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...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Flight Attendant's ABCs - D (delta) is for...

  • Dead-head -  Dead-heading is the term used whenever a member of an airline crew travels on another airline in order to be positioned for work.  There are two kinds of dead-heading crew.  The first is the conspicuous variety.  The FA will find ways to `casually` let everyone know that he or she is a flight attendant in the hopes of scoring perks or upgrades or general admiration from civilians.  The second category is slightly more incognito - they keep a more low-key profile.  That way they can silently judge other flight attendants at work on their safety demonstrations, uniforms, announcements, bad jokes and so on.  Personally, I only break out the `wings`if I suspect it will get me a free drink.
  • Diet Coke Products - Diet soda, particularly Diet Coke, is the devil at altitude.  Something about the carbonation and the chemicals make it impossible to pour without getting a huge head of foam.  Ice only makes the situation worse.  Sometimes pouring it like a beer down the side of the cup can help, but on the whole you will usually spend a good two minutes trying to pour a drink and looking vaguely incompetent while doing so.
  • Delays - How to piss off passengers, pilots, flight attendants AND ground staff all at one time.  Some passengers will act extremely put out whenever a flight gets delayed, and naturally assume that it`s a ploy devised by the airline just to make their lives difficult.  What they usually fail to realise is that everyone else is just as put out as them.  It means more time at work for everyone, and most people try to avoid it.  Often when the delays are due to weather or mechanical issues with the aircraft, I like to cheerfully remind people of the well-known quote - `It`s better be to on the ground and wishing you were in the air, than to be in the air and wishing you were on the ground.`
  • Dehydration - It`s a well known fact that an aircraft is mechanically designed to suck the hydration out of you.  And at altitude NOTHING ever seems to be a good substitute for water.  Soda will only make you more thirsty (not to mention give you jet-belly), and coffee makes you want to pee.  H2O is your friend.  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Series of Anecdotes

Obviously I haven't been writing as much lately.  Not as much as I should have been, and definitely not as much as I should like.  It's just been one of those months full of "go here" and "do this" and "sleep, what's that again?"  I've been a busy little bee, and have lots of things to tell you all, but in the interest of saving writing everything out much in the fashion of an epic poem full of Vikings and pillaging and plundering, I shall provide you with a Series of Anecdotes.  Perhaps this is also an attempt to save your attention span also.  Who knows?

Early in September (or perhaps late August, I can't quite remember) I worked a pairing for The Airline.  We had been sub-contracted by another airline (one I had considered applying to) in order to operate one of their regularly scheduled flights up to Iqualuit and back again.  One of the other FAs had originally been scheduled to work this flight, as she had done the previous week, however she happily offered it up to me and I snapped it up.  I soon knew why!!!  This airline we were operating for has a RIDICULOUS service flow.  You probably get more service with this lot in a 2.5 hour flight than you would crossing the Atlantic with Air Canada.  I literally didn't have a split second to myself.  Oh shoot, my bun came undone and my hair is hanging loose?  NO TIME!  Don't fix it, just MOVE!  Somewhere between the third coffee service and the second round of "hot towels" I wondered if I had somehow slipped into the 1960s, and contemplated having a nervous breakdown.  Somehow we made it through, but I can tell you that if another of those contracts comes up, I will need some serious persuading to say yes. 

Terminal at YFB

"She's got me landing with a 30kt tailwind!! Who the hell does she think I am?!" - Overheard in the flight deck landing in Quebec City.
A few weeks ago a guitar case appeared in the customs hall.  A nice one.  A Fender.  I took a look at the tag... Steve Miller.  Um.  Wow.

