Tag Archives: airlines

Will the real Debbie Delta please stand up!

In the summer of 2011 a friend, and fellow airlineguy, and I took a train excursion on Amtrak from Chicago to Seattle on the California Zephyr and Coast Starlight (read about that here). However, it was on the flight from Atlanta to Chicago that we met a flight attendant named Debbie. She was no ordinary Debbie. She was Debbie Delta!

“Debbie Delta” is a nickname given to a FA who is Delta through and through. She’s Southern. Gracious. Loves her job. And loves Delta! We’ve met a couple of Debbie Delta’s that are guys, but that’s another story we can share later.

This Debbie was all of the aforementioned. She was kind. Talkative Thoughtful. Funny; a real spitfire. As we got to know her on the flight she let us know that she was from Monroe, Louisiana – The Home of Delta Air Lines. How cool is that! Think about it. What are the chances that Debbie from Monroe, Louisana; would one day go to work for Delta as a FA, and become a real Debbie Delta? Will the real Debbie Delta please stand up!

The other day while at Crew Outfitters Debbie stopped by. We immediately recognized each other. It was so nice to see her. Having not seen each other since that flight from Atlanta to Chicago back in 2011, we had lots of catching up to do. One of the things we shared was that she had just celebrated her 38th year of flying! After 38 years, she stills enjoys her job. Loves the customer interactions. Loves Delta. You’d think with this kind of seniority she’d be flying international. But no, she’s done her share of international flying and chooses now to fly domestic trips (“nothing over two and a half hours”). That’s the beauty of this job – there’s a little bit for everyone.

We also shared some pics from back in the day when she began her flying career. From what we hear there were some crazy, fun times in the lower galley of the L1011! To have been a flight attendant during the 70s would have been the best – the colorful interiors, the funky uniforms, the numerous domestic widebody flights, the well-behaved passengers. Ahhh…

Lower galley L1011 – early 1970s. Look at those regulation shoes! 🙂

Seeing Debbie was special. It got us to thinking though. Okay, we know the nickname for Delta FAs who are engaged, love their jobs, love their airline – Debbie Delta’s.

airlineguys and Debbie Delta

Help us out fellow avgeeks, What names are giving to FAs at other airlines who embody that particular airlines’ culture?

Looking forward to hearing from you!


It’s all about the music

You may wonder why we occasionally post and comment about music, music videos, and the latest musical acts. No Doubt and Lana del Rey have been two musical acts on our radar lately.

No Doubt

Lana del Rey

Little do most people know, we used to program boarding music for our former airline. What? That’s right, program boarding music. You may think, oh there’s nothing to that. Well, let us tell you, there was plenty of thought and consideration that went in to it.

Einstein used a formula E = mc2. So did we! We used the bell-shaped curve to guide us in our musical selection (more on this later). And we also had the good fortune of collaborating with a lovely woman named Danette Christine who is founder and president of SoundTrack Marketing. As a musician and singer, she has a way with music. As a entrepreneur, she understands the ins and outs of the music business. We connected on so many levels.

You can’t deny the transformative nature of music. Music has a way of influencing people, places, and situations. Think about the last time you were at a bar, restaurant, club, or store. Did you take the time to listen to the music in the background/foreground? Chances are it wasn’t haphazardly put together. Lots of consideration is given to creating the “right” atmosphere. The right ambiance.

When programming music for boarding we were considerate of the atmosphere we were creating. In years past many airlines had no boarding music at all or used classical music. The thought behind using classical music was that it had a  calming effect. Where this may be true, it’s not very contemporary in today’s environment to play classical boarding music. Our assignment was to make a difference in the boarding experience. We were given creative license to create the best boarding experience for the customer through music. So, we chose contemporary tunes (Gwen Stefani, Luther Vandross, Beyonce, Celine, Jason Mraz, etc), oldies-but-goodies (Spinners, Jackson 5, etc), as well as an “ambient mix” of groovy sounds.

During our assignment we constantly, and still do, listen for new music. The app Shazam has become our friend. Each month we would add songs to our list for possible boarding music choices. On our monthly conference calls with Danette we would discuss the selections for a possible playlist. We would present our list and suggestions and Danette would present hers. Each song would then be reviewed for sound, lyrics, and placement in the lineup. Each playlist lasted between 30 and 45 minutes. Here’s where the bell-shaped curve came in. The “science” was to begin the boarding music with a mid-tempo. The mid-tempo would welcome on the first class and elite customers. Once general boarding began the tempo would increase a bit. The rationale was that as the majority of customers boarded the boarding the music would get them moving expeditiously to their seats. As boarding came to an end the songs in the boarding playlist would return to a mid-tempo.

Bell-shaped curve used for boarding music

Besides creating an experience for the customer, we also had to be cognizant of the cabin crew; they would be listening to the music playlist for a complete month. So, we made sure to choose tunes that didn’t grate or irritate them. The term that we used to describe this condition was “music fatigue”; hearing the same tune over and over again to the point of exhaustion. Definitely not the experience we wanted to create for our fellow cabin crew.

Our collaboration with SoundTrack Marketing proved very popular and lasted for 1 and 1/2 years. We received (and still do receive) positive comments from flight crews and from customers on a consistent basis. They really enjoyed the “freshness” of the music, the selections we chose, and the diversity of those selections. On occasion we’re asked by cabin crew to come back and program the music again. We’d gladly do it all over again!

Is there anyone listening?


Yesterday we were speaking with a flight attendant, when Darin asked her how long she’d been flying. At 39 years we were impressed. She let us know that she began her flying career 39 years ago at Hughes Airwest. Having grown up in the West (Phoenix and Vegas), Darin was very familiar with the airline that was “Top Banana”. As conversation continued she let us in on a little known secret; she had a small part in a Hughes Airwest commercial. We were like, “Which one?” She said are you familiar with the “Yes” commercial? And we were like YES! So, we immediately went to YouTube and there she was!

