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Here's a light, easy, breezy read, ideal for something to take on your next flight.

Author Heather Poole's 17 years as a flight attendant give her plenty of 'war stories' and anecdotes with which to entertain and engage us.

 
 
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Cruising Attitude

Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet

Available as both an eBook and a paperbook book, and costing about $10, Cruising Attitude is a fun enjoyable collection of vignettes about life as a flight attendant.

 

 

Many of us spend too much time interacting with flight attendants and airline staff in general, and most of us have formed some broad impressions of the people we encounter.

But few of us ever really wonder about what and how the flight attendants perceive us (other than as 'the enemy'), and of what their life is like and how their own experiences differ from ours as passengers.  Those of us who do wonder are forced to speculate with very little real knowledge of the realities of their lives and probably don't appreciate how very different their experiences and lives are from our own - both on and off the planes.

Cruising Attitude is a very readable and engaging account of one flight attendant's 17 years of experiences, giving us some gossip and grins as well as some insights into life as a flight attendant.

 Recommended.

About the Book

The larger than standard sized paperback book (called a 'trade paperback') measures 7.8" x 5.3", and is 0.9" in thickness.  It has 259 pages and about 80,000 words, with medium sized and well spaced type.  It was published in March 2012.  If you buy the paperback, it will weigh 7.1 oz, if you buy the Kindle version, it of course weighs nothing at all.

The book is printed onto lower grade off-white paper, and has no illustrations.  It is printed in black only, and there are no illustrations of any sort.

The book lists for $14.99, but can be purchased on Amazon for less of course - currently showing as $10.19.  It is also available in Kindle format, for $9.99.

The book has fifteen chapters.  It is set out in a semi-chronological order - the first few chapters recount the author's first experiences as a flight attendant for a low cost charter operator, her training for her 'real' job and her first few months as a probationary flight attendant.

The rest of the book is more episodic in nature, with anecdotes strung together by theme, and there's no real ending or conclusion, other than a teaser to watch for future books in what the author clearly hopes will become a multi-title series.

About the Author

Heather Poole, author of Cruising AttitudeHeather Poole has been a flight attendant with American Airlines for the last 17 years, and spent a short time working for a now defunct charter carrier, Sun Jet International, prior to joining AA in 1995.

Note she doesn't disclose the name of her airline anywhere in the book - indeed, it was probably a condition of her continued employment that she keep her airline employer semi-anonymous.  But there are a few clues sprinkled through the text that limit the number of possible airlines, and one big clue that makes it almost certain she is an AA employee - her recital of airplane types operated by the unnamed airline when she joined it in 1995.

Ms Poole provides little personal background that doesn't relate directly to her work, but it seems that prior to becoming a flight attendant and after graduating college, she worked as a watch designer for a couple of years.

She is also strangely silent on why she chose to become a flight attendant - perhaps it was a capricious whim carried out at the urging of her mother, who interestingly became a flight attendant herself, some two years after Poole, causing for subsequent occasional shared flights with both mother and daughter working as flight attendants (and with the daughter as the more senior of the two).

Poole is also completely silent on her father, apart from one mention of wondering if he had died in a discussion with her mother.  She apparently also has a younger sister, who she sometimes speculates about matching up with some of the dishier men she encounters in her work.

Ms Poole seems to be in her very early 40s, is married, and has at least one child.  She lives in the Los Angeles area, but is based out of New York, making for a very long commute to and from work.

Her publicist confirms that Heather Poole is her real name, so if you see a woman more or less as pictured here, wearing a 'Heather' name badge on your next AA flight, then quite possibly it is her.

She has her own blog and also writes columns for various other online publications.

What the Book Contains

Ms Poole's book is already proving to be very popular.  It is a fun read, full of salacious gossip and overlaid with lots of innuendo - almost all the flight attendants she describes are depicted as drop dead gorgeous model type creatures, many in Size 0 dresses, wearing very short mini-skirts and most of them aggressively man-hunting - alas, the only time I've encountered such flight crews have been either while dreaming or when flying on a non American carrier.  Ms Poole herself is both photogenic and blessed with an appealing outgoing personality, making her and the stories she has to tell a desirable guest on shows such as Good Morning America.

As for the older dragon type creatures that seem to staff most of the flights I take, Ms Poole's comments are limited to approval that the average age of flight attendants is now about 40 at American Airlines whereas in the 1970s, the average length of employment for a flight attendant was a mere 18 months.  (In actual fact, she may be understating this.  According to this article, 40% of US flight attendants are aged over 50.)

