Once upon a time, a self-proclaimed Archaeology-Lifer got a job as a flight attendant. No one knows quite how it happened. Here's what happened next...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

We Could Wait for the Weather to Change, or I Could Stand Here and Pout...

I wrote myself a letter this morning.

Dear Flygirl,

Do try not to have an emotional meltdown on your poor Instructor today.  He’s got the patience of a saint, but really, some chick sobbing with frustration in the plane next to him might prove to be a little much for the poor guy.
Just chill out, you crazy bitch.

Love from,
Your Dignity

Then I got in my car and started driving towards the airport.  Halfway there, the heavens opened and it poured!  I sulked for the rest of the way, pretty sure that my lesson was going to get rained out.  By the time I got there the rain had stopped, but there were still some low clouds.  Sure enough, My Instructor shook his head.  I pouted.

We decided to see if it cleared up a little bit, so My Instructor let me play with the new simulator a little bit.  I've never used a flight simulator before, and it was quite the strange experience.  The graphics are really good so it looks a lot like you are flying, and then you have all the controls, but it just doesn't feel quite the same.  It took a few circuits to get the hang of it, but I especially loved not having to actually go around the circuit in order to do another landing.  I was less enthused about the "birdstrike" though...

After a few simulated circuits, the sky had cleared up enough for a few real ones!  I got my plane and headed out for a walk-around.  All was well, so we hopped in, secured ourselves, and I did my pre-flight checks.  Then I turned the starter key and nothing happened.  I had a bit of panic in my mind.  'Oh my god, how did I mess that up?!  Why do I suck so much?'  Then I thought that I really hadn't messed up, and turned to look enquiringly at My Instructor.  As it turned out, it wasn't my fault.  The starter wasn't engaging for whatever - probably the battery, it was determined.

By the time we had told the maintenance crew about the problem and headed back into the club to write it all up, I was ready to go into full on Pout mode again.  Why was the morning against me?  All I wanted to do was fly!  It was TUESDAY.  That's my day.

Luckily, there were other planes available, so we grabbed one and finally got into the sky.  The second plane (C-GKLN) was slighty different to the usual C-150s we fly in.  It was heavier, and had something going on with the wings which apparently made it more stable - I have completely forgotten what it was called.  Whatever it was, I really liked flying that plane.  Something about it just felt really good.  I'm definitely going to try and nab it again in my future lessons.

I didn't even think about my first landing until I was lined up on the runway.  I think I was too busy trying to deal with the strong cross-wind to allow myself to get too worked up about it.  Next thing I knew I was on the runway, and my landing didn't suck!  For the first time I felt able to say 'Oh, that wasn't too bad actually!'  The next couple were just as good, and my spirits soared!  It finally started to feel a little better.  I am a lot better at landing without flaps, so the next challenge is getting it nice and smooth with flaps.  I rounded out the lesson with two of my worst landings to date, but I'm trying to not think about them, and just focus on the good ones!

After the lesson, I grabbed some lunch and settled myself in the club's lounge, with the intention of studying for my PSTAR.  I did get some work done, but also got a bit of football watching done, and a bit of socializing done, too!  Around 3pm, I found myself tagging along with some of the students from the college program.  They were going to the retirement celebrations of a Nav Canada Pilot.  I heard the phrase "low and over on runway 25" and figured it was worth a look!

It was definitely worth the visit.  The pilot had some rather touching words of wisdom to share with us eager young beginners, and we had the opportunity to watch some planes landing from the aerocentre, which afforded a pretty great view.

There were also a few nice jets parked, and a few other interesting planes landed while we were there.

Afterward, some of the Nav Canada employees were kind enough to show us a couple of their planes - a Dash 8 and an RJ.

While in the RJ, a couple of the students were ooohing and aaahing over all of the numerous gadgets, dials and buttons in the flight deck.  I wandered over to have a look, and found a relatively familiar sight.  It was quite similar to the set-up of our B737s at The Airline, although the RJ appeared to have fewer instruments, and not as much going on in the central console area.  I overheard one of the students say 'Wow, it's not exactly like a Cessna...'

I realised something, then.  Although I'm a real baby in the aviation world, at just over 16 hours, I have been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in the flight deck of large passenger jets.  Now I am thinking that my experience as a Flight Attendant might actually benefit me as a Pilot.  Although it's not going to be too helpful in the actual flying of the planes, I have been privileged enough to spend quite a bit of time around large aircraft, and I don't find myself intimidated by them at all.  I did pick up quite a bit of information from the Pilots in my incessant questioning of them, and these gems of knowledge make themselves apparent every now and then.

To round out the excitement of the day, an Air Transat Airbus was doing circuits on runway 25.  Proper circuits - touch and gos, overshoots, the works.  It's quite something to see!  Today really was one of those days that it just felt wonderful to be at the club!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Never a Dull Moment...

Last night I was booting around the Byward Market when I got a text from The Tall Estonian.  "Great day to not hang out here, cause you just missed a plane doing a wheels up landing".

Because I'm me, I jumped in my car and drove back to the airport, where I was just in time to watch the guys from the OFC placing the injured bird outside the club with the help of a crane.  The plane in question was a Cessna 206 Amphibian, and the pilot had found he had problems with his landing gear, which prevented him from landing properly.  So he had opted to land on the grass beside runway 22, in case the emergency vehicles were required.  Thankfully they were not, the pilot was unharmed, and there was minimal damage to the plane.

The pictures are courtesy of the Tall Estonian, as once again I did not have my camera.  When am I going to learn to just carry it with me all the time?

