December 31, 2018

A Day as an On-Call Bird

Once again, I let the voters decide what they wanted to read for the next big hen article and I now see a trend. When given the choice, people want to read about the real pain and suffering of being a flight attendant. Thanks. At least the budget airline is a constant source of new clucking material.

Today's topic is a day in the life of a reserve flight attendant. Specifically, it's about my typical day as a reserve, since my little airline doesn't value my sanity as much as some airlines with newer contracts. But I know they're keeping me slightly unhinged for Hen material!

breathing normally.

First of all, a reserve flight attendant is like the show understudy: you're trained and ready to go, but you don't get that big role of working a flight until someone originally scheduled has a nervous breakdown and can't do it. All new flight attendants start on reserve for a few months or few years, until enough newer flight attendants are hired after them or until they have a nervous breakdown and quit. Reserve is a like a cute, more professional and acceptable hazing: prove yourself through a little abuse and you're in!

My typical day on reserve on call started the night before. I'd find out anywhere between 7 and 11 p.m. if I got a trip for the next day. If I didn't get an assignment that night before, I'd start preparing for the next day with a groan and a profanity. After I let out a little anger, I'd pack my bags to be ready for any kind of trip up to 5 days and any kind of weather. Once my suit case was packed and
unable to close, I'd lay out my uniform and shower. If crew scheduling ever gave me the minimum notice of 2 hours to get to the airport, there was barely enough time to complain to them on the phone, let alone clean myself. So I went to bed packed, pre-set, bathed, and anxious, with my phone ringer set to maximum volume. Ah, the glamor of traveling for a living!

If that phone didn't ring at 3 a.m. (which it did sometimes), I'd wake up confused and disoriented between 7 and 9 a.m. I'd then stagger to the coffee pot, and begin my first of 5 cups of coffee. I'd open my computer to the scheduling website, where I could see if any new, unassigned trips would show up, and I could either brace for a possible call, or know I was free at least for the next minute.

As the morning progressed, I used my on-call status to justify binge watching TV. It started with an hour of Will and Grace, followed by 5 minutes of The Nanny. I then would turn off The Nanny, once I realized it was The Nanny, and no longer Will and Grace. I'd briefly consider tackling one of those around-the-house projects I never had the time for until now, but then justified not doing it since it was still a "working" day and scheduling would likely call as I was buried in my childhood CD collection.

Once I stopped pretending I'd be productive, I'd agonize over what TV show to watch. I'd consider a new series, but wanted something noncommittal in case the phone rang. It was hard to find a new half-hour show that seemed interesting and without a laugh track, and hour-long shows made me nervous I'd get to the best part when the phone rang. After giving up on TV for a moment, I'd find my cat to play with for 5-45 minutes. Once the cat would bite me and run away, I'd get back to the vicious cycle of show scrolling.

Around 2 p.m., but anxiety would ease from intense to moderate, since crew scheduling often called in the middle of the night or the morning, and as the day progressed, there were fewer and fewer flights they could use me for. At this point, I would take a breath and start to celebrate that I was getting paid to stay home and watch TV. I'd settle in on the couch and turn on the perfect show: RuPaul's Drag Race. And just as the queens would start to pull each other's wigs off, the phone would scream. Caller ID: Crew Scheduling.


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