Monthly Archives: March 2017

Non-revving and dress codes

All the chatter about airline employee dress codes, and denying those employees boarding if they’re not dressed properly, went into the stratosphere yesterday. And this was all because they weren’t dressed properly. Besides determining whether or not you’ll get on the flight, I’m here to tell you dressing properly when non-revving definitely has its advantages.

During one of my NRSA (non-revenue space available) adventures I found myself having to get from Honolulu back to the Mainland. My airlines’ flights were booked full and as a last resort I purchased a ZED fare, or as we referred to them back then, an ID90. ZED (zonal employee discount) fares allow OAL (other airline) employees to purchase reduced rate (standby) tickets on airlines that have ticketing agreements between them. As a side note, airlines and airline people love acronyms (NRSA, ZED, OAL, etc).

Photo credit: Bob Logan

The ZED fare I purchased happened to be on TWA and unbeknownst to me it was on a 747. After purchasing the ticket I dashed over to the TWA ticket counter and checked in. The agent warned me that the flight was full and that chances of getting on were slim. After going through security I approached the boarding gate. The scene at the gate was frantic. Passengers were boarding and getting checked in. Towards the end of boarding the agent had the non-revs line up and she walked us down the jetway. The FAs were doing an “open seat” count to determine if any of us would get on. At the door of the airplane one of the gate agents, who had gone onboard, had been having a discussion with one of the FAs about some non-revs who were not dressed properly for the flight. The agent then went to those non-revs and told them that because of the dress code they would not be able to fly on the flight. The next two persons in line, me and another FA from my airline, were shown the spiral staircase and instructed to sit in the upper deck. YES! The flight was lovely, the crew was lovely, and my avgeek heart was filled with joy. This was to be my first flight on a 747, in the upper deck, enjoying a nice meal, wine, and a memory of a lifetime.

It pays to be properly dressed.

Can “different” really work? Alaska Airlines + Virgin America

Artwork credit: Alaska Airlines

It was recently announced that Alaska Airlines was scheduled to “kill” the Virgin America brand effective 2019. There has been much speculation about this since the merger of the two companies was announced. Use of the term “kill” in the headline really got me to thinking. If the brand of a company are its people, what message does using the term “kill” send to the employees of Virgin America?

So many times in airline mergers the focus is on the operation. How will the schedules be meshed? How will the frequent flyer programs and loyalty levels be integrated? What type of aircraft will be utilized? What hub cities will remain, be expanded or downsized? And somewhere in all of this, employees are often stranded at the gate as the plane backs away for departure.

Sir Richard Branson penned an eloquently stated post about this very thing. He touched on the Virgin America brand and how its people make the difference.

Cultural integration can be a tricky thing wrought with challenges. It takes commitment from senior leadership to embrace and communicate the belief: we’re all in this together, and because of this we will be better. Without this commitment, and actions to back it up, the merger is destined to be less than ideal. The employees lose, the customers lose, the airline loses. There are plenty of examples of this playing out in the airline industry.

The integration of Song Airlines into Delta Air Lines will parallel the aforementioned merger in many ways, I believe. Song was a scrappy start up (subsidiary) that made a name for itself in a short period of time. In 3 years many processes, marketing initiatives and concepts were tried and tested. Some worked. Some didn’t. When the integration of Song into Delta occurred there was lots of resistance amongst employees. There were those who, after experiencing Song, decided not to return to Delta. They could not return to the way things were. There were those who had remained at Delta that considered Song a four-letter word and made it difficult for those returning. And then there were those Delta employees who welcomed the Song Stars back with open arms and a “you guys were a part of a cool thing”-attitude. No matter which “side” you were on, change came at lightning speed. Those who embraced the changes went on to help others embrace the changes and take the “new” Delta in different direction. And the outcome has been good.

Words of advice to Virgin America employees: don’t be discouraged, “your airline” will still be visible, keep eyes open and you will see.

Words of advice to Alaska Airlines employees: be empathetic, what if it were “your airline” brand that went away, embrace the changes coming.

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, good luck and all the best with the merger.

In this photo released by Alaska Airlines, A specially painted, co-branded Alaska Airlines and Virgin America 737-900ER aircraft, painted in shimmering red, purple and blue and featuring the slogan “More to love,” lands at San Francisco International Airport on December 14, 2016 in San Francisco, CA. The newly painted aircraft is part of the merger celebration of Alaska Airlines and Virgin America. (Photo by Alaska Airlines, Bob Riha, Jr.)

A Plane for Everyone

A Plane for Everyone

In March of this year the Delta Flight Museum will display its newest artifact: a Boeing 747. If your idea of a museum object is fragile and dainty this will have you re-thinking museums. Born in Seattle in 1969, by the Boeing team lead by Joe Sutter, the 747 changed aviation. The litany of firsts associated with this aircraft has filled books. The museum’s ship 6301 is a first in its own right. Delivered to Northwest Airlines in December of 1989, it is the first -400 version of the 747. Often referred to as iconic, the Boeing 747 holds a special place in the hearts of passengers and crew alike.

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(Credits: Boeing)

While airplane enthusiasts may speak of the runways that needed to be lengthened, and of the, as yet to be designed, engines that would carry the plane aloft, it is the space inside that deserves some attention. A space that was enviably inclusive and exclusive all at once.

To begin with the space was large. The 747 was the first aircraft to have two aisles. Early pictures from Boeing show passengers enjoying legroom that would have today’s first class passengers scrambling for a seat in the back. The sidewalls did not curve-in leaving the cabin feeling cramped, but went straight up, almost encouraging the tallest of travelers to stand. The dual aisle aircraft enabled passengers to move with more freedom than their single aisle counterparts. Bathrooms numbered in the double digits and were located throughout the airplane, not just in the front and back. The tray tables that were introduced on the Boeing 707 could be found at each seat so you could enjoy a meal along with your in-flight entertainment. Boeing’s hope was that the open space of the 747 would have passengers thinking they were in their living room.

The people filling the plane represented a broader spectrum of U.S. citizenry than ever before. The increased seating capacity allowed for lower ticket prices. People who were once excluded due to higher costs were now taking a seat. The aircraft designers considered the upper deck, or “bump”, on the top of the aircraft, as a place for the crew to rest. Juan Trippe, Pan Am’s founder turned it over to luxury travelers. The small cabin, accessible by a private staircase, maintained the exclusivity of previous flying. Many a flight attendant has had to say, “yes you can take a ‘peek’ but you will have to wait until we land.”

Crews loved the plane as well. Its multiple galleys had plenty of storage for catering and other items needed for the long flights. As a flight attendant you are constantly looking for ways to wow your passengers and the interior did some of the work for you. The galleys had been placed in the center of the aircraft, leaving the preferred windows available for passenger seating. Simply entering the 747 upper deck had the ability to make grownups smile. The space itself made them feel special. The enormous main deck interior was broken up into smaller sections for the comfort of the passengers, but for those working on the flight it allowed for quick and easy access to supplies. As a flight attendant the main deck was perhaps the only negative. I am not sure if I can express how intimidating it is to pull a beverage cart to the front of a cabin of this size and know there are 300 plus thirsty passengers awaiting your arrival. In each instance you just put one foot in front of the other and start. You try and do justice to passengers who are going on a once in a lifetime vacation, an important business meeting or simply to see friends and family. But on the 747 you also try to do justice to the many crews that made the plane the most elegant place to be, the sexiest place to be and the only plane to fly on during its time in the air.

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Ship 6301, N661US landing at KATL, May 2014 (Credits: AirlineGuys)

Lisa Flaherty is a career flight attendant and a public historian with a love of aviation stories