This photograph is definitely my favourite.  It makes me giggle uncontrollably every time I look at it...
Look at that concentration!

747 Hunting... My Favourite Pastime.

"The natural habitat of the 747 is at large airports with likely 15+ Starbucks' and moving sidewalks. When observing the 747 you should camouflage yourself to blend in with luggage or food crates because the 747 spooks easily. The main predator of the 747 is the small but lethal F22 Raptor. For protection the 747 will often dump everyone's luggage mid flight to distract the F22 Raptor while it escapes into the ash clouds over Iceland." -Harri (aka The Tall Estonian)

I have a thing for the Boeing 747.  It is, hands down, my favourite airplane.  Even the ridiculously large A380 cannot compete with the B747 for my affections.

I had a flight out of YYZ last month, and spent some time roaming around Terminal 3 in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the B747.  Unfortunately, security weren't so keen on my wandering around the international gates.  They sent me packing.  So I sat at my own gate, feeling rather disappointed, until a B747 Cargo taxied right past us!  It was quite far away, but I was still pretty happy to see one - it had been a very long time since I had seen one on the ground.  The other Flight Attendant I dragged around Terminal 3 was somewhat less impressed.

Naturally, a few weeks later one lands in YOW.  I'd had an awful day at work, and took a tour past the airport, and there it was.  An instant mood lifter.  The President of China was visiting, and parked his B747 right outside the airport employee parking lot.  Naturally I didn't have my camera.  The following photographs were taken by Ian McCord, who was kind enough to forward them to me for my blog!

 Ian has an impressive photography collection, primarily related to trains, but he has a good selection of aviation photographs as well.  Some of his pictures can be seen at :

Thanks again for the pictures, Ian!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

That's a Quarter of a Year...

It has been three months today since I first flew an airplane.
That's it.  Just three months.

I feel certain that something here must be incorrect.  How can such a short period of time have passed?  Three months is nothing.  Am I stuck in a time vortex?  Is time on a loop for me?  Have I been watching too much Doctor Who?  Well... yes I have been watching too much Doctor Who, but that's irrelevant.  Three months doesn't seem like much time at all, and yet, as I said before, it seems like it has been a lifetime.

I tried to think back to a time when I didn't always look above when I heard an airplane pass overhead.  I can't. I know it must have been less than four months ago that I developed such a Pavlovian response, but the time before is failing to register. 

While I was at work today, one of the servers found a child's book called Angela's Airplane (Annikins).

I grew up somewhat ignorant of Robert Munsch, so I had never heard of it.  But I suppose a child left it behind at The Restaurant, and this other server found it and gave it to me.  I thought it was adorable, and perhaps a little bit of the Universe making itself heard, as it is so wont to do.

Angela's Airplane (Annikins)Happy three months to me, and many many more to come.  It's going to be a long journey, and this little anniversary will surely amount to the tiniest fraction in the end, but right now it feels like an accomplishment.

Happy to say I am in a much more positive state of mind than I was following my last lesson.  For a time I was considering taking a week off from lessons in order to relax a little and not be so frazzled, thinking that if I was so easily distracted then I would never focus properly.  However now that I have calmed down a little, I see that it would be a stupid move to take time away from my lessons.  Two weeks between lessons would surely make me forget things, and make it even harder for me to perfect my landing.  This will only make me more frustrated, and then I'll be back to square one.  Plus I love that Tuesday always has me in the air.  It's my happy.  It's my drug.  I don't want to quit!  I need that next hit!

This weekend will see me doing a spot of province hopping for The Airline.  I am quite looking forward to it.  These days I am happy with any and all flights I can get my eager little hands on.  That's the curse of charter airlines.  There isn't always going to be enough contracts to keep everyone flying full time.  But I'm still working every so often, and I think it will just make me appreciate my pairings a lot more when they come my way!  (This pairing in particular has the added bonus of potentially being firefighter movement!  Thank you powers that be!)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Vivid Memories

Some moments just stick out in the mind.

On the last flight of our Sun Destination charter in the winter, we ferried the aircraft known (to me) as Lettie down to Cancun to "repatriate" 158 Canadians.  I was sad and stressed out, worried that it was going to be my last flight ever.  Thank goodness it didn't turn out that way, but still, I was a little upset.  The other FAs were using the empty plane to stretch out and sleep.  I chose to stay in the Flight Deck with the boys and enjoy what I thought could be my last trip.  At this point, I still didn't know that I was going to follow my new path towards becoming a pilot, so I was really just enjoying the view and the company.

The Captain was agitated.  It was the day of the gold medal hockey game of the Olympics, and we were officially missing it.  After mumbling and grumbling about it, and using lots of choice curse words, he finally decided to send the First Officer hunting on the AM radio waves to see if we could pick up the game.  Sure enough, some random Mexican station was broadcasting it!  The Captain put it on the speakers in the flight deck so that all three of us could listen in.  There was cheering, there was yelling, and many more curse words.

We almost managed to listen to the entire game, and had it not gone into overtime, it would have been no problem.  But we were almost in Cancun, and the guys had to start our descent.  The Captain schemed; 'Maybe we can do a go-around or something and catch the end of the game before we have to land...' but it was no good, and descend we did.  All was going well, but it was a race against time.  The overtime period began - we listened.  We continued to descend.  The announcer started to sound very excited, this was it, someone was going to the net, something was going to happen, Crosby had the puck.....

We hit 10,000ft and lost the signal.

The resulting screams of 'NOOOOOOOO' brought two of the other FAs to the flight deck looking extremely panicked.  Apparently hearing screams and cries coming from the flight deck isn't so re-assuring.  Who knew?