Ulda says “Yes!”

We love old airline commercials. The dancing. The singing. The jingles. Everyone, the crew, the passengers; seemed like they were having the best time. Maybe that’s why we like these commercials so much. Today’s  airline commercials pale in comparison to the airline commercials of yesteryear.

As it turns out Ulda was very fascinating. In 39 years she’s flown all over the world. Nowadays she flies mostly South American routes. From our conversation it’s obvious she still enjoys her job. When we asked her what has kept her in the business for 39 years her response was, “”Places to go. People to meet.” She mentioned how everyday is an adventure and that she’s a gypsy at heart; always on the go, always looking for a new experience. When asked what the biggest challenge was with flying, she said that the traveling public doesn’t quite understand the role of the flight attendant anymore.

It’s pretty amazing the things you can learn about people when you take the time to listen and share. Thanks Ulda!

airlineguys & Ulda

Air Hollywood

Air Hollywood

Air Hollywood

About 3 weeks ago we read an article about a little known company named Air Hollywood. The article was about their “K-9 Flight School” whereby they train dogs to be comfortable in and around airports and airplanes. As lovers of dogs we were very intrigued. As lovers of all things aviation (some would say we’re geeks), we were enthralled by Air Hollywood. We promptly connected with Air Hollywood to inquire about taking a tour of this very unique studio. To our surprise, and delight, they answered our inquiry with enthusiasm. We quickly set up a visit.

Nestled in an industrial park near Northridge CA, a suburb of Los Angeles, is an unassuming studio. There are no ornate gates to welcome you, no electric golf carts whizzing executives from set to set, no reserved parking spaces with famous movie stars names emblazoned on them. What we found was a small team of enthusiastic, funny, accommodating folks charting a path as a niche studio.

Air Hollywood, which opened in 2001, is the world’s largest aviation-themed studio. Their client list includes major motion picture studios, television networks, and film schools from around the globe. Films and commercials utilizing Air Hollywood’s sets and props include: “Elizabethtown” starring Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom; critically acclaimed TV series “Lost”; comedy film “Bridesmaids” starring Kristen Wiig; and the Ameriquest commercial, “Don’t Judge Too Quickly”, to name a few. In addition to airplane mock-ups, Air Hollywood provides airport terminal sets, prop rentals, set design, a fear of flying program, and they license stock footage. Very ambitious to say the least.

Leading the team is founder and CEO Talaat Captan; a movie producer who experienced the challenges first-hand of filming in and around airports. And these challenges became more evident after the events of September 11th. It was through these challenging experiences that Talaat set out to create an aviation world that would be very realistic and one that would be much easier to work within. And hence, Air Hollywood took off.

The rest of the team included Rachel, Morgan, Matt, and Toshi. All affable and accommodating. And let’s not forget Lucky, Talaat’s adorable little dog that was visiting the office for the day.

It was Rachel, the set booking agent who’s responsible for PR and marketing at Air Hollywood, who gave us the behind-the-scenes tour. She was knowledgeable and excited about leading us on the tour.

The tour began with a visit to a narrowbody (single aisle) mock-up. Once inside we were told that the interior of each of the mock-ups could be custom designed for the needs of the client or specifically configured for a specific airline. We also learned that the ceiling could be removed and the aisle widened, if needed, to accommodate lighting and cameras when filming. The mock-up included galleys, lavatories, and a cockpit. The cockpit was “open” such that filming could take place from all angles. This gave new meaning to the term “glass cockpit”. A unique feature of this mock-up was the ability to create “turbulence”. Huh? Through airbags housed underneath the mock-up platform, compressed gas could be sent to the airbags allowing for the entire mock-up to shake, rattle, and roll. While we didn’t get the opportunity to see it firsthand, we were informed that turbulence could be set on a scale of 1 to 10. And Rachel said 3 was pretty intense.

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We then moved on to the “terminal”. Inside the terminal we found a check-in counter, waiting area with seats, and a security check point complete with magnetometers. Rachel explained that through strategic positioning of seats, signage, and flooring, many different looks and effects can be achieved.

The next mock-up we visited was also a narrowbody, however, it included a first class section. This mock-up, like the previous one, had moveable ceiling panels, real overhead bins, and a cockpit. And what a cockpit it was! This particular cockpit was THE cockpit used for the filming of the movie Airplane! Talk about excited! Surely we had to take a picture in this piece of aviation and film history. And don’t call me Shirley. Roger that. Roger Roger.

THE airlineguys inside THE Airplane! cockpit

Moving on from the narrowbody mock-up, we now visited a widebody (dual aisle) mock-up. The layout was that of a Boeing 767. The cabin was…spacious. If only…but we digress. On this set, the crash scene from the critically acclaimed TV series “Lost” was filmed; an intense scene made all the more real because of the details of the set provided by Air Hollywood. The widebody mock-up also includes a jetway. A few scenes of the comedy “Bridesmaids” was filmed on this jetway and inside this widebody mock-up.

Next came the props department. This was an immense area that housed a Lear jet mock-up and items needed to dress the set. There were various luggage styles categorized by period. So, if a scene called for luggage from the 70s, they have it. There was signage from various airlines. Signage also came in different colors and languages. There were telephones and telephone booths. Beverage and food carts of varying sizes included glassware and snacks that would never go stale (they were plastic). There were newspaper stands with newspapers. Need a smartcarte to haul your luggage? They had those too! Looking for a place to check in for your flight? Kiosks and ticket/gate counters were numerous. It was almost too much, yet we didn’t want to leave!

On the tour we also saw a room for hair and makeup for the actors, and a holding room for the extras who serve as passengers.

