across the Allegheny River...ALL WHILE BEING PAID (per diem). Had I been home, not even half of that would have been accomplished. Sounds pretty damned productive to me!

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