The second we landed and the engines were shut down, the first thing the Captain did was get out the Blackberry and call head office.
'What happened?!  No, the score!  What do you mean you aren't watching the game, turn the damned TV on and tell me the f***ing score!!!!'

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Flight Attendant's ABCs - C (charlie) is for...

  • Coffee - It’s amazing how many problems can be solved at 35,000 ft by coffee.  Cranky pax?  No problem.  Coffee!  Cranky pilots?  No problem.  Coffee!  Blocked lav?  Hey, I know, we could dump pots of coffee down there until things start to shift again (isn’t being a flight attendant glamorous?).  Lav completely frozen because it’s January in Ottawa and the temperature outside is -40C?  Dude, don’t call the mechanic…just pour coffee in until it melts.  Need to get rid of that bag of ice before you land?  Put it in the sink and just add hot coffee!  Lav stinks like woah because you’re flying people home from their all-inclusive Caribbean vacation?  Get a packet of coffee grounds and sprinkle it in.  Instant air freshener!  The list goes on.  And on.  And on.

  • Customs Cards - Even FAs have to fill these babies out when they land and actually get off the aircraft for longer than a smoke break.  An FA will fill them out so often s/he could do it blindfolded.  And yet s/he will still manage to ruin at least two while frantically filling it out on final approach.  Every single time.

  • Carry-Ons - Ok people, it’s right there in the name.  “Carry” on.  Not “roll” on.  If it’s too heavy for you to be able to carry; if you have to roll that sucker down the aisle and get in everyone’s way; and if you can’t lift it into the overhead bin by yourself without an FA’s assistance, then no, it’s not really a “carry” on.  Do you really need to take entertainment for the entire week’s vacation all in one bag?  How can a handbag with a purse, one book, an iPod and a few toiletries and perhaps a change of underwear not suffice?  It’s a four hour flight, we’re not going to bloody Australasia in one day.

  • Cell-Phones - It’s one of the most obvious things.  Please don’t use your cell phone in flight.  You’re not going to get any reception once we get in the air anyway, so what’s the point in having it roaming for four hours?  Why people never comply is just beyond me.  My favourite is ‘but it’s not a cell-phone, it’s a Blackberry’.  Can you call someone on it?  Yes?  Then turn it off.  Don’t make me ask twice, or I will cease to be so polite about it.
Next time… D (delta) is for…

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

That Poor Airplane's Shocks...

Early morning is a beautiful time of day to fly.  The air is sharp and clear and smooth. 

However, at 8am after driving an hour to get to my flying lesson, my brain is none of those things.  It's the opposite.  It's dull and fuzzy and...bumpy - absolutely full of nonsense.

I was not impressed with my performance today.  Not in the slightest.  I went from feeling like a rockstar for several weeks in a row to feeling like an utter idiot.  LANDING.  Why does it have to be so bloody difficult?  Honestly, I understand the concept.  It's not hard - nose down, come in at 70kts, keep the center line, come into cruise attitude and pull the nose up gently as you see the runway start to sink ahead of you.  Yeah.  That's the idea.  I can do it.  In my head.

At this point I have to stop.  I might be being a little unfair to myself I suppose.  I can land an airplane.  I can do it - I've done it about a dozen times now, "safely".  That's the word My Instructor keeps using.  "Safe".  It's a good word, it implies that I'm not likely to corkscrew my aircraft into the ground, which I look upon as being somewhat successful.  I can do a safe landing.

But I am a perfectionist.  I despise not being good at something I am trying to learn.  So all this touch and go, touch and go, touch and go stuff, while very enjoyable, is beyond frustrating if I am not getting things done as well as I should like.  I did notice a sliiiiight improvement.  There were two landings mixed in with the crap that weren't all that bad.  But for the first time EVER I landed feeling fairly fed up. 

We had been working on the South Field, on runway 25, so I was in the circuit with all the Air Canada Jazz and the West Jet and the Porter on the big runway.  It was my first time on 25, and so I had some difficulty judging when to turn to my base and my final approach and such, and that just added to my frustration.  At one point during the lesson I even considered asking if we could call it a day. I bit my tongue on the request though.  No giving up.  Giving up is not allowed here.  I knew I just needed to power on and not be weak.  The only way I'm going to get better is if I practice, and practicing doesn't happen if you give up half way through a lesson.  I hate that I even considered it.

We did go back to runway 22 after that, which made me a little more comfortable - I'm much more used to that runway.  I tried a couple more landings, and My Instructor demonstrated an engine failure in the circuit, which I am supposed to start practicing next lesson.

My favourite moment of the day came while I was lining up on runway 25 ahead of Jazz or someone.  I heard them talking to the Tower, and the tower responded.
'You are number two, just behind a C-150.  He's lining up to land on runway 25.  Just slow down and give him about 30kts to clear.'

He.  Him.
Oh man!  Did I switch gender again and forget?!  Oh wait.  Nope, still a girl.  Still got boobs.  Still don't even sound remotely like a man on the radio.  Come on buddy!

By the time I got home I was officially Captain Crankypants, and packed myself off to bed for a nap to rectify the situation.  It didn't work.  Positivity has left the building, ladies and gentlemen.  But don't worry, it will be back.  I understand that landing is probably one of the hardest things to learn, and obviously it's the most important.  I understand that every pilot (except for those lucky, talented sods that I don't even want to think about right now) goes through this frustration, and that it really isn't something you can learn how to do perfectly in just a few lessons.  But I want to be there.  I have this overwhelming impatience in me when it comes to flying.  I want to learn how to do everything all at once and be good at it.

