February 9, 2012

A Day In The Life: Inflight

Welcome to A Day in the Life, where we take you behind the scenes at JetBlue to learn more about the important jobs that work in concert to make a major airline run. This time, we visit with Chris, a member of our inflight team, who has one of the most intense and rewarding jobs at JetBlue.

Chris has a non-traditional job. His office is fast-paced (something like 500 miles an hour) and the view from his window is spectacular (think 30,000 feet). He has no boss in sight. He doesn’t need to ask for vacation days; he only needs to pick the shifts for the month that work into his preferred schedule and the remaining time is at his disposal. It’s not all glitz and glamor, though. “People tend to think that being a flight attendant is glamorous; if they only knew!” Chris joked.

Chris often starts his day as early as 5:45 a.m., when he meets the other inflight crewmembers and the flight crew for a cabin briefing onboard the aircraft that his team is assigned to. The captain leads this meeting where they review what they can expect for that particular flight, including the flight loads (how many customers are on the flight), weather and operational conditions, and any other important information like if there are unaccompanied minors, customers needing wheelchair assistance, service animals, or Federal Air Marshals onboard. The crew also likes to identify any pilots or flight attendants from JetBlue or other airlines that might be traveling on that flight to commute for work or to get home; they can serve as additional resources.

Pre-flight brief with the crew

The crew chats casually as they wrap up the brief, joking with one another. “I like to laugh and make things light,” Chris relays. “It helps us to get on the same page and crew coordination is very important because it instills confidence and customers want to know that we’re interacting with one another.”

A typical flight between New York and Florida on one of our A320 aircraft, which carries up to 150 customers, are run by three inflight crewmembers, one captain and one first officer. Each inflight crewmember is assigned a position and Chris is generally F3, which means he’s responsible for the back of the plane (F1 and F2 service the front of the aircraft). Following the brief, Chris heads to the back galley, where he performs what’s known as pre-flight to ensure that the first aid and emergency equipment is intact, the cabin doors are secure and that all provisions are stocked for the scrumptious snack service.

It’s a wish of Chris’, and likely one among most flight attendants, to never have to employ their emergency training, but all inflight crewmembers undergo extensive initial and annual training to review safety and emergency procedures and live by a hundreds-page-long manual that sets standards for everything from uniform requirements to deploying the emergency slide, operating oxygen tanks, and fighting fires. They receive updates every time FAA regulations change and attend First Aid and CPR certification classes every year.

Helping customers stow their baggage in the overhead bins

Chris is based out of Fort Lauderdale, but his last flight doesn’t always arrive there, so he sometimes stays at crew hotels where he’s focused on getting a good night’s sleep to prepare for the next day’s work. If time allows, Chris is passionate about exploring Manhattan. His usual route is between Fort Lauderdale and our New York airports, including JFK, LaGuardia, Stewart Airport just north of New York City in Newburgh and Westchester County Airport. He typically works four days a week; each day consists of two or three flights. He spends an average of six nights away from home monthly.

As customers begin to board, Chris makes himself available to assist with lifting bags into the overhead bins for people (there are always plenty of ladies on their way to Florida happy for assistance). He asks if he can help people even when they don’t specifically seek his help, one of the traits that makes him a poster child for excellence in customer service. “It’s our job to find ways to make the experience comfortable for our customers. Whatever we can do to smile, to engage them in conversation, ask where they’re going, helps relax people and creates a better travel environment.” Showing customers to their seats and assisting with overhead bin luggage also helps flights leave on time, and Chris recognizes his role in helping to make that happen.

Chatting with customers is also the part of Chris’ job that he finds most enriching. He loves learning more about people’s lives and connecting them with one another (his favorite story is of one customer who was wearing a t-shirt from “The Price is Right.” The whole row was extremely quiet until he chatted the one customer up about his shirt and related experiences as a contestant on the show only to find out that the two other customers in the row had coincidentally also been contestants on “The Price is Right” years prior! The three excitedly swapped stories of daytime television game show stardom for the duration of the flight).

When the cabin doors close, Chris does a walk-through to ensure that everyone is seated and seat-belted and that phones and electronic devices are turned off. The F1 in the front of the aircraft begins the safety announcement over the PA and Chris demonstrates the procedures towards the center of the cabin. He then buckles into the jump seat, or the seat reserved for flight crew, in the back galley for takeoff.

Safety demonstration

Once the plane is at cruising altitude, Chris springs into action, prepping for beverage and snack service (caffeine is very popular on the early flights, particularly because we serve Dunkin’ Donuts, Chris relays, so he plans for lots of coffee orders). After going through his portion of the cabin (rows 17-25) offering our pillow and blanket sets and headphones, he continues with our complimentary beverage and snack offerings, and then immediately follows up to collect service items. “I find that going around several times is a great way to make sure everyone has what they want and need,” Chris says. “I ask if they would like another drink, some water, a second snack. Sometimes a customer is sleeping when I come around the first time so I try to catch them on the second.”

For his own personal snack service, Chris finds it important to keep nutritious options with him, including fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and cereal, and understands well that staying healthy and keeping his energy levels up are key to on-the-job success.

Chris secures his position in the jump seat for takeoff

After snack service, Chris spends the remainder of the flight responding to specific customer requests, inspecting the lavatories, walking around to collect service items (his guise for checking on everyone to make sure they’re happy), and communicating with the flight crew for important information that may need to be relayed to customers, like changes in arrival time or gates, turbulence, or to help watch the front galley if one of the pilots need to leave the flight deck to use the restroom.

Upon descent, Chris helps prep the cabin for landing, making sure that everyone is in compliance with landing procedures, including turning electronic devices off, stowing luggage, and bringing their tray tables and seats to the upright and locked position. He helps customers retrieve their luggage and sees them off with a big smile, while simultaneously working to “turn” the aircraft, or to clean the cabin to get it ready for the next flight. Often, not more than 30 minutes later, a whole new batch of customers begin boarding and the whole process starts again.

Serving our yummy free snacks; who wants seconds?

Chris’ secret recipe (do not read other airlines!) is his smile. During the entire day, through very early boarding and packed flights to crying babies and one unfortunate encounter with an air sickness bag, Chris did not once lose the genuine smile that came from within and shone through on his face.

Chris has been with JetBlue since our infancy 11 years ago, and would like to continue making us proud until retirement.

Check out the previous editions of A Day In The Life and meet Morgan in Social Media, Don in Air Traffic System Control, and Mike in Ground Operations.

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