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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Trip of a Lifetime -- Bring a Pretty Dress

Trips. Pairings. Lines. These words are etched in my mind. I have used them for the past 15 years. They are my life. They are what I do. They are what I live. You'll see what we call a trip pairing in this image (I think you can click on it to make it bigger...). This is one single solitary flight attendant or pilot trip. Each month we get hundreds of these trips printed (well, they used to be printed...nowadays they are only online) for us to peruse. They show up on the 5th of each month.....we all live and breath for the day that the pairings are released for the following month. I work out of a fairly small flight attendant base -- we only have just over 300 FAs here -- so our "bid packet" is relatively small. The bid packet contains all of our trips for the following month. For example, on September 5, we received our October bid packets. There are 30 pages of trips to choose from (trips like you see in the image above). Large FA bases would have hundreds of pages of trips to look through and choose from! FAs choose trips for a million different reasons -- every one seems to have a different set of criteria -- and those criteria change from month to month.....child care issues, spouse work schedules, special days needed off, don't want to work weekends, don't want to go to work early or late, want or don't want particular layover cities, like to work a particular type of aircraft, and the list goes on and on. We FAs are picky people as far as what we like and don't like in our trips.

So, I go through our trip choices and pick out the ones that I like. Those come at the top of our choice list. Then I pick out the second tier of acceptable trips and so on with the least desirable trips at the end. We use an electronic bidding system whereby we input all of our choice parameters and the system builds a "line" for us for the following month. For example, my October selections look like this:

1. Want maximum time (want to work the most I can in the month).
2. Want October 7-8th off (I start vacation on October 9th and want to extend it by two days).
3. Want Mondays off (hubby is out of town on Mondays and it's easier for doggy care).
4. Do NOT want these trip pairing numbers: 6007, 6008, 6307, etc. (icky poo poo trips).
5. Do want these trip numbers: 6028, 6037, 6041, etc...(these are trips I ideally want).
6. Do want these trip numbers: 3087, 6689, 2398, etc (these are my second choices).
7. Do want these trip numbers: 8774, 2883, etc. (these are my third choices).
8. Don't want to work all-night flights.
9. Don't want to work flights that overnight in Mexico (many people love them, I can't stand them).
10. Don't want to work flights that end after 10pm (ideally I like to be done in the afternoon).

It's a very flexible system that typically provides me with nearly whatever I ask. So, the bids are due into the system by 09:00 on the 10th of each month and then the lines are awarded by 09:00 on the 13th of the month -- we live and breath for the release of our schedules for the following month. And we do this every single month, over and over, year after year. It's a real time consumer but it's also a little fun for those of us analytic types.

In the trip I've shown above, you can see that it is:

* A 4-day trip that has overnights for two nights in San Francisco and one night in Tucson. It "shows" (start time) at 06:25am (one hour before departure) on the first day and ends at 20:44pm on the last day. Also note the "pay" column versus the "duty" column -- for instance,the first day's on-duty time is 9 hours 26 minutes but the pay for that day is only 6 hours 16 minutes. Our pay is complicated to say the least. But it's also worth pointing out that we are only paid when the doors on the aircraft are closed -- we are NOT paid for the one hour before departure nor sit time in between flights. We are also not paid for any of the time spent during boarding nor deplaning. Delays on the ground are not paid either. You are gone from home on this trip 86 hours and 34 minutes (the bottom right number on the pairing).

The pay for trips that go out away from my base and back to my base in the same day are fully taxable trips. Some of the pay for trips that leave my base and do not return to my home base until some other day in the future is not taxable so it pays tax wise to work overnight trips that stay away from home base.

My schedule for September has a variety of "turns" (out and back in the same day) to Denver, Los Angeles, and Orange County. It also has a few overnights in Austin, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and Anchorage.

So, that's it in a nutshell. Complicated? Yes. Anybody want to apply? You'll need a pretty dress, scarf, hat, and gloves.


eric p. said...

I've viewed on-the-ground time differently ever since you told me the bit about pay only when the door closes. My last extended layover was frustrating as all get-out to the FAs, I'm sure (presuming United has similar rules). An hour's delay wasn't announced until the last people were boarding -- I got a text alert as I stepped on -- so they let people go get dinner. Less than 15 minutes later, we were back on schedule ... but they had to try and gather back everyone they'd let leave!

Ur-spo said...

alas, all I have are the heels.

Anonymous said...

Sounds extremely complex! You need a masters degree to navigate that schedule! I would apply if I could work with you... you are a hoot!

Larry Ohio said...

Great post! I had no idea it worked like this. I figured you guys got your "marching orders" weekly and you had to do as instructed or else. The procedure you described may seem complex on the outset, but really it is brilliantly simple.

David said...

I got a headache just reading this.

Birdie said...

You have to be a pretty special person to have this job: able to smile through all the nonsense and pettiness and neediness. I am not that person. I'm glad you are.

Dave2 said...

Just out of curiosity... what happens if you forget to "bid" on your schedule? Do you just get stuck with the worst possible pairings and flights that nobody wants? Or do they call you up and say "Hey! You need to put in your picks!"

Palm Springs Savant said...

Wow I had no idea how that all worked! kewl

Doug said...

Good lord that is fracking complicated. Were the people who designed it on crack?

All I ever wear is a scarf. Yes, I get weird looks, but it's comfortable and it's a fabulous scarf.

Mark in DE said...

I remember these from when I had a very close friend (ahem) who was a FA. The flexibility really is nice as long as you're senior.

Jeve (aka John and Steve) said...

My brain hurts.

FETE VIDAL said...

Hello from Sapin!!!!!!!!!!

michael said...

I always wanted to be a Flight Attendant but never knew what was involved with the process.

Doesn't appear that many airlines are hiring anyway.

I'm probably too old now anyway but if you have any tips on how to become a FA, please share. Thanks!


Geoff said...

I would have to hire someone to decode that schedule for me. So amazingly cool to love what you do for a living isn't it? Big hug to you Lewis!

Stash said...

I could never do what you do.

6:25 am??? I'm still sleeping. :(

Greg said...

I think my head's about to explode after trying to figure all that out.

LSL said...

This is so interesting to me! And I'm shocked about not getting paid except for when the cabin door is shut. I hope the pay is great, because that's a lot of waiting around for nothing!

Mike said...

Just catching up on your posts and wanted to say I was very interested in how flight attendants choose their schedules. My friends who are flight attendants told me you aren't paid for when you are on the ground, only when you are in the air, so I knew that part. I never knew that there was a bidding so to speak for the areas you want. They like that they are based out of Oakland, but the airline pays for them to fly up there, even though they live in Southern California.

I would love to be a flight attendant I think. I love to travel, like working with people, and stuff like that.

What a complicated system, though!!!