If the saying is that you have to learn to walk before you run, how could we apply that to flying?  Maybe you just need to learn how to be safe before you can be graceful.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Confidence Issues

I have been working on my Private Pilot's License for just under three months now.  This blows my mind a little bit.  For one thing, I'm working on my Private Pilot's License.  It's not really something I ever expected myself to say.  It's slow going, because I can usually only fly once a week, but I'm doing it.  For another thing, it doesn't seem like only three months.  It feels like three years.  I feel like I have always been doing this, like I have always wanted to and needed to do this.  I've gone through so much in such a short amount of time it's a wonder I haven't short-circuited yet.

Training hasn't been all fun happy times either.  Don't get me wrong, I've loved every second of it so far.  But it's been stressful and emotional for me, and very trying at times.

After the first few lessons, the initial "OMG I'M FLYING AN AIRPLANE" factor started to wear off a little.  In my third lesson I had my first surge of doubt.  All I could think of was how poorly I was doing that day, and felt like I had no place being there and should never be allowed to be a Pilot.   And then just when I was starting to feel comfortable with My Instructor, he announced that he was leaving for a week, and I was going to have to take a lesson with a Substitute Instructor.  This lesson was an utter disaster, or at least I felt it was.  Definitely not the Substitute Instructor's fault, but mostly because of my own nerves.  When My Instructor returned from his trip I practically had to bite my tongue to stop myself from crying out 'never leave me again!!!!'. 

My lessons continued, and I started to get edged out about a couple of upcoming chapters in my flight training manual - Stalls, and Spins.  I quickly overcame the fear of stalls, it wasn't really what I had expected based upon the name, and turned out to be something that, once in the air, I didn't really waste much stress on it.  I just got on with the exercise.

Spins was a whole different story though.  I managed to freak myself out completely by looking them up on youtube weeks before the lesson, and decided that they looked utterly terrifying and I thought I was nuts for getting myself into this.  Then, to make matters worse, My Instructor told me I was going to be going out on that lesson with a Supervisor Instructor.  My brain shut down completely.  I had just begun to feel really good about flying with My Instructor, although briefing was giving me grief - I would get nervous and clam up and feel stupid, and that would hit my confidence a little.  And now I was facing this challenging lesson, and I had to go with an instructor I had never flown with before?  Based upon my performance with the Substitute Instructor some weeks earlier, I felt that this did not bode well for me.  The nerves of performing flight exercises in front of a total stranger, and the added pressure that messing up would not only make me look bad, but would reflect poorly on My Instructor as well, PLUS the nerves of my first spin all added up to make me one frazzled little Flygirl for a week or so.

The day dawned, and I probably didn't sleep as well as I needed to.  I was nervous.  I wasn't scared - in my brain, scared is bad, nervous is good.  Scared makes people run away from the things they fear.  Nerves just gives you a little extra energy with which to face your fears.  But I was nervous.

I expected the lesson to be awful, and then to go back and apologize profusely to My Instructor for making it look like he was a bad teacher, which was absolutely not the case.  But five minutes into the briefing I noticed something strange.  My brain was connected to my mouth.  I was able to adequately display that I understood the material using my words.  Interesting.  New.

Things got better.  We got in the plane and I did the take-off, which the Supervisor said was "perfect".  Score another point for me.  Things just kept going right for me.  I did my radio communications by myself.  I had no trouble keeping the correct altitude.  I rocked stalls.  'Oh, wing drop? No problem, just a little rudder here, and sorted!'  By the time the exercise was over I felt like a rock star.  And then it was time for the dreaded spin.  I don't know if I was more surprised by how slow and serene it felt, or by how much I enjoyed it.  Looking up and seeing the ground 2500ft above your head is not something you generally get to see.  It's quite beautiful.

By the time the Supervisor Instructor and I landed, I was buzzing again.  I felt confident and capable in a brand new way.  But then this new found confidence led to more internal struggle.  Why had I never felt that confident before?  Did I prefer this new instructor?  What was going on?  I didn't think it was really about the instructor, because I had really liked working with My Instructor.  But I couldn't deny the fact that I had been a badass that day, and I needed to know why.  I booked a couple more lessons with the Supervisor Instructor in order to figure things out.

After a couple of lessons, I still felt like a confident, capable student pilot.  I tried another lesson with My Instructor, and it felt about fifteen times better than it had before.  Although My Instructor and I did discuss ways we could kill my nerves in the briefings, I think the huge change in my confidence came from my brain somewhere.  I stopped feeling as though flying was something I would never be able to get the hang of, and just started to focus on doing it.

Now I am working in the circuits and practicing my landings (boy do they need some work...) and still feel really good about it all.  My first solo flight is starting to look like something in the foreseeable future, instead of something that makes me giggle nervously whenever mentioned.  There are still a lot of hurdles before I get to that point though, but onwards and upwards!

How to Pack for a Pairing

Packing for a pairing can be a challenge.  It’s always going to be different, based on where you are going and how long you’re going to be away for.  This particular crew bag was prepared for a three day pairing which took me from Ottawa to Toronto and St. John’s with a few stops in between.  It had been a while since I did any flights, so I actually had to put some thought into this.  However, in the winter my bag was never really unpacked, and I used to just throw in whatever extra I needed.

So here are the basics!

