Monthly Archives: June 2014

Focusing on the journey

And then there was the time…I took my last flight as a flight attendant. It was an easy trip; a turnaround. And guess who’s on my flight? The one and only Stevland Hardaway Morris, aka Stevie Wonder. He was traveling with 3 other people who guided Mr. Wonder onboard and settled into first class. I wished them all a safe and enjoyable flight as we departed for Philadelphia. The flight back to my base was full. We had just enough time in tourist class to serve all the customers and pick up. During our decent I had a lovely conversation with the customers opposite my jumpseat. They were an older couple who had been married for many years and their “thing” was visiting baseball stadiums around the country. While not a fan of baseball, I found their story interesting; here were two people with common interests, enjoying themselves, the places they’ve been, and each others company. And just like that, my career as a flight attendant ended. No water cannon salute, no paparazzi, no throngs of well-wishers. What a beautiful ending.

Moral: It’s all about the journey, not the arrival. Imagine had my last flight been overly dramatic. It may have eclipsed much of what I had experienced up to this point. I find life to be more fulfilling when focusing on the journey; the experiences, the people you meet along the way, the lessons you learn, and not the arrival at the final destination.

Safe travels!

Sylvester

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A “North of Expected” experience at Alaska Airlines

The Spirit of Alaska

Recently had the opportunity to visit the Alaska Airlines Flight Operations Training Center. The Spirt of Alaska was very much alive and palpable here.

Located near SeaTac Airport, the center is a two-story building housing training facilities for Alaska’s almost 2800 flight attendants and approximately 1400 pilots. My first impression was that of entering a small private school. As it was early, activities had not quite kicked off; there was minimal activities in the hallways. However, behind closed doors there was a flurry of activity and things happening to keep the Alaska Airlines operation running safely, comfortably, and on-time.

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Alaska Airlines Flight Operations Training Center

Alaska Airlines has come a long way from its humble beginnings as McGee Airways in 1932 and has grown in to a profitable airline that has 136 aircraft, and serves almost 100 cities. Alaska Airlines is adored by the industry and has a loyal and dedicated customer base as well as motivated and dedicated employees.

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It was via a some of these motivated and dedicated employees that I got the opportunity to see how Alaska Airlines has become, and remains, truly Alaska (the Alaska spirit).

During the visit I was shown and introduced to many people who are responsible for the safe operation of Alaska Airlines flights throughout their system. We toured the Systems Operations Control (SOC) area where I was given an overview of flight attendant and piloting scheduling, dispatch, and load control. I then received a thorough overview of the Command Center. This room becomes the center of activity during emergency situations that impact the airline. The personnel giving tours were humble, thorough, and answered the many questions I had. I also had the opportunity to look upon the flight simulators used to train pilots at Alaska Airlines.

The majority of the visit included time spent with Inflight Services. It was in this department that I could relate closely with. When I was introduced to the office staff, they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and at home.

After meeting the good people who manage inflight services we proceeded to the 737 mockup where safety and service procedures are learned and perfected. As Alaska Airlines only flies the 737, they have one mockup that is used for these purposes. As with most mockups, this one is a very fair representation of the real thing: cockpit, FC + YC galleys, FC cabin, YC cabin, lavatories. The mockup is capable of simulating different “situations” that may arise on board an aircraft: smoke in cabin, smoke in lavatory. The mockup is also used for evacuation drills via emergency window exits and doors.

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“Leave everything! Come this way!”

To my delight there was a flight attendant training class in session! I had the opportunity to meet the class and observe them practicing emergency and service procedures. Ahhh, the memories! Have to say they were a nice looking group of people who were excited and happy to be joining the Alaska Airlines family. One of the takeaways from the customer service training was “don’t get lost in the task, because you have a purpose on board.” To me this sums up how to give the best customer service you can. It’s about “creating moments” with each and every passenger you interact with. Deep.

There were a couple other “deep” moments spent at the training center. While watching the nicely-produced, emotional indoctrination flight attendant training video, “Their Story is Our Story”, Flight Attendant Carol S. says, “It’s not just a company. There’s something unique about Alaska. It’s spectacular.” I’d have to agree. The people that I met while on this tour are passionate about Alaska Airlines and work very hard to keep the spirit alive. They’re protective of their brand and culture. The feeling I get from Alaska Airlines is that they are a close-knit family where relationships mean everything. Because they care for each other as fellow employees, this feeling of caring and well-being is bestowed upon its passengers. Alaska Airlines has won the JD Power and Associate Award for Customer Service 7 years in a row now. They’re definitely doing many things right.

