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Heather Poole & The Secret World of Flight Attendants

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Heather Poole. Credit: Adam Almeida

Every week we report on all the craziness that goes on up in the air, but we rarely get to hear from the first person on the scene—the flight attendant. That’s why we always try to talk to and listen to Heather Poole, author of the New York Times bestseller Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. Peter sat down with her to find out about her new memoir, her travel tips and her biggest passenger peeves.

Peter Greenberg: Heather, I have to tell you in the interest of full disclosure, I have actually trained in the simulators, both the cockpit and the cabin, so I’ve done what you’ve done. I believe if you can’t appreciate the process, you can’t value the product.

And so I’ve actually worked a couple of flights, and I have to tell everybody it is not an easy job. At the end of that, I needed a vacation for just one cycle of doing these turnarounds. I was done for a week.

Heather Poole: I know, but we are survivors as flight attendants. You have to be to do this job. You are awesome to have walked a mile in our shoes. You should run for airline CEO.

PG:  Let’s talk about your book. It’s great memoir that also has some practical tips in there. It’s packing advice, but also why it’s a bad idea to fall for pilots. Help me out on this one, Heather…

HP: Because of the mysterious lifestyle of the flight attendant, everyone assumes that we’re all getting together with pilots. But you have to remember, there are so many more of us than there are of them. I don’t think it’s happening any more than it happens in other jobs. It’s just that at the end of the day, we end up at a hotel, and everyone’s imaginations run with that.

Remember the pilot looks more like Danny DeVito than he does Rob Lowe. I’m sure pilots feel the same way about us flights attendants in a lot of cases too to be fair.

PG: There’s something else in your book too. You say it’s a bad idea for flight attendants to fall for pilots, but you say it’s a good idea to fall for a business-class passenger. Can you explain?

HP: At the end of the day, business travelers have a better idea of what my job is all about. I’ve seen people, who have relationship trouble because their significant other is on the ground, and they just assume that being a flight attendant is this wonderful thing. But, as you know really, it’s pretty hard. Luckily, my husband travels more than I do, so he understands. When I go to dinner with the flight crew he doesn’t get upset, and when he treats himself to a night out, I don’t get upset, because I know how hard travel can be, and if you can find any sort of joy, go for it.

PG: Okay, so here’s my question. Where did you meet your husband?

Heather Poole and fellow flight attendants

HP: He was in business class on my flight. Here’s the thing. He was a man with a plan. He came on board with his own sandwich, and you don’t see that very often in business class, and he offered me a bite. People don’t really offer us much. In fact, they take from us. They don’t give us anything. And he was nice. We’re so hungry. It’s torture working a meal cart sometimes.

PG: Heather, what’s the biggest tip that’s going to help people be better travelers?

HP: People are more in their own heads today. They’re not thinking about what’s going on with everybody else. Social media enables that. You know, not everyone is guilty. Not everyone means to hit you in the head with their bag. Not everyone knows that you’re on your computer when you sling your seat back back. If we are more aware of our surroundings and we are maybe a little more patient,  we will be better travelers.

In the beginning, it used to be flight attendants against passengers. Today, it’s just everyone against everyone. Everyone’s quick to react and assume the worst, and it doesn’t have to be like that.

Your trip starts the minute you step on the plane. A lot of people like to pretend that the trip starts after the flight, but the fact is the flight has an effect on the entire trip. Enjoy it. Relax. Take advantage of that quiet time when you have a chance to relax and read a book.

PG: Since 9/11, flight attendants have been put in an uncomfortable position because you’re also sky cops now too.

HP: That’s not fun. And the electronic device policy makes it even worse. It’s just getting harder and harder. Now, I don’t just have to say it three times. I have to hover. I have to sit around and wait. Now, no one likes me.

PG: I have to admit something, Heather. I’m one of those guys who tries to cheat. I actually will keep my Blackberry on until you actually come over and say to me, “Turn it off.” Then once you say, “Turn it off,” I do. But I’m hoping you’re not going to see me. I’m one of those guys.

HP: I know all the tricks. I’ll find you. It’s funny, because some guys will sit there with their hands between their legs talking to the floor. I’m like, “Really? You don’t think we can see that?”

At least try and be a little discreet. I just don’t want to be the bad guy. People think that because we’re the face of the airline, if something goes wrong, then it’s our fault. I just thought if people had a better idea of what our lives are really like, they’ll maybe give us a break, too.

PG: Last question, why are you still flying?

HP: I fly because love it. Forget the crazy passengers. I think that most flight attendants love their job. There’s the freedom and the flexibility and you never know what the day can bring. And if it was a bad day, then it ends when you step off the plane. Everyday is a new day, a new adventure.

PG: You never know what’s going to happen, like some guy in business class walking on with a sandwich and asking you if you’d like a bite.

Keep in touch with Heather Poole. Visit her website, like her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter and pick up a copy of Cruising Attitude.

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