The book has an interesting disclaimer in its opening title pages.  In addition to saying that some names of people have been changed, Ms Poole also says some characters are 'composite characters', some timelines have been compressed (to preserve the narrative flow) and that the goal was to capture certain qualities in people that she felt best defined what life as a flight attendant is really like.

One could argue that such editorial enhancements actually do the opposite - rather than capturing what life as a flight attendant is really like, it does quite the opposite and over-dramatizes things.

For example, in her stories, we read about how busy she and her colleagues are on flights, but as we all know, much of many flights shows the flight attendants to be gossiping among themselves in the back, or in some other way fighting off boredom and passing the time until their next bit of actual work comes due.

She makes a big thing about being required to say hello and goodbye to every passenger on every flight - and makes this seem like an onerous duty.  Some of us find being pleasant and saying hello and goodbye to be fairly easy.

Furthermore, and although I don't fly AA all that much, but certainly none of the other airlines I've ever been on have had all the flight attendants lined up at the door saying hello cheerfully as I board the plane, and saying goodbye equally cheerfully as I deplane again.  As often as not, I'm totally ignored when boarding the plane, and while there is usually a flight attendant or two at the door upon deplaning, there is never all of them all lined up and chorusing their hellos or goodbyes.

It is kind and fair of Ms Poole to confess that the book is a dramatization of real life in the fine print up front, but it becomes easy to forget that as we then read through the 259 pages of dramatically enhanced narrative that follow.

It was interesting to read about the training process - sometimes referred to as 'Barbie Boot Camp' or 'The Charm Farm' - a 7 1/2 week course with a 25% attrition rate during the course, but it would have been more interesting to know more about exactly what was taught during that time, how many hours a day the classes were, did they work weekends too, etc etc.

How long does it take to learn how to pass out food from a cart?  She makes it seem complicated, but what were the complications that she needed to master?  And so on.

I truly don't know how a 7 1/2 week course could be filled.  How much of it is devoted to customer service, and how much to customer safety?  Did they get to jump down an inflatable slide (she implies they get to open the doors in a mock emergency, but how about going down the slide)?  And so on - I'm sure it would be interesting to many of us to better understand what skills and training the flight attendants acquire.

She also indicates that there are annual refresher courses.  How many days are these courses?  What are they taught?

The book is very episodic, and probably this is because (I am guessing) it is a compilation of her blog entries written over several years prior to now, somewhat rewritten to provide a smoother narrative flow.

The Worst Flights/Passengers

It was interesting to read her section where she lists the two worst routes to work.  These are between New York (where she appears to be based, even now some 17 years later) and Vail (the worst route of all) and between New York and Miami (a close second).

Both routes are 'bad' not because of flight length, or propensity for delays or bad weather, or anything like that.  They are bad because of the types of passengers she encounters on them.

Vail is bad due to very wealthy passengers with fur coats.  Miami is bad due to 'very pushy' passengers.

I suppose this is only fair, because we as passengers also have our own personal best and worst routes, based on the ones where the rudest and most aggressive flight attendants are most commonly to be found or not found (United's trans-Pacific routes often feature prominently as one of the worst of all routes to fly).

A Cure for Ears Popping (or Not Popping)

I learned a new thing myself when reading the section on the pain and problems one can experience as the plane descends and one's ears need to adjust to the increasing pressure returning to the cabin (for some strange reason it never seems to be such a problem when planes are ascending, but rather when they are descending).

Her solution - if the usual techniques of yawning and swallowing and breathing through a slightly obstructed nose don't work - is to use a pair of 'Ear Plane' ear plug type things.  Here's a product page on Amazon with a range of different Ear Plane type products - they are particularly suitable for smaller children who are more likely to have problems due to the smaller size of their ear passages.

Note if you're buying these for children, be sure to get a child size set rather than a regular adult size.

What the Book Doesn't Contain

One of the most interesting things the book didn't really tell us much about was the relationship of flight attendants to other flight attendants in terms of just about everything - work relationships, rivalries, issues and problems, and of course, in keeping with the tone of the book in general, social/sexual relationships too.

Sure, there are various comments about issues and interactions with other flight attendants on the job, and various thumbnail portraits of women she has roomed with, but one would think there are at least as many juicy stories to be told about other flight attendants as there are about passengers.

It would also have been interesting to know more about the relationships between pilots and flight attendants.  Again, some skeletal details were included, but one is left feeling there is a lot more that could be told on this topic, too.

She touches lightly on the fact that some flight attendants and some pilots seem to get on well, and others seem to be instantly anti-each other, and she mentions the label 'Cockpit Connie' as being applied to some flight attendants who are unusually eager to experience assignations with pilots.  But apart from hints and oblique mentions, there's not a lot of detail provided.