Main Suitcase (carry-on sized)
  • One Pair of Jeans  - A staple of most outfits.  However I never wear them when deadheading.  I like to look a little smarter.
  • Three versatile shirts and a cardigan.
  • Three more pairs of underwear than required. - I have been on parings that I had expected to last only two days and ended up away from home for six.  I was thankful for those extra undies, when one of the other FAs remarked that she had run out and was going commando.
  • More pairs of nightshade-coloured pantyhose than I am likely to need.  -The rule of thumb, for me at least, is that I will go through more pairs than I have if I don’t bring lots.
  • PJs.  Something lightweight.
  • Bathing Suit - Hotels have pools…and of course you never know if you’re going to get stuck somewhere sunny!
  • Gym Clothes - I like to take advantage of the gym facilities in hotels if I have a decent enough layover.
  • Mini hair-straightener
  • iPod charge cable.
  • Flight Attendant Manual (the black binder in the middle.  It takes up more space in my case than anything else.
  • Boarding shoes, galley shoes, gym shoes.
  • An extra uniform blouse (or two).
  • Toiletries bag - The best advice I can give any new FA regarding toiletries is to buy those mini travel-sized toiletries and fill them up yourself at home with your favourite products.
  • FOOD.  - I always try and pack a selection of travel-friendly food…juice cartons, granola bars and dry-packaged soup are my favourites, although I have been known to stuff pita bread in there, and, on one occasion, a pot of hummus.  Carefully wrapped up, of course.  The trick to getting the most out of your Per Diem (daily food allowance paid by the airline) is to not have to buy three full meals a day.  I usually have breakfast and snacks from what I brought, lunch is a crew meal on board, and then buy dinner out.
  • Lots of socks.
My aim is to leave enough space in the case for the clothes I plan to wear while deadheading.  I try and pick something lightweight - tights/leggings and a tunic or something, which won’t take up a lot of space.  And in the winter, it invariably includes the uniform boots, as they take up too much room in the case.  My uniform I carry in a garment bag as a carry-on.


  • Reading material - in my case, I packed it with my flight training resources.  I had a lesson prior to my flight.  
  • Diary - I can’t imagine living this life and not wanting to write it all down!
  • Scheduler - You need to know what you’re doing, day to day.
  • A little notebook is always handy.
  • Air Crew Restricted Area Pass/Company Identification - not the kind of thing you want to pack in your suitcase, but not something you aren't supposed to have on display if you are deadheading.
  • Advil.  Pain meds of choice.  Midol.  Gravol.  Etc.
  • Small jewelry wallet.
  • Glasses, Sunglasses
  • iPod, cell phone
  • More snacks
  • Main wallet - the blue one with the flowers is my travel wallet.  It has space for both my passports, the certifications I have to carry, debit/credit cards, IDs and money.
  • Small make-up wallet.
  • Folder - useful to keep flight details/charter advices/timesheets/expense sheets, etc.
  • The Flight Attendant Survival Kit (liquid edition, non-liquid edition).
  • Of course, a CAMERA! - You will never regret taking it and not using it, but you will ALWAYS regret not having it.  Case in point - Boxing Day 2009.  Ice storm in Ottawa eventually led to me getting stuck in Punta Cana overnight.  I didn’t have my camera (or most things, actually… just a spare pair of underwear and an extra uniform blouse…) and I had to take photos on my phone.  It SUCKED.
I used to use a large sized handbag for this, but now I use my flying club bag, as it has lots of space.  Plus if I tried to pack my flight training resources into a handbag it might not work out so well, and I can’t bear to be parted from it!

The Flight Attendant Survival Kit
Liquid Edition:

  • Hand Cream.  By the gallon if necessary.
  • Perfume - those little sample perfumes are great here.
  • Contact Lenses and eye drops
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lip balm/gloss
  • Antiseptic cream (I’m clumsy).
  • More perfume.
  • More hand cream
  • Clear nail polish - a God Send.  I have saved countless pairs of pantyhose with just a dab of clear nail polish.  Apparently hairspray also works wonders.
Non-Liquid Edition:
  • Nail File
  • Make-up - for me, it’s concealer, pressed powder and blush.
  • Pen
  • Batteries
  All packed, and ready to go!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Flight Attendant's ABCs - B (bravo) is for...

  • Beverage Cart - The Beverage/Bar cart is a tricky one. One the one hand, it’s wonderful in the sense that it stores all your drinks in neatly organized trays and keeps everything cool. On the other hand, it’s the devil incarnate. There are 47 different ways you can injure yourself with the Bar Cart. It will also destroy every pair of pantyhose you own, and is heavy enough when full that pushing it up the aisle of an aircraft still in climb attitude verges on comical.
  • Bells - That bing-bong you always hear, chiming away during the flight. It’s kind of like morse code - it could mean all kinds of things. A passenger needs something, the FAs at the front may be calling the galley wenches, the pilots may be calling the FAs for a bathroom break. How do you know? You look up. The Master Call Panel will tell all. After just a few short weeks as an FA, one will always find themselves looking up at the sound of a chime. It may be just the doorbell, but where the hell is the call light?!

  • Boots - During the winter, your uniform boots not only look fierce, but keep you warm AND prevent slipping on icy air-stairs. They also send the security officers into a tizz, because they reckon they always set off the metal detectors. They don’t. It’s annoying. Especially because you will invariably be wearing mismatched socks when the security officers demand you remove your boots.

  • Babies - Yeah, they’re cute. They make a disproportionate amount of noise though - especially in a confined space, such as an airplane. And they are the sole reasons for diapers, which are one of the primary antagonists in an FA’s story.

  • Boeing - If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going!

