Saturday, 6 September 2014

So You Want To Be A Hostie (part 1) ... How Hard Can It Be?

The day, so many years ago, I finished  training as an International flight attendant, I went out with a few friends and had some celebratory drinks.  Officially I was on a 4.00 am to 4.00 pm standby the next day, but I'd been assured that there was absolutely no chance I'd be called out.  The longest distance flights to the USA, South America and Africa, which incidentally was the least popular of the three, tended to leave Australia early in the morning, the European flights typically left in the afternoon to meet any curfew restrictions in Asia where they stopped to refuel and to correspond with arriving early morning in London.  Usually only the most senior flight attendants worked on the longest international flights.

They were the dream gigs.  The passengers were generally easy, and the overtime money on really long-haul flights was substantial.  In those days, everyone received a fortnightly base salary, after which you earned an hourly rate according to years of service.  For a flight over 12 hours, a flight attendant was on double time, and anything over 14 hours was long range and therefore a set rate above and beyond double time applied.

The minimum flight time to the USA was about 13 hours, but generally those flights took 14 or more hours.  Because of the strict security and customs regulations, there were often delays while passengers were processed.  Also the duty or 'working time', allowed an extra hour and a half for signing on, getting the aircraft ready and half an hour to clear customs, immigration and so forth. Ka-ching!

What made the US run especially coveted, was that once you got there, the food was good as were the hotels, and there was no language barrier.

Even though I was confident I wouldn't be called up, at 11.00 pm I phoned Crewing to check.   I was told there was nothing, so I kept having fun.

At  3.00 am, I was in a pub in the city dancing around to some mega-mix and I thought  "one hour to go and still  no call".  Keep on partying.

At 4.04 my mobile rang.

"Hi Kate. It's Paul from Crewing.  You've been given a duty today."

Ummm ... what?

"You're doing a 5 day LA. You need to sign on at 8.00 am.

Ummm ... what?  'Pardon?'  I was in shock at what I believed he was saying.

Adrenaline and panic hit my mind and body at once. "Shit, what am I going to do?  I can't call in sick on my first duty and they will be watching me like hawks on my first flight."  It was 4.00 am and I was bloody well tanked.  According to the rules, you couldn't drink within 8 hours of a duty.  Would I be done for flying drunk or at the very least. hungover?

I grabbed a taxi home and tried to get a coupe of hours sleep, but that proved impossible as I was a little pissed. So I got up, showered, brushed my teeth and tried to stay upright.  I then made my way to Cabin Crew Headquarters at the airport.

"Are you in the right briefing room?"  I was asked.  "Errr LA?"  Yep I was in the right one, and it was then when excitement hit me with such force.

There is a big divide between domestic and long-haul flight attendants - long-haul think that they are way better than domestic.  Pffffft.  That's why everybody who wants to be a flight attendant tries to get into international and virtually no-one wants to fly domestic.  They quizzed me about my time in domestic.  I told them I hated it (and to a point, I did), and that seemed to give me a couple of points.  Then they asked me how I thought I'd go on long-haul.  I told them that I thought I would be fine, that it would be just like a return Perth flight. (About an 11 to 12 hour round trip).  For some reason, that really amused them.  I was in!!!  I was accepted into the 'Qantas Family'.

I was then told that for this flight, I would do 'the assist'.  I had absolutely no idea what the bloody assist was, but I soon found out that the assist was a name for the general dogsbody!   First I helped with the service in business class, after which, I went upstairs to help with another service, then I had to see if anyone needed a hand in first, after which it was in economy.  By the time I'd finished all of that, I had worked every cabin on the aircraft - the only upside, I'd gotten to know the rest of the crew.

After service, it was time for the cabin crew to have their meal.  I was told to throw my meal away, because no-one liked the shitty stuff catering provides for us. There is 'always better stuff in first or business'. I went to the galley and was getting stuck into a business cheese platter. I was mingling with the others who were all there discussing their motgages and who was flying where on the next roster.