After our whirlwind tour of the facilities we had the opportunity to sit with Talaat, the CEO and founder of Air Hollywood. This man is passionate about aviation! As he spoke it was like listening to ourselves speak. He told of us of his love of all things aviation. He shared his experiences in the film industry. His love of dogs and how important the “K-9 Flight School” is to him really struck a chord in us…what a great service! Talaat also shared his desire to grow Air Hollywood’s list of services including the “Fear Of Flying Program”.

He then asked about us. We told him about our experiences in aviation (as former cabin crew, facilitators, PR ambassadors, and our penchant for discerning excellent customer service). We also shared our goal of the airlineguys: To create a community of like-minded people who love aviation; who love what air travel means (experiences that can broaden the mind and change you in a positive way); a community that chooses to focus on the positive aspects of air travel instead of the negative. And through our experiences and connections with other like-minded people, we can bring light to this often maligned marvel of physics and power.

The 3 of us agreed…we’re geeks. Avgeeks!

airlineguys Darin, Talaat, Sylvester


Deltalina: down-to-earth girl or superstar? The chat w/ the airlineguys continues (Part 2)

Here’s Part 2 of our chat with Katherine…

Down-to-earth girl


AG: Here’s a big question for you. (long pause) Do you like being a superstar?

KL: I am not a superstar. I’m just in my own mind, and that’s where it’s important. (laughter)

AG: Speaking of being a superstar, where did the “Deltalina” moniker come from?

KL: There was a super sweet woman on FlyerTalk that started it and said that I resembled a little bit of Angelina Jolie, and she mixed that with Delta. So, Deltalina. I’ll be compared to Angelina Jolie any day!

AG: We find you more beautiful than her!

KL: Stop it!…I’ll pay you later! (laughter) I love it! I love it! So, yeah that started, oh my gosh, 3 and a half years ago and it just stuck. So, it’s amazing that more people go, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Deltalina!’ There are quite a few that don’t know my name. So, it’s really cute.

AG: So, do you prefer to go by Deltalina or Katherine Lee?

KL: Deltalina’s cute. It works. I like it.

AG: So, what’s next for Deltalina? You have any plans for her?

KL: You know what? I’m just enjoying my time at Delta.

AG: Let’s talk about the Delta video. The Delta safety video. We would have to say it’s probably the most watched safety video of all time. We checked this morning and there were over 2.6M views on YouTube. And that’s just YouTube. Think of all the people who’ve seen the video on the airplanes.

KL: That’s crazy!

AG: When you think back to this whole phenomena of Deltalina and the finger wag, is this what you expected when you did the video?

KL: Oh, heaven’s no! I don’t think anybody expected it to be this big. I mean, not even Delta. No. Absolutely not. And all the opportunities it has offered me have been amazing. The people that I’ve met. But never in a million years would I think that I’d be at the Munich Airport and someone would recognize me going, ‘Oh my gosh! That’s the girl from the video!’ I mean, I’m recognized all over the world and to me that’s bizarre, but great! It’s bizarre that people actually watch that video the way they do.

AG: Does that make you uncomfortable in a way when people know who you are? Just walking with you on our way to interview you, we could see people looking at you with a sense of recognition. Has that ever made you feel uncomfortable or awkward?

KL: Only when I have a really bad hair day or I have really bad skin going on or I leave my zipper open by accident. That’s the only time it’s embarrassing! (laughter). “Deltalina just walked by me and her zipper was open!” (laughter) That’s the stuff that I always worry about! Like oh my gosh, what if they catch me picking my nose? That’s the kind of stuff that makes me hyper-aware, the way that I look when I’m walking around. Like always having a smile on my face. Yeah, there’s just not a bad day for me here.

AG: It’s hard to walk in slow motion and have your hair blowing all the time too!

KL: Exactly! Because that fan gets really heavy! (lots of laughter)

AG: How has your life changed since this video went viral and took off and Deltalina became who she is?

KL: I have been able to do so many marketing events representing Delta, which has been incredibly fun. You know variety is the spice of life. Not only am I an instructor, I fly and I also do marketing. And that’s has been really, really a lot of fun representing Delta in that capacity. It’s been wonderful. Meeting new people. It’s been good. It’s offered me more variety than what I do in my work life which has been incredibly fun.

AG: I’m not sure if you remember, but I remember having a conversation with you during our time at Song, and you mentioned that you had always wanted to be in a safety video. You said it had always been a dream of yours. You were like, ‘I don’t even need a speaking role just a part in it.’

KL: Yes, I remember.

AG: Now that this has come to past, what are your thoughts about pursuing what you want and pursuing your dreams and making your dreams come true?

KL: Oh, that’s good!

AG: What advice would you give someone who’s looking to do something they’ve always wanted to do?

KL: Don’t give up! Keep on trying. I think it’s one of the great things about the company that I work for, Delta. They’ve always been inclusive of everybody. It was an open casting call for all the FAs. And then everybody auditioned and the list was whittled down. And then we were videotaped. So, everybody was given a chance to try out and then it was determined by how well you were in front of the camera. It was truly by talent, you can say. But don’t give up! I remember vividly, when I first started flying how I wanted to be in the video. I said to myself if I get in the video I will make sure I represent well, all the time. For the 4 years it’s been on, I have never dismissed anybody that has come to me and said, ‘oh you’re in the video.’ I’ve always taken a picture with them, or talked about it, or signed an autograph. And I always approach it like it’s the first time I’ve been asked about the finger wag or somebody says ‘Oh my gosh, you’re the girl!’ So, keep on trying! Absolutely!

AG: So, you’ve always wanted to be in the video. Now that you have been in the video, what advice would you give the next person(s) who stars in the video? And we’re not sure how much detail you can share with us on any plans to replace the current safety video.