Next time…. “C (charlie) is for…

The Flight Attendant's ABCs - A (alpha) is for...

The idea of a Flight Attendant’s ABCs came to me on a Red Eye to Punta Cana and back some time in January. Red Eyes can be incredibly dull. Usually you do a drink service, a food service, and by the time you are ready to go back out with the bar cart for the second round, everyone has passed out, leaving you and the other flight attendants with little to do but try to stay awake. I would usually try and keep my brain active in some way - writing song lyrics, playing word games, and, on occasion, being a little creative.

So without further ado, I present the idea that has been nagging my creative muse for 4 months - The Flight Attendant’s ABCs

A (alpha) is for…

  • Aircraft - Your aircraft is your home while you are working. It could be big, small, multi-engine, single-engine, brand spanking new or older than you. Some people find themselves becoming very attached to their aircraft, especially if they frequently work on the same one. You learn its quirks, recognize its temper tantrums before they happen, one might give it a nickname, and often an aircrew member will have little ways of expressing how the appreciate their plane. I would always take the chance to pat the nose and say “hello girl” at the start of each day.

  • Apologies - Sometimes it seems as though the motto of a Flight Attendant is “Oh, I’m sorry!” S/he may be stepped on, bumped into, rudely spoken to, run over with a baggage cart, or have luggage dropped on his/her head, and the good Flight Attendant will still apologize as though it was his/her own fault. Gushing head wound as the result of someone’s roller-bag? “Oh dear, I am so sorry!”

  • Amenities Kit - Genius. A pack on the aircraft which contains all manner of things to combat every day cabin mishaps. It may contain items such as Gravol, aspirin, bandages, tissues, safety pins, elastic bands, hand cream, pens, notebooks, the possibilities are endless. The one guarantee is that the item will only be present in the amenities kit when you do not need it. If there is a child vomiting all over the aisle, be assured that you will not find a single Gravol tablet on the aircraft.

  • ATC (Air Traffic Control). Officially these wonderful people watch your airplane on their radar and make sure that you do not fly into any of the other blinking dots with squawk numbers attached. Unofficially, they are incredibly useful for updating you on the score of that hockey game you are missing…

Next time…. B (bravo) is for…

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tango Mike Mike

On March 27th at 5:00pm I had my first flying lesson.
There really aren’t that many words that I can use to express how that felt, but bear with me while I make an attempt.
I got to the club a little early. My Mum had come along with me. She wanted to be supportive, which I really appreciated. But I begged her not to take photographs though. I was still dealing with the fact that I might struggle a little to be taken seriously, and having my Mum hovering and taking pictures of my first lesson probably wouldn’t help. She was pretty good, and didn’t take any pictures until I had gotten outside. Then she took lots through the windows, which I actually kind of appreciated. Funny that.
I spent a few hours online the night before reading up on the Cessna-150. I like to be prepared. I found a fantastic little website - http://www.cessna150.net/. It’s some bloke who owns a C-150, and takes you through the entire process of a flight, from pre-flight checks to taxiing after landing. I found it really helped when My Instructor was going through everything with me. Plus some things I had already picked up from the boys at The Airline. I think My Instructor seemed a little surprised that I had come prepared. At one point he said he was just going to call ATC for a transponder code, and I asked if that was the same thing as a squawk. His response was along the lines of ‘How do you know what a squawk is?’, until I explained that I was a flight attendant, and a bit of a keener.

The pre-flight checks went pretty quickly. My Instructor didn’t really go into a lot of detail, just sort of went through the motions while telling me what he was checking, since it was just an introductory lesson. Then it was time to go! While taxiing to the runway, the Instructor started showing me how to use the rudder pedals during taxiing, and let me have a go. Sad to say I was totally useless! OK, well not entirely, but we were supposed to be on the yellow line, and I definitely was not. Once he got us all lined up on the runway he told me to take the control column and to pull back when he said so! So I basically did the rotation of the take-off, although he did all the hard work.

And then we were up in the air! The Instructor got us heading in the right direction, and then told me he was tired of flying already, and that I should give it a go. I was a little surprised, and had a bit of a deer-in-headlights moment. Someone was letting me take control of an airplane? Really? Wow. So I took control. It was, surprisingly, harder than I thought it would be to make a Cessna flight straight and with the right attitude and at the correct altitude! So much to think about. But I was doing it, I was flying a plane. The Instructor asked me how it felt and I had no words.
Then he asked if I was too cold and needed heat. I suddenly realised I was freezing because the door had popped open on take-off and I hadn’t noticed. He reassured me that it was quite common for this to happen with a Cessna, but I felt like a right tool for not noticing. Oh dear.
The flight didn’t last long, or at least it didn’t feel like it did. In actuality it was probably about 45 minutes, but it flew by (ho ho). We did a quick tour of the city, including a fly-by of Scotiabank Place, home of the Ottawa Senators, my favourite hockey team, and then a quick trip around Parliament Hill before heading back to the airport. He encouraged me to do some of the work lining up the plane for landing, but unfortunately it was quite windy, so he took over.
And then my first flying lesson was over. Mum was watching from the flying club lounge, and she said that while I was walking back to the building I had the biggest smile on my face. I knew 100% that I wanted to do it, so I signed up then and there, joined the club, and purchased my flying kit, including all my textbooks! Then my instructor showed me how to enter all the details in my brand new Pilot Log Book. I have a Pilot Log Book. Wow. So I entered in my first 45 minutes of flight time, in a Cessna-150 registered as TMM. Be still my heart.