A week or so back I was working in the customs hall at the airport, and a young man came up to the baggage information counter.  He looked rather upset, so I steeled myself for the incoming rant, but as it happened he was very polite.  He told me he was sorry to bother me, but the zipper on his suitcase had broken some time during the flight.  I immediately launched into the spiel about our company's baggage repair service, but he interrupted me.  He said he wasn't bothered that his bag was broken, only that his girlfriend had given him a piece of tupperware before he left, and it had fallen out of the bag somewhere along the way.  He asked if the ramp agents could check for it in the plane, which they did, and found the tupperware.  They brought it up to customs for the young man, and I had a look, expecting to see home-made baked goods or little candies or something like that.  The tupperware was empty. 
'Oh thank you so much!  I am so relieved!'  he said, and walked away.
I was forced to go to YUL for training by the company I work at the airport.  It was maddening.  I spent the better part of a week stuck in a room "learning" things I had known for almost three months, and to top it off I heard jets fly overhead every 45 seconds, and couldn't see a single one of them!  I was reluctant to go to Montreal at all, until I remembered that they had cool planes there, and I imagined myself in heaven, hunting B747s every afternoon.  The reality was a little different.  YUL is a terrible airport.  There is not ONE place in the whole building where you can see the ramp and the airplanes without having to pass through security first.  All I wanted to do was eat my lunch and stare at planes.  Is that so much to ask?  And because I am not stationed at YUL, using my Red Pass to get to the gates just to go look at planes made me feel like I was in Mission Impossible.  I managed it, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to...

Misson accomplished!

One afternoon in YUL, having made it to the gates in time to settle myself by a window and watch the sky for the appearance of my beloved B747, I noticed something strange.  A stream of water seemed to be coming from between two planes parked at the gates.  I wandered over to get a better look, and saw something wonderful!  What I believe to have been an Air Canada Embraer 190 was taxiing between two fire trucks as they discharged their water canons.  A Real Life Canon Salute!  I was very moved, and amazed when I looked around me to realise that none of the other people sitting in the terminal had any clue what they were witnessing.  I literally had chills.

Also while in YUL, I went to visit a friend of mine.  He was previously a ramp supervisor here in Ottawa, but had left about two months ago, and got a job at one of the FBOs at YUL.  He invited me over to the FBO one evening, and spent some time showing me the incredible private jets of the rich and famous.  Shining gorgeous challengers all crammed into  one hangar with fancy sports cars parked between them, and the whole place smelled of Jet Fuel!  I just wanted to bring a sleeping bag and move in.  To make it even better, the FBO was right on the runway, so we stood on the ramp for a long time and watched the B777s and the B747s and the A330s taking off.  My friend even let me sit in one of the Mazeratis, AND turn it on!  I'm not really a car girl, but the sound of that engine was jaw-droppingly sexy.

On Tuesday this week I finally got my behind back in an airplane, after a two week gap between lessons, thanks to rotten weather and my trip to YUL.  I was more than a little nervous, to tell the truth.  We were due to undertake my first Instruments lesson, which is accomplished by making the student wear a "hood" which blocks the student's view of anything but the instrument panel.  No visual flying.  Meanwhile the instructor takes care of the radio calls, keeps an eye out for traffic, and gives the student directional instructions.  The idea of having part of my vision obscured gave me the creeps, but I sucked it up and dealt with it, and although it wasn't the most pleasant lesson, I felt pretty confident that I performed well.  My Instructor gave me a bit of a break half way through the lesson, and had me land on a grass strip to give me some practice with Soft Field landings and take-offs, which was pretty enjoyable.  And then it was back to the sky and back under the hood.  Halfway back to Ottawa I realised that I was essentially flying an aircraft blind, except for my instruments.  I had no idea where I was and no idea where any other traffic might be. 
'Damn,' I said to My Instructor.  'It's a good job I trust you.'


Thursday, October 7, 2010

The 52nd Annual Fly Day at the Ottawa Flying Club

Flying an airplane is one of the best highs I can get.  Nothing is comparable to being a few thousand feet above the ground in a small plane, and I tell everyone I talk to that they should try it at least once in their lives, if not more.

But let's face it; flying is not exactly cheap.  Unless you're lucky enough to be relatively wealthy, or else you are like me and willing to budget yourself to within an inch of your life and work your tail off at two or three jobs, it's unlikely that you will get to spend a great deal of time in the sky.  The Ottawa Flying Club (my second home) offers introductory lessons/city tours for approximately $90 after taxes, which is really reasonable in the aviation world, but still doesn't exactly qualify as spare change. 

