Well, it's official. I have the scarf, the security badges, & the employee parking pass. I work for an airline, & the job is completely & utterly fascinating. Netflix needs to work on a documentary about the industry to educate the public & serve as a PSA. This job is extremely hands-on & also extremely misunderstood.
I keep a small notebook where I document all of my stories, so I am working on starting a weekly blog series about the woes of air travel. By far, flying is the most efficient, safe, & cost-effective means of travel, with nearly 900,000,000 (yes, that's million) passengers travelling by plane just last year in the United States alone according to the Department of Transportation... but, when you choose to fly, you are also choosing to gamble. Be it an oversold flight, inclimate weather, delays, misrouted bags, flying isn't perfect. The industry is interesting all on its own, but it's the people, the passengers, that really make the job worthwhile. This is the one customer service profession where we can't treat the customers as if they are "always right".
I'm only two weeks in, but here are eight things I have learned on the job, thanks to our loyal passengers & outstanding crew members:
1. Apparently I'm in charge of the weather. Why yes, I did purposefully calculate a snowstorm so you would miss Aunt Julie's Christmas dinner.... I am constantly amazed at how cranky people can get about weather delays & cancellations. Even more so, I am constantly amazed at how many people will blame the airline for causing said weather delays & cancellations. Two things I would like to point out here: number one, you realize that safety is the number one concern of an airline, right? I would rather you get there a week late than not at all. We take safety seriously. We aren't bullying you for kicks & giggles, we aren't delaying your flight because we love making passengers angry. We are doing it because we love you. Secondly, in case you missed the science lesson in fourth grade about weather patterns, I have absolutely zero control over the weather. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
2. If I only had a dollar for all the people who tried to travel internationally without a passport. Yes, even if you are flying to Canada, you need to have a valid passport. The passenger couldn't believe it when I advised that without a passport, entry into Canada would be impossible. He shook his head a little bit & said he didn't even know where his passport was... to which I advised that he expedite a new passport at the nearest United States Postal Service. Two days later, I had another passenger forget her passport at home, & we had to rebook her flight.
3. Travel makes people crazy. And crazy people do crazy things. Like throw shoes when they miss their flight because their bag is too heavy & they refuse to pay the overage fees. Or yell & scream all the way from the ticket counter to the parking lot about how they received the "worst customer service EVERRR!!" despite our best efforts to accommodate them. I'm human, you're human, let's remember to woo-sahh & I will be happy to assist you the best that I can. Note: I can't fix crazy.
4. People don't proofread anything. No, not even proofreading the travel dates for the tickets they had booked themselves. I'm serious. My English teachers beat into my brain the power of proofreading & boy, were they right. This passenger didn't want to pay the rebooking fee for the flight that he booked, on his own accord, for the wrong dates. I can do a lot of things... but, I don't have a magic wand for waiving rebooking fees due to an error that you made. Proofread, proofread, & then proofread some more.
5. Planes won't wait for you. When your plane is schedule to take-off at 2:05 & you arrive at the airport at 1:57... guess what, *surprise*, you aren't gonna make it. I don't care if you're faster than Hussein Bolt. I don't care that you checked in online. It's not happening. Every airline is different so read your tickets, people. We have a 30-minute rule, whereby if you aren't at your assigned gate 30 minutes prior to departure, you will not be flying. We seem to always have that one passenger who is late (usually a millenial), & they beg us to hold the plane *just* for them. I have made a grown man cry because he missed his flight by five minutes. Five minutes. Airport operations are extremely time-sensitive, there are no exceptions, not even if you arrive 29 minutes prior to your plane's departure. "I'm sorry sir/m'am, but there are 75 other passengers on board that aircraft who were here on time. Fortunately for them, but unfortunately for you, I cannot delay those 75 passengers to accomodate your lack of punctuality."
6. Did you pack the gym? You get 50 pounds per bag, how on earth do you exceed 50 pounds for a week-long trip? I will never understand. But, I can also pack a week's worth of clothes & camera gear into a single backpack, so, I digress.
7. This is a team-driven industry. You broke the 30-minute rule & I won't let you check in because I know that my ramp agents are working really hard to make sure this flight takes off on time. They are working really hard to make sure that each checked bag for this flight is accounted for & on board. Your bags don't get checked-in by the ticketing agent & then magically transport on board the aircraft... there is an entire team of people handling your bags, & we take that seriously. My gate agents are also working really hard to make sure that those guests who arrived on time have a seat. They are working really hard to get any passengers flying on standby the next available seat to get them to their final destination, which would have been your seat had you arrived on time. By far, the airline world is the most complex organization I have ever worked for -- there are more details to explain than I could possibly breakdown in to cliffnotes for you. Just know that the rules are in place for a reason, I promise. I'm going to do the best that I can up front because that in turn assists my coworkers in the back.
8. People make the industry work. Certainly we have machines that assist us -- luggage carts & all those luggage belts are awesome -- but this industry would meltdown if there weren't humans guiding the tasks along. If there were no people manning the gates, who would you have to catch your shoes when you throw them in anger? When your flight is delayed, but you checked your dog at the counter, who do you think walks those animals so they aren't cooped up in their cages for hours? You know that people load cargo pits by hand, right? You need us & we need you. Period. So let's remember to treat each other with dignity & respect, while taking repsonsiblity for ourselves & our actions.
Two weeks down, & a lifetime to go. If there is ever a dull moment at the counter or the gate, I know that it's only a matter of time before chaos happens. I cherish the peaceful, quiet moments where I can talk to my coworkers & learn about their lives... but I know those moments are fleeting. Every day is different. Every day, I learn something new. And every single day, I walk away with a story.
Megan Elizabeth is a storyteller based in Kalispell, Montana. Take a peek at her blog & portfolio, drop her a line, & follow her story on Facebook & Instagram.