KL: I actually don’t have any details regarding a replacement safety video. What I wish somebody would have to told me is that you have to have a thick skin. Because you have people that’ll always be envious. And will always be…I don’t want to say hateful because hate is such a strong word. But hurtful. And the things that they say and write. Our video was the first one that was put out on the internet before it was even put on the aircraft to kind of see how social media would take over, and word-of-mouth, and see what would happen on YouTube. And you have the kind of response on YouTube, and some things were just so nasty and people didn’t know me. I don’t think that I had that thick skin that I needed to initially kind of be confronted with all that. So, my advice is it doesn’t matter how nice you are, and how awesome you are, people will always be envious of what you have. And with people watching that video, you’re going to get that. That’s how people are. It’s unfortunate but that’s how they are. I’d tell them don’t listen to any of that hateful, mean-spirited stuff. That’s how I would set them up for success. Don’t read the stuff that’s on YouTube. It’s amazing to this day that when I fly with people they say ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so nice.’ I’m like, ‘Why would you think I wasn’t nice?’ And they say, ‘well, you know, the video.’ What about the video? People judging a book by its cover.

AG: What misconceptions do people have about you?

KL: That I have this incredible ego. That it’s all about me. That I’m stuck on myself. That I’m a complete (whispers) bitch. And I’m not. Those are the biggest things. Oh gosh! I heard a great rumor yesterday.

AG: What was it?!

KL: That apparently I had just married this movie executive out in LA and I was going to leave Delta.

AG: Wow! Any specific names?

KL: No. Unfortunately. Which is interesting because the entire crew thought that was the truth. Yeah.

AG: We heard the exact same thing a couple of days ago!

KL: Wow!

AG: We know you’ve been asked about the finger wag before. For the record how’d it come about?

KL: The director suggested I do a little finger wag. I think there were like 7 different takes. Left hand. Right hand. Kind of above where my mouth is. Below. And we kind of just tweaked it. He was just like, ‘add some personality, like add a little sass to it.’ It was a culmination of the both of us coming together. It was not my idea. It was truly his. I just put my own little twist on it.

AG: A little wag? (laughter)

KL: My little wag. A little waggy wag. (laughter)

AG: A little swagger. (laughter)

KL: A little swagger in my wagger! (laughter)

AG: Kat, we’d like to say thank you! What we set out to accomplish interviewing you was to get to the root of who Katherine Lee is, away from the personality of “Deltalina”. Who is this person who is so well recognized and has become the face of Delta. We were the face of Delta at one point! But you have become the face! That’s all capital letters, THE face of Delta Air Lines! (laughter)

KL: It’s crazy! It’s crazy! It’s crazy good! You know what? I’m just so blessed. I think back on all the years that I waited and waited and it finally happened. So, never give up!


After taking a few pictures with Kat, some hugs, and kisses on the cheeks, we said our goodbyes. We walked away from each other whereby she blended into the crowd of international passengers rushing to catch their flights. Unbeknownst to these customers, they’ll be seeing hearing her voice and seeing her wag her finger at them very soon.

airlineguys Darin and Sylvester with Deltalina (Katherine)


airlineguys™ are Sylvester Pittman and Darin Topham. Aviation enthusiasts. 30+ (and counting) combined years of airline operation/leadership/PR experience. Former cabin crew. Discerners of great customer service.

“I’m just a down-to-earth girl” – Deltalina chats w/ the airlineguys

We’ve seen her over 2.6M times. Sassy. Confident. She grabs your attention. Once you start watching it’s difficult to look away. The voice. Clear. Each word, articulated well. Was that an accent of some sort? Not sure. The eyes. A cool blue. Piercing. The skin. Fair. Smooth. Then it comes. The moment you’ve been waiting for. Even if you haven’t been paying attention up to now, you stop what you’re doing and you look directly into her eyes and she says it. “Smoking is not allowed.” All the while she’s giving you the finger. The infamous finger wag.

 We’ve just described a moment that has taken place over 2.6M times on YouTube and countless times on Delta aircraft all around the world. What could be considered the most watched, most discussed, most debated safety video of all time features Katherine Lee as the lead flight attendant (FA). While there are many interesting and creative safety videos that have come and gone, none have captured our hearts like this one.

We recently tracked down Katherine at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.  Trust us, she’s a busy woman, who happens to fly out of the world’s busiest airport. We had requested an interview some time ago and we were finally able to arrange a sit down chat.

When we met her on the busy E Concourse, gone was the blue dress. She was casually dressed in dark-colored khakis, a white shirt, and blue zip up fleece vest. Gone was the swept-back “up-do”. Her hair was down and voluminous. Still present was her warm genuine smile, friendly blue eyes, the fair skin. Even when not dressed as the part of a FA, people recognized her. There were stares and nods of recognition as we made our way to a quieter area on E Concourse.

(A bit of background: We’ve known Katherine since 2003, the year Song Airlines, Delta’s low-fare service was launched. Since that time we’ve gotten to know her and consider her a good friend. While at Song we served as Peer Coaches together, represented Song at numerous marketing and PR events, and even flew our very last Song flight together (along with our other good friend Jo). Once we returned to Delta we again worked closely together, including facilitating customer service classes and representing the brand of Delta at various social, civil, and marketing functions. We were even in a Delta commercial together. Good times. Good times indeed!)

Jo, Darin, Sylvester, Kat – Our last Song flight together

Representing at the Today Show

After exchanging hellos and hugs we grabbed a quick bite to eat and got right into it.

AG: We’re here today speaking with Katherine Lee.

KL: Hello!

AG: Thanks for joining us. What have you been up to today?

KL: I’ve been helping FAs with their continuing training; helping them maintain their qualifications, and with safety related issues on the aircraft. Safety always comes first. And we want to make sure everybody is up to par, up to speed with what needs to be done if there were any type of emergency.

AG: So, we understand safety is the number one priority of being a FA. In addition, service is also a major part of being a FA. How important is providing service to your customers?