Do flight crew really have outrageous parties when overnighting somewhere, such as depicted in this fictional but hilarious account?

Another interesting thing would be the relationship between flight attendants and gate agents, and between them and airline management.  Is there an adversarial or cooperative relationship between flight attendants and gate agents?  My sense is that at times there can be an adversarial relationship, but she is totally silent on this point.

And apart from indicating that the training process was very rigorous, and that during the six month probationary period, it is perilously easy to get fired, what about beyond that point?  We as passengers sometimes perceive the flight attendants as being supremely confident that they can't be fired, no matter how rude or surly they are in their dealings with us.  Is this indeed so?

How about the union vs management collective bargaining and general relationships?  There were only the most oblique of comments about changes in working conditions and pay rates after 9/11, something which we are lead to believe has been a massive change for the employees.

What about all the layoffs that have occurred, and the gradual return to work of many of the laid off people?  Has her own career been impacted by that?  What do other flight attendants do when laid off?  Is there any warning?  What is the likelihood of being rehired again?

How about the inside scoop on all the fabulous travel benefits many people perceive all airline industry employees as having?  She is again vague about that, making only a few oblique references to their perceived desirability, combined with some comments about how 'buddy passes' aren't as good as people think they are.

It would have been interesting to really truly understand what types of flight benefits airline employees do get.  Does she have unlimited free travel?  Only space available or some positive space too?  Can she fly in first class as well as coach?  How does her boarding priority and access to first class compare to that of us, as fare paying passengers, and as premium level frequent fliers hoping for upgrades?  These are the sorts of inside stories we'd love to understand.

One senses from her silence (and her ability to live in Los Angeles while reporting for work in New York) that the benefits are probably still present and of appreciable value.

The teaser text on the back cover of the book says 'she knows what goes on behind the scenes, things the passengers would never dream'.  It is true that the teaser text doesn't go on to say 'and she reveals all' because there are sadly few if any revelations of behind the scenes activity such as we passengers would never dream of.

Clearly, Ms Poole has been careful to restrict her comments so as to ensure she doesn't suffer career consequences.  Perhaps a future book in what she seems to wish to make a series; a book written after she has retired, will flesh out these issues in much more vivid detail.  Until that time one is left with a slight feeling that she has unfairly chosen to focus on the idiosyncrasies of passengers, while overlooking the rich vein of other material that she could also share with us if so minded.

Is She 'One of Us' or 'One of Them'?

The reality of travel these days is that our relationship with the flight attendants on a plane is many times adversarial - very much more so than in the 'good old days'.

In part this is due to flight attendants now necessarily viewing us - their passengers - as potential terrorists poised to attack them at any moment, causing them to be alert and ready to use the new self defense skills they've learned in their annual refresher training against us in turn.

In part it is due to us as passengers being more frustrated and put-upon by the increasingly nasty business of travel, and in part, it is due to the flight attendants feeling embittered about new less positive working environments and reduced benefits.  Every time they see a full plane, they not only see more work for them (they of course get paid the same whether the flight is full or empty) but they also see no empty seats that they could be using for their space available standby type travel privileges - privileges which, due to the reduced frequency of flights and much greater passenger loadings, have presumably become less valuable to them.

So - and you won't read this in the book - these days both passengers and flight attendants start off more or less on the wrong foot, with both sides half way to breaking down into a hissy fit at the slightest provocation, with the inequality being that typically it is only one passenger on one side of the problem, but all the flight attendants united as one, together with the pilots and ground staff, amassed against us on the other side.

We know this and the flight attendants know it too - in Ms Poole's case, she talks at great length about crazy passengers (of course, it would be harder to write and sell a book all about ordinary passengers doing ordinary things) and she also talks about rude passengers, annoying passengers, and every other type of bad passenger, confining her comments about 'good' passengers largely to laments about how rare they are.

Perhaps her focus primarily on 'crazy' passengers reveals her unsurprising view of the world she works in - one populated by crazy passengers and sympathetic beautiful hard working co-workers.

Ms Poole comes across as a very personable and friendly lady, full of bubbly good humor, as well as a leavening of personal frailties such as we all have, to say nothing of clearly having a healthy interest in sexual matters (did we really need to know she bought some cheap contraceptive pills on a whim while on a trip to Mexico City?).

It is easy to like her and to think of her as 'one of us'.

But she also gives examples - with her own clear approval - of flight attendants getting their own back when dealing with bad/nasty passengers, and gives some hints of other potential means of revenge that may be possibly employed on occasion too.