When I heard about the annual Fly Day, it sounded to me like a brilliant idea.  City Tour flights are offered by experienced pilots in small planes for $30 per person, and all proceeds go to charity.  I knew I wanted to volunteer and help out, so at Ridiculous AM on Saturday morning after driving home from Montreal the night before, I dragged my butt out of bed and headed off to the OFC.  I am beginning to get the idea that a life in aviation and getting a good amount of sleep are two things that are totally incompatible.  But really, who needs sleep when there are airplanes nearby?!

It was a gorgeous fall day, if a bit cold, and the weather looked very promising.  The odd low cloud here and there, but nothing that looked too menacing.  By the time I arrived, things were already well under way.  A line of planes were on the tarmac, dropping off passengers, picking up new ones, getting refueled, and taking off again in a steady routine.  I was given a very stylish orange vest and put to work as an Escort (of passengers...to and from the planes.  This is a family show people.)  Already there was a crowd, and I was told that almost two hundred tickets had already been sold.

Marshalling in the traffic.
And so I got to work, not that I would exactly call it that.  I ended up enjoying myself immensely, and smiled so much that my face hurt.  I was on the ramp, there were airplanes everywhere, and I was helping out a worthwhile cause.  Not exactly hard work, in my book!  And putting little children in airplanes for the first time in their lives, and seeing the elation on their faces after they had landed did not, for one single second, get old.

As the day wore on, I was amazed by a number of things.  The amount of planning that must have gone into making this day a success must have been staggering.  I can't even begin to imagine the co-ordination with the OFC, the pilots, the ATC tower and the Rotary Club that it must have required.  It appeared that the Tower was pretty relaxed with us too, although I can't imagine we made their day an easy one, with flight after flight after flight taking off and landing, so I am quite sure that their co-operation and patience was appreciated by all!   The pilots  flew relentlessly, some only stopping long enough to fuel their aircraft and then head off again with the next load of passengers. 

The passengers themselves impressed the heck out of me too.  In the end I believe somewhere along the lines of four hundred tickets were sold, and almost three hundred and fifty people took flights.  We stopped selling tickets at around 11am, and needless to say it took all day to get through all the passengers that waited it out.  But everyone was, for the most part, incredibly patient.  It must have been especially difficult for families with small children to keep the little ones from throwing tantrums at the idea of having to wait all day, but I witnessed very few meltdowns.  Impressive.  I got the impression that people realised this was something worth waiting for, and that they appreciated the restrictions we had to work with - such as only being able to send three people at a time in each plane, and the necessary stop times for refueling and pilot breaks, and so on.

Based upon the remarks from the passengers after their flights, most of them seemed to think that it was well worth the wait, which I was very happy to hear.  Obviously I am a little biased, and think flying is just about the best thing ever.  But it was nice to hear that people were happy to wait for so long and were still able to go away content.  It made me feel very proud of the OFC for pulling off such a successful event. To add to the enjoyment, Vintage Wings brought over a few of their planes - a Harvard and a Tiger Moth - which caused a little bit of excitement, and a few lucky people got to take flights in them.

 A more surprising addition to the party came with the arrival of a Norseman.  One lucky couple took a flight in that amazing plane, during which time the young man made a successful marriage proposal!  How's that for romantic!  I'd definitely have a hard time saying "no" if someone proposed to me in a vintage aircraft.

The Norseman
As I mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Not only did I get to spend the whole day on the ramp, but I made some new friends, received a prophecy of marriage from one young boy, was told by another that I was a Fairy Princess (yeah, that's a name that just screams Badass Pilot...), and I bonded with my new Fairy Godmother.  What more can a girl ask for?

At the end of the day, everyone left happy, and the Ottawa Rotary Home went away having raised almost $10,000!  Quite the feat!  Please visit the Ottawa Rotary Home's website for more information on this fantastic organization, and if you are interested in next year's Fly Day, check out the official website!

The stunning photographs were taken by Mike McKay from the OFC - as always, demonstrating his enviable photography skills!  In true form, I had (as always) left my camera at home.  But I was too busy enjoying myself to have taken any photographs anyway!