KL: Well, I think it’s very important. I think that’s the difference. It’s what sets us apart from other airlines. Airlines strive to be safe, and that’s the number one priority. But when it comes to customer service, that’s where you have the customers come back. That “legendary service” I like to say.

AG: How would you define customer service from your point of view? In other words, What is good customer service in your opinion?

KL: Well, I want to leave my mark on everybody. So, when they get off the plane they think “gosh, that was good flight!” and it was really, really fun because I got to fly with that crazy redhead that was in the video and she was a bundle of fun!

AG: So, it’s not like you want to leave a mark from a Sharpie, right?

KL: No, sometimes they ask for that, but I’m trying to get away from that because that can be a little bit odd. Bizarre when I have to sign in certain places. (laughter) We have an opportunity when each passenger comes on board to really make a difference and bring them back. And I know we need to work on that. And that’s what I try to do. It’s like, How do you want to be remembered when they get off the plane? It could be that they’re flying once a year and I want them to be left with a memorable experience with Delta. And remember me giving great service!

AG: So, who is Katherine Lee?

KL: I’m just a down-to-earth girl who loves my job as a FA; who loves working with people. Yeah, that’s it. That’s a harder question than I thought! Nobody ever asks me about me! (laughs)

AG: And that’s why we’re doing this interview! So, you say you’re a down-to-earth kinda girl and that you enjoy your job. You love your job as a FA. Was being a FA a life-long dream for you?

KL: You know what’s funny? My father was in the military, so growing up my first flight was when I was 11 months old my mom says. So, I’ve always been flying. I remember as a kid on the MAC (Military Airlift Command) flights, I would pick trash up and help out. My mom would ask, ‘what are you doing?’ I would say I’m just helping. I’ve always been a helper. I’m a typical Cancer, I like to take care of others. I’m just a giver. So, I think I started doing that as a child. I didn’t initially set out to be a FA. I wanted to be a vet, then a nurse, and a journalist. I thought, let me try this for a year and see what happens. And that was 15, almost 16 years ago.

AG: Wow! That’s pretty amazing. So, time is flying! Literally!

KL: Literally! (laughs) It feels like I started yesterday. It’s so crazy! This job is so amazing. It’s always a good time.

AG: What is it about being a FA that you like the most?

KL: Gosh! That’s so hard because there are so many great things! Obviously the traveling. All kinds of crazy places. I just recently did Tulsa and I had never laid over in Tulsa in all my years of flying.

AG: What?!

KL: I know! Isn’t that crazy? 31 hours! It was fun!

AG: I was in Tulsa all the time when I was flying!

KL: Really?

AG: You didn’t because you’re a speaker.

KL: I was usually flying International…Latin America. It was such a great time in the little town of Tulsa. We found some great places to eat and hang out. I think exploring new places is always at the top of the list. And meeting extraordinary people, I think, rounds out the top 2. Both of those are great.

AG: What would you say to be the most challenging part of being a FA?

KL: Dealing with carry-on baggage.

AG: Carry-on baggage?! (laughs)

KL: I’d rather eat a bug than have to deal with that baggage. (laughter) I will say this, Delta has been very proactive with checking bags at the gate. They’re being proactive to help us (the FAs) out. But it is amazing to me that people will still come on and travel with their bricks and then expect me to lift the whole thing by myself. I’m all about helping, but it’s sometimes the passengers that are the most frail who come on with the heaviest bags. And that’s just unsafe.  And number 2, the passengers who don’t want to turn off their portable electronic devices. I have an iPhone and it’s amazing how they think they turn those things off. I’m like, ‘I don’t know if you have the iPhone 10, but I turn my off where you have to swipe (gestures swiping motion), not the click.’ It’s pretty funny (laughs). Then they turn them off. So that’s #1 and #2: bags and electronic devices.

AG: So, you said you’d rather eat a bug. Is that a chocolate covered bug?

KL: Absolutely! Dark chocolate! Because it has antioxidants. Remember this, not milk or white chocolate, only dark. (laughter)

AG: That’s crazy talk! We can see that you look very healthy. Is health important to you?

KL: Absolutely! That’s why I eat a lot of Pei Wei (Asian Diner). (laughter). Brown rice. Lots of roasted veggies. Located on F Concourse. Pei Wei if you’d like for me to represent you or mention you in a tweet…(laughs)

AG: All this time we thought it was pronounced “Pee Wee”! (laughter)

KL: And his little circus, located on F Concourse! (laughter)

AG: You mentioned your father was in the military. Would you consider yourself a military brat?

KL: I am. I’m an Army brat. For sure!

AG: So, you lived in many different places?

KL: I did. All over the world. The traveling is in my blood from when I was a child. So, I adapt well to that.

AG: The airlineguys know you speak Spanish. For those who don’t know, how did a fair-skinned, light-color eyed, redhead woman come to speak Spanish so fluently?

KL: Well, my father is wondering the same thing! (laughter) And my dad thinks it was the milkman. My mother says no. You know, it’s funny. My father is from Puerto Rico. My mother is German, she still has a very thick accent. Some people thinks she’s actually speaking German when indeed she’s speaking English because her accent is so thick (laughter). But of course I don’t hear it. A lot of people say my dad sounds like Benicio del Toro. It’s odd because you don’t hear it in your own parents. But anyway, so yeah he’s from Puerto Rico so he spoke Spanish to me as a child. We also lived in Panama and Mexico growing up so I speak with more of a Mexican accent. But I haven’t been using it lately so I’m a little rusty.

AG: Well, I’m taking Rosetta Stone so we should start speaking in Spanish.

KL: Well, fantastic! Then we can watch a tele-novella together. It’s the best way to learn. (laughter)

AG: Can you say a little something in Spanish the way they would on a tele-novella?

KL: (In heavy Latin accent) Oh Sylvester! Por favor! Besame mucho! …. (tons of laughter) Click here to hear Kat speaking Spanish.  

