Tag Archives: hartsfield jackson atlanta international airport

Inspired by a stranger

It’s funny how someone you’ve never met before can inspire you to do something; or to do more than you have been doing. Happened to me recently on a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. After an early morning and somewhat busy day of work, I traveled to LA to meet a friend. Upon boarding my flight I found myself seated in an exit row middle seat. I’m not complaining as getting on this flight was touch and go. I made my way to the exit row and advised the gentleman in the aisle seat that I would be seated in the center seat. He stood up to allow me access to my seat when I noticed I had seen him earlier in the day while at work. Once I got settled I said, “You were at my job earlier today.” The gentleman works for a multinational company that designs, manufactures, and sells airplanes, rotorcraft, rockets and satellites. For most of the 4 hour flight we spoke about aviation, the aerospace industry, airplanes, and all that goes into designing, making and selling them. I learned a lot! To say I was on Cloud 9 would be an understatement. When we arrived at LAX we exchanged business cards and made a point to say we would keep in touch. To keep my word, I sent a follow up email letting him know what a pleasure it was to meet and that my trip to LA had went well (was attending a listening party for the singer/songwriter Seal). In keeping his word, he responded back. It was during his response that he mentioned he had visited the AirlineGuys website and noticed I hadn’t written anything in a bit. Color me embarrassed. I thank him for the reminder and said I would “get on it.”

So, here I am writing to you because a stranger inspired me.

Happy landings,

Sylvester

Once a Virgin always a Virgin

While standing out on the south parking decks at ATL yesterday, I realized it was one of “those” moments. We were awaiting the arrival of the first Virgin Atlantic Airways jet to arrive at ATL. Not only was this the first Virgin aircraft to arrive at ATL, it was a Boeing 787-9! As reported from the official site for this special flight this will be the “first ever gig streamed mid-air from Virgin Atlantic’s new connected 787.” The flight featured performances by 2 of the UK’s hottest acts: Gorgon City and Rudimental. We have to say the SoundCloud performances (the London Mix was phenomenal) had us dancing, albeit from home. We weren’t lucky enough to be one of the lucky passengers on board. From the sound of things fun was had during the excursion from London to Atlanta!

The Virgin brand has always been about what’s “in”, fun, hip, cool, chic, even edgy. Whether it’s marketing, advertisements, activations, the on board experience, or uniforms, they pay attention to every detail. Throughout the travel ribbon you know you’re traveling on Virgin. There’s a sense of excitement, journey, and adventure. Sir Richard Branson is the brand. He is all of the above and has done a bang up job making sure the brand remains intact. As Delta now owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic, it is our hope that the little airline that has stood up to the likes of British Airways and has carved out a niche, is able to retain its brand and not succumb to any pressures to be more mainstream.

Pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

This is not the first time Delta has canoodled with a Virgin. Back in the mid-90s Delta and Virgin Atlantic placed their airline codes on certain flights between London (both LGW and LHR) and several US cities (LAX, SFO, JFK, EWR, BOS, MCO). Back then Delta took the code-share arrangement one step further than placing their code on Virgin Atlantic flights: Delta actually had its flight attendants on board these code-share flights. I was lucky enough to have this experience and spent 2 weeks in Crawley, just outside of London, at the Virgin training facility. We spent a good bit of the time learning the emergency procedures required as a Virgin flight attendant. I even learned what a “torch” and a “loud hailer” were. Training was intense. We had to learn all about the different types of 747s. The 747-400’s were easier as they were standard. The “Classics”, the 747-200’s complete with spiral staircases, were all slightly different. One, G-VMIA (India Alpha), had 2 lower galleys. Highlights of the training included learning how to deliver Virgin-style service on board. They were meticulous in how to serve Virgin customers. I can clearly remember the instructor saying: “When delivering a beverage to a customer, place the drip mat (napkin) down logo facing up, facing the customer. Richard (Branson) doesn’t print these for the customer not to see the Virgin logo.” Wow! Simple concept. It’s all about the details.

