She’s #1: Meet Mary Ann

I recently met the #1 Flight Attendant at Delta Air Lines. In the recesses of every flight attendants mind I’m sure they think, “what would it be like to be Number One?” Think about it. Seniority means everything in the airline business. It determines what you fly, days off, vacation time you get, and how much you get paid. To say I was in awe of meeting Mary Ann would be an understatement.

Me and Mary Ann – #1 Delta FA

It happened like this: The facilitator was asking the group about seniority. As they continued to ask “who has more than 20 years raise your hand…who has more than 30 years?”, slowly the hands raised started to lower. Well, at 50 years someone’s hand was still raised. Turns out Mary Ann had been flying for 59 years! Thunderous applause erupted and she got a standing ovation. At that moment someone leaned over and said “She’s #1”.  I knew I had to chat with her.

The next morning I had a chance to sit and chat with Mary Ann for a few minutes. She has a presence that is calming and reassuring. Definitely traits needed to be a flight attendant. She is a stewardess. When I mentioned the term stewardess and asked if she minded that I refer to her as a stewardess, she didn’t object at all. To me a stewardess is a flight attendant who is regal, self-assured, gracious, kind. well-put together. And Mary Ann exhibited all of these qualities.

Mary Ann was hired as a stewardess with Pan American World Airways in 1957. She told me how she loved it. She also spoke of how local station managers of other airlines would speak to the young ladies in an attempt to get them to come be a stewardess at their airline. It seems as though she was wooed by someone at Northwest Orient Airlines and began flying with them in 1959.

Surprisingly, when I asked her where she grew up she said “Atlanta.” I almost fell off my chair. Not that there’s anything wrong with Atlanta. I live in Atlanta and it is a nice standard of living. I almost fell off my chair because I saw nothing “southern” about her. One of the other flight attendants at the table said, “You don’t have an accent.” She then said she grew up in what would become known as Midtown, near Ponce de Leon Avenue. Then she went in to her Southern accent and demeanor and wowed us all. Scarlett O’hara has nothing on Mary Ann! After graduating from high school she left Atlanta for New York to attend college. She says her Southern accent reappears around family.

We spoke about world travel of course and life lessons you learn when being out in the world. What we shared in common was the notion that through travel you not only learn about other cultures, people, food, living conditions, etc. You also learn a lot about yourself. And in order to learn you must take the time to stop, listen, and be in the moment. She agreed that everyone has a story to tell and that in order to hear it you must truly listen.

Throughout the day many approached Mary Ann to say congratulations and to be in her presence. Kind, gentle, authentic, real.

Mary Ann is Seattle-based and flies Shanghai route.

Sylvester

 

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

Product review – Journey Pillow

Several months ago I met Anthony Williams (clinical neurophysiologist)  and Candace Williams (industrial engineer). They are a brother and sister duo who hipped me to a product they said would revolutionize how people traveled. As someone who travels frequently, of course I was intrigued. We sat down and they demonstrated their prototype traveling neck pillow.

Before I give you more details, let me inform you that I have used plenty of neck pillows over the years. The inflatable type. The one filled with buckwheat. The rolled up blanket. The passenger next to me. The sidewall of the airplane. All have their degree of usefulness, but none quite works the way it is designed. The inflatable type loses inflation. The buckwheat variety can be noisy with all that buckwheat moving around inside, and they retain body heat. When it comes to using airplane blankets, if it’s not sealed in plastic I certainly will not use it. My seatmate’s shoulder is a last resort option. If I’m really tired all bets are off so be forewarned if you find yourself seated next to me! And the sidewall is just downright uncomfortable.

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Candace demonstrated Journey Pillow and I was intrigued with the design features of the pillow:

  • ergonomically designed
  • filled with memory foam
  • non-slip clips that attach to your belt, seatbelt, or waistband
  • straps – the straps, along with placing the pillow over your head, reminded me of donning a life vest (“Place the vest over your head and attach the straps to the front of the vest”)

I’ve used Journey Pillow on a few domestic flights and can report that the pillow lives up to its claims. Journey Pillow cradled my neck comfortably, didn’t retain as much body heat as the buckwheat filled travel pillow can, and overall was more effective than the inflatable travel pillow. Journey Pillow travels well and fit neatly inside my roller bag. One minor issue I encountered were securing the  clips to my waistband. Wearing shirts that were untucked was a bit problematic. I had to lift my shirt to attach the non-slip clips to my waistband. This caused my shirt to ride up, bunch up, and wrinkle underneath the straps. Other than that the pillow delivered on its promise. Using Journey Pillow did garner some stares and a few questions from passengers. I’m traveling to New Zealand in late October and looking forward to testing out the pillow for long-haul travel.