We hope you have enjoyed Part 1 of our interview with Katherine Lee. In Part 2 of our interview she discusses superstardom. We’ll post shortly. Stay tuned…

airlineguys™ are Sylvester Pittman and Darin Topham. Aviation enthusiasts. 30+ (and counting) combined years of airline operation/leadership/PR experience. Former cabin crew. Discerners of great customer service.

Long haul or short haul? The career path of a Flight Attendant.

We were having lunch the other day at the airport when I noticed a mature (older) flight attendant having lunch. She wasn’t partaking of the usual airport food but had a lunch tote full of goodies. My first thought was, “How cool, she’s eating healthfully.” My second thought was that maybe her wages have been impacted so greatly that she can’t “afford” to eat out while flying. Either way, I concluded it’s probably a combination of the two.

As I walked away I was struck by the thought: when did it become necessary for a flight attendant to bring their food with them on their trips. Flight attendants during the “good ole’ days” didn’t have to consider doing this. Come to think of it they had more options for onboard dining from company-provided crew meals to untouched passenger meals. Also, flight attendants made more money back then so they could afford to buy lunches and dinners when they flew. Wow, how things have changed.

My mind got to wondering. Given the dramatic changes to airline industry,  “Is being a flight attendant a long term proposition anymore? Or, has the industry changed so much that the position is moving more towards what it used to be – a job to be done for only a few years?”

That's me during initial training.

Ever since the airline industry was deregulated in 1978, the industry has endured breakneck changes. Many airlines, some of them very well-known, have come and gone. With deregulation came lower pricing. Airlines then started to compete on price and less on service. The “good ole days” were quickly approaching the end of the runway.

More pronounced since the events of September 11, 2001, air travel today has become extremely stressful. Enter the TSA with their hodgepodge of rules and regulations that are inconsistent and seemingly meaningless, body scans, and pat downs. Add to this, load factors in the mid-80% range, high expectations from the traveling public, and you have a recipe for high drama in the skies.

These stresses appear to have contributed to two recent public and disturbing events involving flight attendants. The jetBlue flight attendant who ceremoniously jumped down the evacuation slide (with 2 beers). And most recently the American Airlines flight attendant who had to be restrained by fellow flight attendants and passengers. My prediction is that there are more of these types of incidents ready to happen. As some flight attendants announce on the PA: “we’re primarily here for your safety.” As such, their mental well-being is a concern that should be investigated.

To mitigate the stresses (high load factors, security concerns, mergers, bankruptcies, and pay cuts) of the job on the well-being of the flight attendant group , how likely would it be for an airline to offer a specified period of time to be a flight attendant? Say, 5 year intervals. There could be the option to renew, and a lump sum payout at the end of the time period if you, or the company, chooses not to renew. Think of the benefits for the flight attendant?

When you think about it being a flight attendant is still a good job. The travel. The people you meet. The life skills you learn. The confidence you gain. All through travel. All while getting paid. With term limits factored in, you’ll be motivated to make the most of this time to travel, explore, learn, prepare for the next step. Sounds good.

Consider this also: as a FA you come into contact with hundreds of people in the course of a days work. That’s a lot of “hellos” and “buh-byes”. Extrapolate that over a 5 year, 10 year, 40 year range and only a small percentage of people would be able to maintain the same level of enthusiasm for serving the public. The NYTimes article featuring United Airlines flight attendant Ron Akana is a great example. He’s been flying 63 years and still loves his job. I’ve met my share of Ron’s in my years as a flight attendant. However he, and a few others are unique in their enthusiasm after all these years. They are the Gold Standard.

Many flight attendants probably don’t like the idea of having term limits on being a flight attendant. Why would anyone want to give up the opportunity to earn more and work less? Consider this: some of the longest, most challenging flights, are being worked by those with the most time under their belts. They’ve said the most hellos and buh-byes. They’ve crossed the most time zones. This type of flying takes a toll on most flight attendants. Heck, working those types of flights when I was in my 30’s was a challenge!

To institute term limits on the flight attendant position, with the option to renew, would have a profound effect on the profession. I’m sure some would see it as a step backwards. Others would see it as a way to ensure that the job is still suitable as you accrue seniority.

We would love to hear your input. The good. The bad.

airlineguys™ are Sylvester Pittman and Darin Topham. Aviation enthusiasts. 30+ (and counting) combined years of airline operation/leadership/PR experience. Former cabin crew. Discerners of great customer service.

PEOPLExpress and the 6 Precepts

It was reported this week that PEOPLExpress was being re-launched. When we heard the news we were like, “what?” Then, “how cool!” For those too young to remember PEOPLExpress was THE original low-fare airline. Come to think of it they were WAY AHEAD of their time.

PEOPLExpress 737

PEOPLExpress (PE) started service on April 30, 1981 as a direct byproduct of the deregulation of the airline industry. PE encompassed the idea that airline travel should be affordable to the masses, convenient, and pleasurable; that air travel is a commodity.

What made PE unique was its pioneering spirit. Many things we take for granted today originated with PE. Their basic business plan was that the customer paid for a seat; everything else was ‘extra’. So, you paid to check baggage. You paid for snacks. You paid for drinks (even coffee). Sounds familiar huh?

I remember flying PE twice while in college. The first trip was between JAX – EWR for Spring Break in NYC. The 2nd trip was from PBI – EWR to see my brother stationed at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. I was taken aback at paying for my ticket AFTER the plane took off! PE focused mainly on secondary airports. As its operation center, they used a nearly abandoned terminal at EWR. PE was able to tap into the NY market, however, they stayed clear of the legacy carriers at JFK and LGA. Keep in mind EWR was underutilized and not as congested as JFK and LGA at the time.