My friend CLiff and me at the Virgin training facility in Crawley.

My friend CLiff and me at the Virgin training facility in Crawley.

I even had the opportunity to meet Richard at his home in Oxford during one of the summer parties given for employees of the Virgin brand empire. We were standing near the front door of his home when he just popped out! I was taken with his unassuming and down-to-earth nature. We spoke with him for a few minutes letting him know we were Delta FAs flying the code-share flights. He thanked us for our work and then went into the crowd of hundreds who were in attendance. It was very surreal. It was one of “those” moments.

Seeing the Virgin 787 land at ATL brought back many memories of my Virgin experiences. Many companies could learn a lot from Virgin on how to deliver a better experience for its customers. Looking forward to seeing their aircraft regularly grace the skies of Atlanta soon. Thanks for the memories Virgin!

#flightdecks pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

#flightdecks pic courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Sylvester

 

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

Delta Sky Deck – an observation

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Observation decks are reminiscent of the glory days of flying. There was a time when people would go out to airports for the sake of watching planes from these excellent vantage points. A few airports in the world still have them. They’re definitely a thing of a bygone era.  When we heard Delta was opening “observation decks” at two locations (JFK and ATL) we were over-the-moon with excitement.

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Dramatic red tarpaulins dissecting the blue skies

On June 10, 2013 Delta opened an all-new 1,710 sq ft Sky Deck at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The Sky Deck is an extension of the Sky Club, Delta’s lounge for frequent fliers and is located on F Concourse at the Maynard JacksonTerminal.
We were given the opportunity to visit the Delta Sky Deck and here is our account.
When entering the Delta Sky Club on F Concourse our first impression was modern and clean. Once inside the Club we were greeted by an immense, 2-story glass wall which gave us a bird’s eye view of the taxiways, runways, and the airport control tower. Talk about avgeek heaven! The Club is standard in its look and feel across the Delta domestic system. There is ample seating arranged individually and group seating configurations, business center, work stations, quiet area, high top tables, bar area, espresso/coffee machine, and a variety of snacks (from sweet to savory, from healthy to indulgent). Other amenities included power ports to charge your electronic devices and free wifi. We did notice that the wifi was very slow. We surmised it may have been slow due to the number of passengers in the lounge at this time.
What makes this Sky Club unique, like its counterpart at JFK, is the Sky Deck; a partially enclosed outside seating and gathering place for Sky Club members. Cozy sofas, chairs, ornamental shrubs, and high top tables adorn this oasis. The blue sky was dissected by large red decorative tarpaulins. Members have an unfettered view of all the airport activity going on below. During our visit there was a Delta 747 destined for Tokyo, a 737 parked just below, and we even saw the Delta 767-400 BCRF plane (pink plane) taxiing by. Being on the Sky Deck harkened back to an era that no longer exists at many of the world’s airports. We both agreed that more Delta Sky Clubs should have Sky Decks.

At both ATL and JFK, Delta collaborated and partnered with Architectural Digest and designer Thom Filicia to develop the Sky Deck terraces. Many may remember Thom Filicia as the interior design expert in the highly enjoyable, amazingly energetic, Emmy-Award winning hit show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

For those who are not a member of the Sky Club, and want to have this unique experience, there are various ways to gain access. These include, but aren’t limited to: paid membership, using miles for membership, purchasing a 30-day or 1-day pass, and various options through the SkyMiles American Express Card. Please click to see what options are best for you, locations, and amenities offered at Delta Sky Clubs.
We enjoyed our time at the Sky Deck at the Sky Club on F Concourse at ATL. When your future plans take you via Atlanta and you have time, you should definitely check it out.
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Sylvester & Darin

AJC article — “Absolutely beautiful, the sheer monster size of it” — Korean Air A380 lands in Atlanta

We had the pleasure to speak with AJC aviation reporter Kelly Yamanouchi recently to discuss aviation and the arrival of the Korean Air A380…the world’s largest passenger plane. Here is the article. Thank you Kelly for helping us to spread the word on how truly wonderful aviation is.