Sitting in the Left Seat

In late March I took the first step in my journey towards becoming a Pilot. I had been driving past the Ottawa Flying Club for weeks. One day I finally went inside. It was actually quite nerve-wracking. I walked in the front door and up to the desk where there were about ten guys milling around. They all stopped and turned to look at me.

‘Um…,’ I said. Think of something cool. PLEASE say something cool. ‘I am interested in Flying Lessons?’ Not exactly cool, but to the point. Oh well.

Brief Silence.

Then a kind looking Man With a Mustache detached himself from the group, and suggested we have a seat in the lounge area. As it turned out, he was the Chief Flying Instructor. I instantly liked him. For some reason I had held this fear that people were going to hear me say “I want to be a pilot” and laugh. He didn’t laugh. He talked to me as though it was a realistic possibility. I was having trouble forming sentences more complex than “I want flying lessons”, I’m assuming because I was in shock and/or awe of what I had just done. My hands were shaking. I had made a pro-active move towards forever changing what I thought my future would be like.

The Man With the Mustache asked me pointed questions until we determined that what I specifically wanted was to get my Commercial Pilot’s license in order to pursue a new career, and that I didn’t want to go through the degree program. We chatted a little until I felt more at ease. I told him about working for The Airline, and how I’d taken to hanging out and watching planes take off and land. Once again I expected laughter, but he actually seemed encouraged by my enthusiasm.

‘Flying is something you have to be passionate about,’ he said. 'You need the enthusiasm to be ale to do it.’

We then took a walk outside to the airside of the club, where he showed me some of the aircraft the club uses. He opened the left-hand side door of a Cessna 150 and invited me to climb in. He gave me a brief overview of the plane, showed me some of the controls, and then we took a quick walk over to the club’s new hangar, before heading back inside to meet a few people, including the scheduler. At this point I realised that I needed to leave or else I was going to be very late for work. I apologised, and the Man With the Mustache gave me some leaflets and cards with information, and suggested that before I sign up for lessons, I take an introductory lesson, just to get the feel of things and see if I thought I really wanted to do it.

I left the flying club, got in my car and drove to work, where I spent four hours serving people food and absolutely buzzing with excited thoughts. I could do it. I could become a pilot! Somehow, having been to the club and talking to someone about it realistically, instead of just thinking about it as something I might do, it had become a reality.

I had expected to take more time to think about it, but to be honest I think I knew the second I sat in that little Cessna 150 that I wanted to do it. I was encouraged to see that the Cessna had significantly fewer controls and dials than a Boeing-737, which I was used to from working for The Airline. It made me feel rather less intimidated. And sitting on the left side seat was intoxicating. I remember one day in Initial Training for The Airline, one of the trainers went on a mini rant at us. She was talking about procedures for visiting the Flight Deck at the time.

‘Don’t you dare sit in the Pilot’s seats, she said. ‘Don’t even think about it. You haven’t earned it, you have no right to it whatsoever. Even if the Pilots offer, do not sit in that seat.’ Well… talk about putting the fear of God into someone, but for me at least, it stuck. And yet, there I was sitting in the left side seat of a real aircraft.

I went back the next day and booked my introductory flight. I knew already that I was going to take lessons, but I figured I may as well just do the introductory lesson so as to give myself an idea of what I was getting myself into.

It was scheduled for 5:00 after I finished working at The Restaurant on a Saturday. I had no idea how I was going to get through that day.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Hook

In November 2009 I somehow found myself in ground school. I had been hired as a flight attendant. I’m not sure how it happened. I had no real qualifications for the job. I didn’t even know I really wanted the job until after the interview. And then I really wanted it. And when I knew I had the job I was afraid I would fail the medical due to a recent surgery. But everything seemed to work out, and the next thing I knew I was training to be a flight attendant and being introduced to this fascinating but intimidating new world.

I realised one day, while my instructor was talking about 727s and 737s that I had absolutely no idea what the difference between the two were. Was one larger? Did one have more engines? Why was one in use and the other no longer?
‘Wow,’ I said to myself. ‘I’m in way over my head here’.

It didn’t help that there were three girls in the course who had been flight attendants before, and seemed desperate to exhibit their knowledge before the rest of us newbies, and scramble for the instructor’s attention. Usually I would just keep my head down and let the others answer questions, but now I found myself embarrassed to not know things. I did what any self-respecting university graduate would have done. I went to Wikipedia.

That night I was up hours past when I should have been, considering I had firefighting training in the morning – something, I assumed, I should be well rested and prepared for. I started with a basic search. “Boeing 727”. That led to “Boeing 737” and all the way up to “Boeing 787”, which was still being tested at the time. My next question was along the lines of “So what’s the difference between a Boeing and an Airbus then?”, which led to more Wikipedia reading. I ended the night waxing nostalgic on the Concorde page, and reminiscing about the time when that beautiful, incredible symbol of national pride flew over my house in England.

And that was probably when I became hooked. All that “research” really made me realise how amazing airplanes are, and after that I simply couldn’t learn enough. I remember walking into The Airline’s hangar in training, and staring in awe at the big, beautiful aircraft that were being worked on. I made friends with the mechanics, and bugged them for information. When I started flying I would pester the pilots with questions whenever I got the chance. On the whole, they were very helpful, and didn’t seem at all bothered by the flight attendant who wanted to learn everything she could. On my breaks, I would visit them in the flight deck. In exchange for making them tea or coffee, every day I would pick one button or dial and say “What does this do?” and from there they would give me a mini lesson until it was time for me to go back to the cabin and keep working.

