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Drunk passengers, playboy pilots and life in the sky: Flight attendant reveals secrets of the industry in new book

Posted by Melanie Nayer  April 27, 2012 07:38 AM

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cruising-attitude.jpgWhat does a flight attendant really do? (Answer: more than you think.) What's it really like to deal with drunk passengers, suave pilots and potential terrorists? (Answer: it's tougher than you think.) What really happens when a flight is delayed, cancelled or worse, redirected to another location? (Answer: everyone's mad, not just the passengers.) Is it really a glamourous life at 35,000-feet? Flight attendant Heather Poole is dishing about it all - and sometimes more - in her new book "Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet".

I've known Poole for some time and have worked with her on a few different travel projects over the years, so I was eager to get my hands on this book, which broke into Amazon's top 100 best selling books on its very first day on the market. The book is a hilarious look at what really happens in flight, how flight attendants identify "problem" passengers (they're looking at you, guy with his fly open who smells like whiskey trying to board with first class while holding a coach ticket), and the real reactions and emotions that happen when there's an emergency. The book also details the life of a flight attendant on the ground, from sharing flats to scary cab rides and blind dates.

Poole is already working on her next book, but before she got too involved in that I sat down to chat with her about this book, and gain some insight on the most common questions asked from fliers today:

Melanie Nayer: What is the one thing passengers don't know about FAs?

Heather Poole: We don't get paid until aircraft door is shut and pushed away from the gate. Boarding is the most stressful time, and when there's a delay or mechanical issue, people yell at us, but we don't control the weather or the mechanics on the plane. Believe me - I'm mad too! I'm out of money if that trip doesn't take off.

MN: How do you handle it when passengers argue about the flight with you?

HP: I love it when a passenger will call home and get the weather scoop from their wife or boyfriend. The weather isn't where your wife is. Airlines do not have airplanes just lying around to grab when we need one. Everything is very efficiently run. When a plane is broken, they just don't have an extra plane in the airplane garage. They pull planes from other people's runs. Here's a tip: it's always better to fly in the morning because you have a better chance of getting to where you need to be. When a plane goes out of service, they'll start pulling planes from other route. The last flight out loses.

MN: What are you biggest passenger pet peeves?

HP: Oh there are a few... When I ask a question, no one answers anymore. Passengers are so consumed with their electronic devices that i'm just talking to myself. When passengers are right up against my [backside] when I'm in the aisle for beverage service because they want to get by to go to the bathroom or return to their seat. Also, nowadays the kids will sit in coach and parents will sit in business class, an there is all this back-and-forth on the plane. You're trying to do a service and mommy or nanny are walking up and down the aisle. it's not that we have a problem with passengers moving around, but does it have to be during meal service? Then there's the passenger who lies to get upgrades or get seats together. One guy pretended he was on his honeymoon so he could get upgraded and free drinks. After a few too many, he came to the back of the plane and spilled to us his wife was at home.

MN: I know this is a sticking point for many flight attendants, but it's a question everyone still wants answered: Why do we need to turn off the electronics in flight?

HP: Because it's the law. You can argue about it, you can read whatever the paper wrote, but it doesn't matter. It's the law. I have a job to do. If 200 passengers are all using their devices - their multiple devices - we can't determine if there is interference. Not to mention, if there's an emergency, we need to move. If i'm in the aisle explaining to 150 people why they can't use electronics and I am not in my seat for takeoff, I get fined from the FAA. I have to pay that fine. Just relax until you're in the air. The interesting thing about this - that rule hasn't changed, passengers have. No electronics in flight has always been the rule.

MN: What can passengers do to help flight attendants?

HP: If a passenger says "hi" back or just makes small talk with me during a service, I'm so happy. If I see a passenger helping another passengers, I'll subconsciously remember that passenger and be a little nicer to them, too. Also, it's always nice when passengers move seats if there is a family trying to sit together.

MN: What’s your best tip for someone who’s scared of flying?

HP: Sit as close to the front of the airplane as possible. The airplne fishtales in turbulence, so you won't feel it as much in the front. Also, tell the flight attendants if you're scared. We'll make the extra effort to make sure you feel comfortable.

(side note: Poole details the various types of turbulence in her book, and the different ways flight attendants react to turbulence, which is a great educational tool for those scared of flying.)

MN: I have to admit, my favorite part of the book was your tales of other flight attendants-gone-bad. What advice do you have for a passenger who is dealing with a nasty flight attendant?

HP: Just know that when there's a pain in the-you-know-what flight attendant to you, they're just as much a pain to the crew. Don't let one spoil the bunch. Say something to another flight attendant. We're not all bad.

MN: How have you changed as a flight attendant over the years?

HP: I'm older and I know how to handle myself in certain situations. I had my butt pinched in the galley before and I didn't know how to react. Now, i know how ensure that passenger never does it again. As a commuter, it's changed me - I know what it's like on both sides.

MN: Let's address some popular flying myths...

HP: Opening a door inflight is physically impossible. On the ground it is a different story.
Also, the plane cannot fall out of the sky. Your luggage might drop out of a bin, but the plane isn't going to fall out of the sky.

MN: Why did you write the book?

HP: We have a job that so many people don't understand. Our lives are so unusual. I wanted people to have a better understanding of what we do and what our lives our like. We're all in this tight space together having a similar experience that people all over the world share. This book is about being a flight attendant, and not about the airline. I am still flying and I love my job. It's the best job in the world - I can go anywhere at anytime. There's something very freeing about it. We're not what the stereotypes make us out to be. Ask a flight attendant what they did before they were a flight attendant and you'll be surprised. I've worked with doctors and lawyers who traded it in to fly.

Have a question for Poole? You can follow her on Twitter, where she's very active with fans and flyers.

Readers: What's been your best, or worst, flight attendant experience? Share your stories in the comments!

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Melanie Nayer is a travel writer who spent many years in the newsroom before jetting off to see the world. Her goal is to bring readers the best insider information More »

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