Sylvester Pittman and Darin Topham, airlineguys

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Korean Air A380 taxis to gate at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Picture provided by airlineguys

 

BY KELLY YAMANOUCHI – THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Airport workers stopped their tugs to watch. Catering employees came out to take a look. A child atop the Terminal South parking garage stood on a cooler for a better view. Dozens of adults pulled out their cameras and smartphones to capture a piece of history.

And, yes, time stood still.

At least, that’s how it felt to Sylvester Pittman.

“It was almost as if traffic sort of stopped for a moment as that plane came in,” Pittman recalled, savoring a moment that, for him and Atlanta’s legions of av geeks, had been a very, very long time coming.

And yes, that’s av geeks — short for aviation geeks, the tribe of airplane connoisseurs for whom last week’s arrival of the first Airbus A380 to fly into Hartsfield-Jackson was almost a religious event.

You see, for av geeks, an airplane is more than just a mode of transportation. It’s a fabulous machine. A technological wonder. A thing of beauty.

The super-jumbo Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, has been flying around the world since 2007. But the world’s busiest airport was not on its itinerary, much to the frustration of Atlanta’s av geeks.

“It seemed like it was never going to become a reality,” Pittman said.

The day finally arrived exactly one week ago when a Korean Air flight from Seoul touched down.

“Amazing,” rhapsodized Pittman.

“Absolutely beautiful,” breathed av geek Jeanene Wilson, “the sheer monster size of it.”

(How big is the A380? Big enough to carry 853 passengers, though current versions are configured to carry far fewer. Powerful enough to lift off weighing more than 1.2 million pounds.)

As you might expect, Atlanta’s enormous aviation industry supports a strong, close-knit community of passionate av geeks.

Pittman and his friend Darin Topham, both former Delta employees, run a website called airlineguys.com targeted at that community.

These are folks who track flights online and on apps, following them around the world as if the planes were celebrities. They travel to other cities just to hang out at the airport and watch planes take off and land.

Sometimes they’re stalking a specific plane, like the A380 or the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Sometimes they’re content to watch any plane, every plane, all the planes they can.

Av geek Chris Byington grew up in Washington, D.C. watching the Concorde come and go. On Wednesday he watched the A380’s second landing in Atlanta, marveling at how he could smell the jet fuel and see the grass ripple from the engine blast.

A 27-year-old MBA student at Georgia State, he visits Hartsfield-Jackson about once a month, just to plane-watch. “It’s just cool,” he said. “I guess I’m still a little kid.”

Pittman has flown to Los Angeles and Washington to indulge in plane spotting. Wilson likes to travel to the Caribbean island of St. Maarten to watch planes fly directly over her head on a beach near the airport.

Craig Campbell, an ExpressJet dispatcher who took photos of Wednesday’s A380 touchdown, flew to Boston this weekend to embark on a plane-spotting cruise.

It doesn’t take an av geek to understand the fascination of a behemoth like the A380. But listening to them talk planes is like listening to wine snobs wax poetic over rare vintages.

The 777? “Always a delight to see,” Pittman said.

The 747? “Never ever gets old. Just never gets old.”

The 787? “It’s a very, very beautiful plane. The technology alone makes it very special. The profile makes it top notch.”

Huh?

“The nose makes it beautiful, and how the engines sit on the wings,” he strove to explain. “The vertical stabilizer also kind of makes the profile complete.”

OK. Maybe non-geeks will see what he means once the 787 arrives in Atlanta, an event for which no date is yet set.

“We can only hope,” Pittman said. “And the day that happens, we will definitely be out there.”

Pittman’s affection for planes was kindled when he took his first airline flight in the summer of 1981 at the age of 16.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Saturday,” a flight back from a summer program in Atlanta to his home in Florida, he said. “And after that trip, I knew, this was it. I was hooked.”