I found myself becoming attached to the airplane that I most frequently worked on. I affectionately called her Lettie, a name I derived from her registration. Whenever boarding from the airstairs instead of a bridge, I would make an effort to pat her affectionately on the nose and say “Hello Girl”. This probably makes me sounds like a bit of a loon, but I couldn’t help but feel a kind of love for this wonderful machine that flew me to so many destinations and kept me safe at 32,000 ft. She wasn’t a shiny new plane. She was a Boeing 737-400 series. A little ghetto, truth be told. And she had a tendency to leak in the galley. All the time. Every time I would fly there would be water coming from somewhere (usually a result of melted ice in the canisters, or else the Coffee Maker of Doom). But she did the job. 36.5m long, and with a cruising speed of 439kt. Despite her occasional galley-related temper tantrum, most of the pilots agreed that she was the best of The Airline’s fleet to fly, and she was hands down my favourite.

Despite my constant thirst for knowledge about the aircraft and the actual flying, I found myself settling right into the flight attendant lifestyle, and loved almost every minute of it. Naturally it wasn’t all happy times. There were delays, constant catering issues, de-icing for the second time in one day (Ottawa in January is a magical place…), waking up and not knowing what province –or even country- you were in, trolley-related injuries, spending days and days working on minimum crew rest without even time for a beer, and full blown “clashes of character” in the galley. But every job has its issues, and aside from ours, Team YOW generally had a blast.

One day, during a break in the flight deck, it crossed my mind that being a pilot would actually be super cool. I casually asked the First Officer how he had gotten into it. He explained about the degree program. I was interested, but a little put off. It sounded like an expensive venture, not to mention a lot more school. Still, I filed it away in my mind under “Things I might do if I ever had the money and fancied more schooling”. It didn’t seem particularly important, since I’d “Always Wanted to be an Archaeologist”.

It was just the sort of thing I would think about every now and then, along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”

Then, one day in the middle of the Yorkdale Mall in Toronto, I got a very bad phone call. The Tour Operator for whom we had been flying had gone under. The Airline was fine, but they didn’t have any contracts for the YOW crew. We were, in short, screwed. Nine flight attendants out of work. Every so often The Airline would tease us with “possible charters”, but on the whole it was a bleak time. I got a bit depressed with the lack of flying, which wasn’t good, but it did throw some light on the fact that I had been really happy with flying. When I found myself driving around the airport and finding the perfect place to park my car and watch airplanes take off and land overhead, I knew it was time to re-examine this “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” idea I had stored away.

For weeks I had been driving past the airport every day on my way home, and I always saw the sign for the Flying Club. Every time I looked it it, it felt as though my brain crept closer and closer towards a conclusion.
Finally, one morning on my way into the city, my brain disengaged completely, and I discovered that my hands were turning the wheel. Before I knew it I was parking in the lot of the Flying Club.

An Unexpected Change of Heart

I’ve always been interested in history.

I could say I have always wanted to be an archaeologist, but that isn’t necessarily true. I think I wanted to be an archaeologist after I discovered I could actually study it and make it a valid(ish) career choice, which was in grade 11. Back then I knew I was going to be an Egyptologist, and was determined to do it. I found the best program in the province, if not the country, that would allow me to study the archaeology of the Ancient Near East.

About two years into that program, I figured out that Egypt, while still a fascinating place with an amazing history that I love, was not going to be the right path for me. I shifted my interests to the Middle Ages, and eventually determined that I wanted to be a field archaeologist and specialize in Medieval defensive architecture.

My point is, people change their minds. I have done it before. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have said that my future would be spent with a trowel somewhere in Egypt looking for Queen Nefertiti. If you had asked me about that same dream three years ago, I would have laughed at how deluded I was, and swoon over a really nicely constructed spiral staircase or a damn fine curtain wall ( I still might, too. Defensive architecture is seriously cool.)

If you asked me today what I see myself doing in my future?
Chances are I am going to say that I see myself flying for a commercial airline.

I feel as though I am standing on a precipice, and am about to take the plunge into a new, exciting, terrifying world. I am at the point where I am very likely to say that I will not be a professional archaeologist.

‘Grad school isn’t for everyone, dear’ my favourite professor once told me. I think she was trying to comfort me. I was having a meltdown in the archaeological lab, mostly roommate based, partially academic. It wasn’t exactly a pep talk though. At the time I was furious and hurt, and avoided her for weeks. Grad school was everything. I was going to have a PhD and dig stuff up! It was important. Eventually I got over it. I figured she just didn’t think I was grad school material because I didn’t excel in her particular area of expertise.

But Grad school isn’t for everyone. Now I think about it, can I really say I can imagine myself working independently on a research paper of epic proportions? Sure, if it was something I was really interested in, but I would still struggle. Realistically speaking, I am the girl who, when faced with a 25 page research paper, would procrastinate mainly out of fear, and pull something together in the end, but never really the best I could have done had I not been crippled by fear for the majority of the semester. Research papers are not my thing. Can’t do much about that.

Can I see myself excavating? Sure! I love being in the field. But can I see myself doing all the research and writing it all up and teaching and everything else that goes along with it? Not so much.

Well… here’s an option. I could be a pilot. I could work in a job I might actually love, make a good wage, and then take some time every year, maybe every few years, and volunteer just to dig on archaeological excavations. The digging was the good part anyway, the part that got me hooked. Watching something unfold in front of you, like a backwards jigsaw puzzle. God help me, I even liked the paper work that came with it. But if I’m being honest with myself, I could leave the rest. The bookish side. Not really for me.

But the aviation industry.
Well there’s something special.