Donald Burr, a former Texas Air International executive, who had an unconventional leadership approach, founded the original PE. According to a Harvard Business School paper Burr is quoted as saying, “I guess the single predominant reason that I cared about starting a new company was to try and develop a better way for people to work together . . .that’s where the name People Express came from (as well as) the whole people focus and thrust . . .It drives everything else that we do.” Burr is also quoted as saying, “Most organizations believe that humans are generally bad and you have to control them and watch them and make sure they work. At People Express, people are trusted to do a good job until they prove they definitely won’t.”

Burr’s approach to running the airline is another element that made PE unique. What was the ‘right’ way to run an airline anyway? Burr and his team came up with 6 precepts on how to operate a business. According to Webster (and we don’t mean Emmanuel Lewis) a precept is: a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought. In other words, Burr wanted a company where guiding principles (precepts) were incorporated into every decision made.

The 6 Precepts were:

(1)  Service, commitment to growth of people

(2)  Best provider of air transportation

(3)  Highest quality of management

(4)  Role model for other airlines and other businesses

(5)  Simplicity

(6)  Maximization of profits

The idea that service, commitment, and people are all together in Precept number 1 is commendable. Far too many companies today place more emphasis on maximizing profits than recognizing and rewarding employees who are committed, dedicated, responsible, high performers. Notice we used the phrase “maximizing profits.” Don’t get us wrong, making a profit is what drives a business to exist; at least for-profit businesses. So, It begs the question: how much is enough? Especially if making above and beyond what is ‘needed’ is a detriment to the business and the people you’ve entrusted to deliver the goods and services of the business. Some companies get this basic tenet of doing business. Others should look at these precepts and adopt some or all.

These precepts are straightforward, smart, and novel (in today’s world). They were a great way to operate a business back then and a great way to operate a business today. Unfortunately PE quickly got away from the precepts and its business model. They grew too much, too fast. They began to enter major airports. They suffered overcapacity as well as intense competition from other carriers. Sounds familiar, huh? As a result PE went out of business on February 1, 1987.

There is a fascinating 5 part series from the Macneil/Lehrer News Hour on the rise and fall of PEOPLExpress:

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3Part 4. Part 5.

Let’s hope that the 6 Precepts will make their way to the new PEOPLExpress and with that another forward thinking, smart, customer- and employee-centric airline will be created. We’ll stay tuned to see if the new PEOPLExpress learned lessons from the original.

New PEOPLExpress logo

Years in the making: SWA lands in Atlanta

I remember reading about Southwest Airlines years ago when I entered the aviation industry. They didn’t fly down south (at least not the southeastern US) so no one really cared to notice them. Most of my aviation friends would say things like, “XYZ  Airlines (insert any old legacy airlines’ name) isn’t worried about them.” “They’re small.” “They fly point-to-point.” “They don’t fly internationally.” “They don’t even have first class!”

Fast forward many years later. Southwest FINALLY arrives in Atlanta. February 12, 2012.

Today, however is February 11 and I’m at C20 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport awaiting the arrival of Southwest aircraft from Dallas. Streamers are being strung. Employees are hugging each other. There are agents with Pom Poms. The fire trucks are in place for a water cannon salute. Lots of excitement, cheers, and energy. You would think the arriving customers were celebs. In the world of Southwest, they are. Local media, aviation bloggers, and curious onlookers are out in full force. Cameras are flashing. Interviews are being conducted. Talk about making a grand entrance. Then again, when has Southwest ever done anything without a lot of energy? When the first plane arrives, it becomes a reality: Southwest has finally made it to Atlanta.



Later that evening we attended the “Atlanta At Last” celebration. In essence it was a “pub crawl” of 4 downtown restaurants/bars. Each restaurant offerered locally brewed Sweetwater beer and various appetizers ranging from sushi to pizza. We pub crawled to the 4 different pubs and crawled back again meeting employees, fellow aviation bloggers, and fans of the airlineguys. A very memorable meet up was with Tim, Holly, and Mark. I had met Tim and Mark earlier at the airport celebration. This was there 9th Southwest station opening; and they don’t even work for Southwest! Talk about the ultimate avgeeks! Mark, their young son (3-4 years old), has taken over 300 flights already!  Wished we could have stayed longer and met more Southwest employees but had to leave to be up and ready for 6am departure to Baltimore: the first Southwest flight to depart Atlanta.

SLy, Tim, Holly, Darin, and Mark

I arrived at the gate at 4:45am and there were 4 others waiting. All I could think about was how early a 6am departure felt to the body. Maybe it was the Sweetwater beers. Out of nowhere, and within a few minutes, there was a flurry of activity. Employees were showing up and tables were being set up. Things were kicking into gear. The gate area then became very busy. Coffee was brewed (thank goodness). Pastries were set out. And the gate agent began playing a trivia game with the customers. The agents working the flight were very kind to explain the open seating boarding process, and that we were on the first flight to depart Atlanta. Boarding was very orderly. We each received swag bags containing peanuts (of course), a luggage tag, beverage koozie, and a Southwest ball cap. One lucky customer got free roundtrip tickets in his swag bag. Surprisingly, the plane was pretty empty.


I mostly slept for the 1:40 minute flight. The crew was cordial. I believe we were all expecting some “crazy fun” or at least the “Rapping Flight Attendant”. This was THE first Southwest flight to depart Atlanta, remember? Still wondering why there wasn’t much fanfare. Anyway, the announcement upon arrival into BWI: “Like my mom told me when I was 18, get your bags and get out!” 😉

The BWI agents were rocking. Funny. Worked well as a team. Made upbeat and personable announcements. There was even a guy in the gate area who proposed to his girlfriend. By the way, she said yes.

The return flight was pretty full. Again the agents took the time to explain how things worked for those unfamiliar with open seating. I wasn’t sure if I’d like open seating boarding, and I’m still unsure, however we boarded on time and departed early. Open boarding worked well on this flight. Then again, I was in the A Group for both flights.