That summer, he also toured the Atlanta airport’s new terminal complex, which had opened the previous fall.

“We went out to the airport and rode the train from concourse to concourse,” Pittman said. The people-mover train “was very futuristic at the time.”

He knows that when most people think about air travel, they think of the delays, the security hassles and the baggage fees.

But in the community of av geeks, “We also still embrace the wonderment about what aviation is all about,” Pittman said.

“It all culminates to going down the runway and lifting off, and being free from the earth and being able to fly.”

Korean Air inaugurates A380 service to Atlanta

It had been a long time coming. The arrival of the Airbus A380 to ATL, that is. While other airports welcomed the A380 with opened runways and taxiways, ATL wasn’t ready or prepared for the arrival of the world’s largest passenger airplane.

The title of a 2005 article in AccessNorthGa summed it up: “Airbus A380 won’t be landing in Atlanta anytime soon”. During this time airport general manager, Ben DeCosta stated ATL is not approved to land the A380 and didn’t think the market could support the double-decker superjumbo. Furthermore, it would also cost millions of dollars to widen taxiways and install additional jetways to help offload passengers on this plane which can accommodate between 500-800. Back then airport spokeswoman Felicia Browder said, “It’s just not the time or place. That’s just the mind of the (airport’s) leadership right now.”

Fast forward to September 1, 2013. After a few cancelled announcements of the commencement of A380 service to Atlanta, Korean Air finally touched down at Atlanta to much fanfare.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So, here are a few pictures celebrating the arrival of KE 35 to Atlanta.

To see the FULL celebration visit our Flickr page by clicking here. Enjoy!

An Unlikely Resting Place

An Unlikely Resting Place

Nestled between two runways, at the world’s busiest airport, you’ll find an unlikely resting place. Between the takeoffs and landings of RJs and jumbo jets you’ll find a place that’s serene, peaceful, and reflective. It’s the Flat Rock Cemetery.

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Having lived in Atlanta in the early 90s, we knew of this cemetery and the area that surrounded it. During the early 90s, and before the latest airport expansion took place, this area was home to many families. Single family homes, cottages, and apartment buildings were shaded by oaks and pecan trees. Today this area is unrecognizable. Gone are the homes, schools, parks, and most of the trees. One thing that hasn’t changed is the Flat Rock Cemetery.

We visited the Flat Rock Cemetery recently to take a look around. And here’s what we learned.

The Flat Rock Community was settled just before the Civil War by inhabitants who were farmers. In the year 1872 they establish the Flat Rock Baptist Church and erected the first building in 1875. Over the years the congregation grew. However, in the 1960s as the Atlanta Airport began to expand the congregation of Flat Rock Baptist began to dwindle. By 1970 the land of Flat Rock Baptist, except the cemetery, was sold to the City of Atlanta. The oldest marker is  from the year 1877.

Of the pics taken at the Cemetery, this one has to be the most fascinating. If you look closely you’ll see a green apparition. Not one to believe in such things, seeing this has really freaked me out. The pic has been shared with those into psychic and paranormal activity and some of the things that have come back have been interesting. One clairvoyant says, “it’s been around for awhile, seems very active with spirits (some good, some not so much), there’s an uncomfortable yet calming feeling about this pic.” We showed the pic to a medium and she said, “First impression, angelic guardianship of the souls there. Second, healing of souls there.”

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While at the Cemetery one of the most profound moments was seeing the grave markers for the Thrailkill children. Four of their children all passed away within the first year of their lives. The medium tends to think it may be one of the the children.

I know many people don’t believe in this type of phenomena, and this is understandable. All I’m doing is reporting what was observed on this visit to the Flat Rock Cemetery.

The next time you’re in Atlanta and have time we encourage you to swing by and take a look around. Not only is this a historical place and peaceful place, it’s also a great place to watch planes take off from the world’s busiest airport.

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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

Superstar

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.

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!

 

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