A poignant moment in the tour involved visiting the Memorial Garden, a beautiful and serene area honoring those lost on Alaska Airlines 261. The garden is reflection of the caring nature of the people who are Alaska Airlines.

We at AirlineGuys are always interested in sharing what we’ve learned and know about the commercial aviation industry. In fact sharing thoughtful, impactful stories and information are what we’re all about. The tour of Alaska Airlines was truly impactful. Seeing how other airlines operate, the impact that company culture has on customer service, and what makes each airline unique drives our passion to be the AirlineGuys.

A very special THANK YOU to Arnie Tharp. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to observe the very special culture that is Alaska Airlines. Thanks for arranging such a thoughtful, well-executed tour.

Arnie and me

 

Thanks also to Blair Kimball, Todd Horn, and Ashleigh Berlin-Stebner for giving me the opportunity to observe you impart your commitment to customer service to the Alaska Airlines trainees and for your part in keeping the spirit of Alaska alive and well (you too Arnie!).

The experience was definitely “North of Expected”!

Sylvester Pittman

 

 

 

Open Sky for Fearful Flyers

Had the pleasure to attend the very first Open Sky for Fearful Flyers class conducted by AirHollywood, the largest airplane mockup studio serving the motion picture, television and commercial production industry. While not afraid of flying, I decided to attend because I knew there would be useful information shared AND anything aviation-related designed to assist others is always a good thing. Well, we weren’t disappointed.

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The class was facilitated by Capt Ron Nielsen, a retired commercial airline pilot. According to a published bio, Capt Ron has been a pilot for almost 40 years and recently retired as a captain for a major airline. Flying has been a lifelong passion of his and he now devotes much of his time and energy to helping others overcome their fear of flying. He began working with those fearful of flying in 1987, and has gained a unique understanding of fearful flyers and their fears. His master’s degree in professional counseling has served him well in his endeavor to help others. His knowledge of people combined with his knowledge of airplanes has helped him develop strategies for fearful flyers to successfully manage their fears. Through his live classes and webinars, he has restored confidence to thousands who are now flying again.  He is frequently contacted by the media for his aviation expertise.

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The class was set up as a 6-hour course. Introduction of the weaker was followed by why people are afraid of flying (control, irrational fears, previous situations, etc.). After receiving statistics and facts about the safety of flying in today’s world, we partnered up with others in the class to learn more about what motivates your fear(s). As I’m not afraid of flying, my activity partner did most of the talking as I interviewed him about what makes him fearful. After sharing bios in a group forum, and what makes you fearful, we were treated to a very nice, casual lunch on the backlot. Lunch was followed up by “boarding” our flight. The studio is complete with Jetways and a motion-based mockup which simulates turbulence. We were then treated to the full phase of flight from boarding, to take off, cruise altitude, turbulence, landing, and arrival back at the gate. Even the owner of AirHollywood got in on the action, providing drinks from a beverage cart!

 

To my delight I had the opportunity to speak with the students in the Open Sky for Fearful Flyers course!

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Our day concluded with a tour of the AirHollywood props department and backlot, where we saw upclose and personal everything studios would need to film movie scenes, commercials, or photo shoots.

As this was the introductory course, AirHollywood and Capt Ron listened to, and answered questions from the students regarding what worked well and what we’d like to see in future classes. The goal is to have an on-going fear of flying classes complete with classroom instruction at the studio followed up by taking a real flight.

Here’s some of what we learned:

  • Every year, flying becomes safer > less accidents, although more traffic. Increases in safety due to better engines, technology, training
  • Fear of flying is NOT the same as risk of flying
  • Approximately 60 million people in the USA have a fear of flying
  • If you’re afraid of flying, first introduce yourself to the flight attendants and let them know. Then the pilots. Make sure all of the crew is aware
  • Breathing through a drinking straw will prevent you from hyperventilating. Carry one with you if you’re prone to hyperventilating
  • Sights. Sounds. Sensations — overcoming the fear of flight begins by recognizing these

I left the studio feeling great. It’s a nice feeling knowing that there are others out there who have a love and passion for what flight can add to your life and how overcoming your fear of flying can enrich your life and make it more fulfilling.

Talaat Captan, Capt Ron Nielsen, Rachel Owen, Me

Talaat Captan, Capt Ron Nielsen, Rachel Owen, Me

Sylvester

Please see our previous post on visiting AirHollywood > click here