My working partner on the right side of the plane, was a lovely lady named Monica.  She then explained to me that it was time for me to go and get some sleep.  The company wants you to have 20 minutes sleep every 6 hours, but Monica told me that she liked to have 5 hours straight.  No-one really did what they were supposed to.  My head was spinning. I never knew that there was a 'horizontal crew rest' where crew could sleep.  Sure enough, in the aft of the plane, in the tail, there were 8 bunk beds for crew. Who would've thought?

I was so happy that Monica took me under her wing and took me through everything I needed to know about the company that I hadn't learnt in training and also a lot of what I had to 'unlearn'.  She also explained that the crew looked after each other like a big family, which was not the same as the 'Qantas Family' line the company pushed.

To be continued ...... (perks and salaries and passports)

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Men In Uniform

In a taxi on the way to the airport, I finally worked out why the world is so screwed up.  All the politicians are brain-dead corrupt morons who wouldn't know their policies from their private parts, and the people who really know how things should be run are driving cabs.

Well, that's according to most cab drivers I meet.  I guess it's my own fault for sitting in the front seat. Everyone knows, if you don't want to chat, it's back seat only.  But I don't want to feel like I'm being chauffeured around.

I know it's stupid, but at least if I sit in the front I can pretend I'm getting a ride from a friend, and I just slip him/her a couple of bucks for petrol at the end.

Admittedly, I don't have many friends who drive big yellow cars with their telephone number written on the sides, don't know where my house is, and think 'Elton John just hasn't found the right girl yet'.

Anyway, I catch cabs often - that's what happens when you drink with breakfast(??) - so I've compiled my worst cab offences.

First is the cab driver who doesn't know where he's going.  Now, I'm not suggesting that cabbies should know where everything is (Jeez .. even God misplaces Guam occasionally) but there's nothing worse than getting into a cab at the airport and being asked for directions.

"Well no mate. I'm sorry but I don't know where I am.  Hell, I don't even speak the language and I don't even know what side of the road you drive on here."

Look, I have absolutely no problem with a cabbie having to look up an address.  I'd just prefer it if he did so before he started the meter, rather than half-way through the trip -and then hand me the directory and ask me to do it.

'Hey dude, I'm not your navigator. This is not The Amazing Race. Would it make it easier if I drove too so you can have a snooze? Although I'll expect you to sling me a couple of bucks at the end of the trip, and no, I don't have change for a fifty.'

Then there's the cab driver who knows the most direct way, but chooses not to take it.  'Hey mate, I'm not Mr Melways/A to Z, but I'm pretty sure the most direct route to my London hotel is not via the Parthenon or New York. Hey, here's an idea, cabbie. how about you ask that bloke you've been chatting on the phone to if he knows the most direct route?

Yep,it never ceases to amaze me that taxi drivers never make it into the lists of most desirable men. Everyone knows how much we ladies like men in uniform, even better is one who never goes for the quickest route.  (Although like most guys, they still have trouble finding the exact spot).

Anyway, regardless how bad the service is, I always tip taxi drivers - especially if I have a cabcharge docket from work!! Partly because I think taxi driving is a tough, thankless job, and partly because I hope they might spend some of that extra cash on deodorant.

In their defence, taxi drivers do have to put up with some real crap from passengers.  If cabbies had a dollar for every time some asked "Have you been busy tonight?" they might just have change for a fifty.

And then there's the drunks. From the rugby players who have mistaken the taxi for a clown car and are trying to cram 15 people into the back to the idiot who opens the back door and asks "do you have room for a slab of beer and a kebab?"  And then vomits in the back seat.

That's why it's great when you occasionally get a cab driver who restores your faith in the entire profession.  It happened to me recently, when I ordered a taxi and it arrived (and I swear this is true) towing a caravan!

It was the most Australian thing I've ever seen.  Turns out he was going on holidays and figured that he may as well make some money on the way.  His family were in the van and he was taking fares, but only if they went in the direction of the Gold Coast.

What a guy!!!!!