This past weekend flights across the northeast United States and eastern Canada were cancelled en masse as a winter storm descended on the region. For the tens of thousands of travelers stranded or delayed, it’s a lousy experience that seems to have no end. But we know it isn’t any better for the pilots and crews scheduled to work the grounded aircraft. To get some perspective on the matter, we turned to Heather Poole, our favorite flight attendant/writer, for some insight on why exactly it’s so lousy for them. — Jason Clampet
You think you’ve got it bad?
Passengers aren’t the only ones suffering when a storm hits town and causes the airports to close. Here’s what happens when flight attendants get grounded.
We don’t get paid
Flight attendants are paid for flying time only. Time on the ground doesn’t count. I’ve been working as a flight attendant with a major carrier for 17 years and from time to time I’ll work an 11 hour day and only get paid for five of those hours. Happens all the time to more junior flight attendants.
All that time between flights goes unpaid. The flight attendant greeting you at the boarding door is not getting paid. Neither is the flight attendant helping you find a spot for your bag. The time clock doesn’t officially start ticking until the airplane backs away from the gate. Needless to say delays and cancellations affect flight attendants just as much, maybe even more so, than passengers.
We can be reassigned to work for days
Once we’re on a trip, we’re at the company’s beck and call until we die or the weather clears up. When airlines are low on staffing, they can reassign us to work different flights as long as we’re legal. The FAA allows us to work a 16-hour duty day, but we have to get at least eight hours behind a hotel door at the end of the day. Between trips we get 11-12 hours off, depending on if it’s a domestic or international route or whether or not we’re on reserve or holding “a line” (schedule).
After flying six days in a row, the FAA requires us to take a 24 hour break. These 24 hours don’t always take place at home. Sometimes they happen at an airport hotel. 25 hours later we could be right back up in the air. Which is tough because there’s just no way to let our families know when we might be home again.
Yeah, that's me, the one standing in the aisle wearing flammable polyester...