Anthony and Candace have developed a travel pillow that offers many advantages over other types of travel pillows. Check out their video describing Journey Pillow in detail:

http://www.journeypillow.com

Sylvester

 

How customer service has made me a better person

Can I just be a customer and not critique?
This week I experienced a few service failures. One had to do with being overcharged on my credit card. Another had to do with delivery of a new refrigerator. And lastly, service received at the local grocery store. In the case of the overcharge, the total bill was $23, I tipped $5 for a total of $28. Apparently the server rang in a tip of $28 on a $23 bill for a total of $51. I noticed the error while reconciling my bank statement. I called the restaurant and was promised a call back from the manager I spoke with. When I did not hear back from the restaurant it made me nervous. So I paid a visit to the restaurant with my copy of the receipt. The manager was apologetic, assured me the issue would be fixed, and offered me a free meal. Two days later, a credit of $28 posted to my bank account. In the case of the refrigerator, the two delivery guys were behind the 8-ball. They had very little idea of how to deliver a refrigerator, didn’t know how to use the hand truck, almost damaged my door and new counter tops, had no tools with them to remove the packing crate, and spoke very little English. My bilingual FA friend who lives in LA was most helpful at such an early hour. I will need to follow up with the major department store around this service failure. I want to bring to their attention how this contract company is tarnishing their brand. Later that morning the local grocery store I visit, which normally provides great customer service, let me down. The cashier was having such a great, fun conversation with the guy bagging my grocery, that she barely noticed and interacted with me. I thanked the guy bagging my grocery and he didn’t even respond. They had more dialogue between themselves than I did. By end of the day I felt deflated, tired, and even more aware of customer service provided by others.
Providing customer service is a major part of my job. In addition, I facilitate classes on how to be more customer service-oriented. There are times when I say to myself, “Can I just be a customer and not critique?” It’s difficult to disconnect and just be a customer. For those who are in customer service roles, I’m sure you know what I mean. For people like us, we tend to give the person providing customer service the benefit of the doubt, tip 20% or more, hold doors open more often, look people in the eye when speaking to them, and say thank you when the other person says thank you first. “No, thank YOU.” As if we must get the last thank you in.
It has been said before that eyes are the window to the soul. The next time you’re interacting with someone look into their eyes. No, I mean really look. And let’s be clear, there’s a difference between looking, and staring. There’s a wealth of information that you can receive. It is in these moments between you and other person that you have a golden opportunity to connect on a level deeper than your role or your job. It is in these moments that you have the opportunity to connect on a level that lets the other person know that “you matter to me.”
At this stage of life I’m more aware than ever before of the customer service that is being given to me. At the same time I’m more aware of the service I provide others. Over the years I found that providing customer service has made me a better person. Or has being a better person made me give better customer service? Either way, it’s all good.

When is an emotional support animal not an emotional support animal?

ESA. Emotional support animals. So many things have been said and written about this topic. Conversations around those gaming the system as a way to not pay for traveling with their pets in the cabin has reached a fever pitch. As a former flight attendant, I assisted numerous passengers with disabilities who traveled with their service animals. These companions, life savers for many, provide an invaluable service. And as we know passengers with disabilities have the right to travel with their service animals who assist them with their daily needs. As for passengers with emotional needs, emotional support animals are a necessary companion to function in everyday situations. Let’s be clear: there is a distinction between service animals and emotional support animals. According the ada.gov site:

“Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.”

According to Wikipedia, the definition of an emotional support animal states:

“An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of the disability, to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals. In order to be prescribed an emotional support animal by a physician or other medical professional, the person seeking such an animal must have a verifiable disability.”

Back to the feeling amongst many that the emotional support animal situation is “getting out of hand.” Just today the following tweet was posted and has garnered lots of attention:

Things have gotten so far “out of hand” that Florida makes it a crime to register your dog as a service dog when in fact it is not. Those caught being dishonest are subject to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. This new law does not apply to those passengers traveling with emotional support animals.

Again, many things have been written and said about emotional support animals. One day, while facilitating a FA continuing qualification course (annual re-qualification class), the subject of emotional support animals came up. Some in the class had very strong feelings about those passengers who are dishonest with their pets. As the facilitator I remained neutral, allowed conversation to proceed, keep class on track with facts around passengers with disabilities and important it is for us to care for them. After some discussion, one of the FA in the class shared that her daughter travels with an emotional support animal. She also shared that hearing some of her colleagues speak in unkind terms about those with emotional support animals was appalling. You could have heard a pin drop.

As a matter of law, those traveling with disabilities, thank goodness, have rights governed by the Air Carrier Access Act. Legislation of this nature comes around because people with disabilities were not (and in certain circumstances, still not) being treated fairly with dignity and respect.

So, what is the “solution”? How do you determine who’s being dishonest? What impact does this have on those with a legitimate need to travel with an emotional support animal? Or should we just mind our own business?