She also mentions merely as an eccentricity rather than as an appalling example of customer disservice the flight attendant who was renowned for closing down the galleys and refusing to serve passengers any more food or drink well prior to the normal point for service to end closer to the flight's ending.

Her perception of her work, and the passengers she is paid to work with and for, is often colored by what is easiest for her, not what is best for us.

For example, she emphatically stresses that while she might partially assist someone with lifting a heavy carry-on into the overhead, there is no way she'll do it all by herself.  Her phrase is 'You pack it, you lift it'; and while there is some fairness in what she says, her attitude reminds me of Aeroflot flight attendants and their sometimes rude refusals to help passengers lifting their carry-ons into the overheads.

The reality is that the people who most need help are not fit strong men with super heavy carry-ons.  They are more likely to be frail elderly ladies, traveling alone, with an only moderately weighted carry-on item.  But Ms Poole feels it perfectly proper to refuse to lift their carry-on up for them.

Think also about the other part of this refusal.  Her refusal to lift the bag, and/or a clumsy uncoordinated 'assist', increases the likelihood of the bag being fumbled and dropped, landing possibly on an already seated passenger.  As we all know, the mantra of flight attendants who prefer not to help us with anything at all is that they aren't there to serve passengers, but merely to protect our safety.  Isn't ensuring that bags don't fall on us a valid part of protecting our safety?

Imagine if the UPS driver came to our door and said 'You ordered it, you carry it in from my truck'.

She also quotes with approval pilots who leave the seat belt sign on for an entire flight, and for no good reason.  It makes her job easier not to have people clogging up the aisles.  She shows no thought or concern at all about the impact this has on people wishing to use a restroom.

But - newsflash, Ms Poole.  It isn't all about you and making your job easier.  And while passenger safety may be your primary tasking, it isn't your only duty on board.

If there were no passengers, there'd be no flights, and if there were no flights, there'd be neither jobs nor free tickets for the flight attendants.  Ms Poole needs to realize that passengers - good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant - are not the enemy.  They are fellow sufferers of the system and service created by the airlines.

Of course, we in turn need to realize that flight attendants are not necessarily the enemy either - if we treat them well, they may treat us fairly in return.  It isn't their fault if they run out of a food or beverage item, and it isn't their fault if there is no blanket, if the seat is broken, and so on.

But, for many of us, our relationship with a flight attendant has become a bit like our relationship with a wild animal.  Treat the animal carefully, make no sudden moves, don't corner it or threaten its offspring, because you never know what won't suddenly cause the animal to instantly attack you - or in the case of flight attendants, to create a malicious fiction that causes you to be arrested and charged with totally false but very serious federal crimes without any fear of any negative consequence if their outright lies are subsequently exposed as the vile untruths they are.

Alas, as pleasantly and positively as Ms Poole recounts her experiences, the occasional flash of malice, underneath the glossy surface that she's been professionally trained to present, reveals her to be 'one of them' rather than 'one of us'.

For example, she uncritically repeats the 'turn off all electronics' mantra without any explanation or justification - 'Do it because I say you must' seems to be sufficient for her.  She acknowledges it is unpopular and controversial, but fails to then give any further commentary on the topic.

Cross her - and her colleagues - at your peril.

Summary

Cruising Attitude is an easy read, and while the author doesn't spare us the hardships she and her colleagues encountered, she does so in a breezy and positive manner that endears her and her story to us.

You can randomly flip the book to almost any page and immediately find yourself reading a fun and interesting vignette of some aspect of life as a flight attendant.  Not only is the content compelling, but its short episodic nature makes it well suited for reading in short bursts.

The book doesn't really end.  Instead, Ms Poole indicates that she plans additional books in what she clearly hopes to make an ongoing series.  If her future books are as enjoyable and easy to read as her first book, you can certainly put me down as an enthusiastic purchaser.

My comments in the review may seem as criticisms.  Perhaps, in part, they are; but more than that, they are an attempt to put her book and story in a broader perspective, a perspective which she doesn't really provide herself.

It was probably never a realistic thing to expect a true expose of life as a flight attendant from someone keen to remain employed as a flight attendant, and of course she will write up the interesting exciting fun stuff in preference to the boring ordinary and dull stuff, which we'd not want to read in any event.  Maybe subsequent books in her series will address some of the omissions in her first title.

I did like the book for what it was.  Whether you're a frequent flier, a seldom flier, or even if you don't fly at all, you're sure to enjoy this book.  It lists for $14.99 and is available at a discount on Amazon (in both paperback and Kindle formats) and doubtless in most other bookstores too.

Recommended.
 

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Originally published 23 Mar 2012, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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