The return crew was young, smiled a lot, and were very professional. No jokes. No one-liners. Just lots of smiles and good eye contact. And they constantly checked on the passengers throughout the flight. All in all the flight was smooth and uneventful. We arrived back into Atlanta on time and to a gauntlet of cheers and high fives from the ground crew.

As I walked through the terminal I saw “9 Southwest station openings” Tim again! We chatted for a minute. He told me he had visited our website and had enjoyed the stories we had written thus far. As I walked away I thought, “How cool!”. Here’s someone so totally dedicated to Southwest that he and his family would come from Pennsylvania to Atlanta to attend the station opening. Southwest appears to have that effect on people, airports and communities around the US.

Atlanta’s a mature market though; and with anything that’s mature, accepting new experiences can be a challenge. We’ll continue to monitor Southwest’s progress as they grow their operation in Atlanta and will keep you posted.

Speaking of experiences we hope you enjoy our experiences as we see them. We invite you to visit our site soon and often to hear the latest.

Best wishes to Southwest!



In-flight Advertising: Opportunity or Nuisance?

If you have traveled lately, and noticed, you’ll see a trend. And we’re not speaking of the oft-ridiculed trend of charging for baggage, food, exit rows and other fees. Like the aforementioned fees, this trend too helps airlines with their bottom lines. The trend we’re speaking of is in-flight advertising in commercial airliners. Over the past 5 years advertising onboard, and on the aircraft itself, has been gaining altitude with many of the worlds’ airlines.

For as long as we can remember advertising has been a critical part of the business of operating an airline. Of course there are the tie-ins from credit card companies. Rental car companies. Hotels. There is also advertising in inflight magazines and on cocktail napkins. As former cabin crew, we made our share of promotional PAs, placed numerous branded napkins (logo side up, please), and served countless celebrity chef created meals over the years. Lately, however, many other non-travel related business have been seeking ways of elevating their brands and getting the word out on what their companies have to offer. As to be expected, there are many opinions as to how advertisers and the traveling public feel about this. Some think it is intrusive (“Can’t I just get on board and be left alone?”) others see it as a necessary way of doing business and increasing revenue. According to Ray Neidl, an analyst with Calyon Securities, if the ads are done in an appropriate manner, “it may be a long-term trend to raise additional revenues.” For the frequent flyer, many see onboard advertising as inappropriate, overreaching, and a nuisance. Some even call for advertising to be restricted to inflight magazines.

From an advertisers point of view, think about it: You have a captive audience (we were going to say an audience being held hostage however decided against that word) who may spend anywhere from 30 minutes on regional jet, to over 14 hours on some ultra long-haul flights. So, if your target audience is a captive audience, why not advertise to them? Therein lies prime revenue potential and advertisers are willing to pay lots of money to be able to advertise to an audience that has no other place to go.

Airlines have long protected the real estate of the interior and exterior of their aircraft. A plane is like a canvas. Broad. Blank. Moving. Seen by many. Many airlines have special liveries for aircraft. Now defunct airline, Western Pacific, had over 10 aircraft with special liveries advertising casinos, rental car companies, and cartoons. Southwest Airlines currently has over 25 special livery aircraft, most notably Shamu promoting their relationship with Sea World. Where many airlines including American Airlines, British Airways, and Delta Air Lines have special livery aircraft, not many have ventured down the road of advertising inside the airplane.

Enter Ryanair. Founded in 1985, the Irish, Dublin-based, low-cost airline operating a fleet of over three hundred B737s is changing how advertising is viewed inside airliners. Twenty percent of Ryanair’s revenue is derived from ancillary revenue (sources other than the price of the ticket). Because profit margins are extremely thin and volatile in the aviation industry, Ryanair has taken the often unpopular stance of looking at all avenues to raise addition revenue.

According to the Ryanair website, “display advertising is one of the most effective media formats available. Three years of research shows that advertising brands are achieving not only recall but specific message recall in excess of 82% among passengers.” On Ryanair you can find advertising on tray tables, walls, and overhead lockers (overhead bins).

Another airline that is embracing this trend is USAirways. They are noted as the first USA-based airline to advertise on tray tables. According to a 2006 story from Marketplace American Public Media, USAirways received over $10 million from onboard advertising. By 2008 that number had grown to $20 million for all of its advertising methods.

Global Onboard Partners is positioned as one of the major players in in-flight advertising. This new global advertising and media company, based in Atlanta, has gained FAA certification and provisional patents for its unique advertising products. Global Onboard Partners currently works with both low-cost and legacy carriers in several regions across the world, including the Caribbean, Europe, India, the Middle East, Mexico, and the United States.

They first made use of this new technology in 2008 when Spirit Airlines partnered the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism to transform cabin interiors into a tropical scene complete with blue skies, sandy beaches, and turquoise waters. Reports indicate the purchased advertising space was well received by customers and crews for its beautiful calming effect. “Placing advertising on surfaces of the interior of an aircraft is a complicated and regulated process. We selected [Global Onboard Partners] due to their expertise and experience in this relatively new, but sure-to-be-seen-more-of medium,” said Michael Pewther the Senior Director – Sales, Spirit Airlines.

With ad dwell time averaging 2.5 hours and  recall rates up to 94%, according to Global Onboard Partners, we’re sure to see more of this type of advertising.

As with most points of view, balance is key. As airlines continue to experience the ebb and flow of market forces, they’ll need to consider other forms of revenue. In-flight advertising is a sure, and proven way, to bridge the revenue gap. On the other hand, airlines must be mindful as to how they approach in-flight advertising as not to alienate the very core of their business: the passenger.

airlineguys™ are Sylvester Pittman and Darin Topham. Aviation enthusiasts. 30+ (and counting) combined years of airline operation/leadership/PR experience. Former cabin crew. Discerners of great customer service.