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.
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
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
The book lists for $14.99,
but can be purchased on
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
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
About the Author
Heather 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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23 Mar 2012, last update
19 Dec 2013
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.