Working for an Airline

Why I Love Working for an Airline (Part One)

Yesterday I almost got my fingers chopped off by an airplane (ahem, I mean aircraft) door handle.

I was attempting to shut the airplane (I mean aircraft) door so that the airplane (okay, I give up) could make an on-time departure. Unfortunately for me, the plane, and all those on board, I’d never received jet bridge certification. And regrettably, my knowledge of the mechanics of jet bridges and airplane doors amounted to three paragraphs in a training manual and a five minute instructional video I’d half-slept through during training five weeks ago.

And before you go thinking “Jeeze Reannon, it’s just a door. You’ve been opening and shutting them all of your life!” I’d like to make clear this wasn’t your average ‘turn the knob and pull’ type of door. No, this door was armed and dangerous. One false move and I could lose my fingers (by failing to remove them quickly enough from the metal release latch). And if I wasn’t careful I could accidentally deploy the emergency slide, which could pin me to the jet bridge wall. And then I’d suffocate to death under a ton of inflated yellow plastic (What? It’s totally been known to happen).

And then there’s the fact that this door comes attached to a 200 million dollar flying machine, which could possibly make it one of the most expensive doors in the world. Therefore, if I even so much as accidentally scraped the overhanging canopy against the side of it, we’d be talking a few million dollars in lost revenue. The plane would have to be grounded until the door could be properly inspected and repaired…which could take days. And the airline would not only get hit with hefty fines from the FAA, but from a media backlash as well. People would read in the papers about about how some rookie employee drove a jet bridge into the side of a plane and they’d declare that airline unsafe to fly. One careless mistake and I’d not only lose my job, but possibly put an entire airline at risk of bankruptcy.

So just what exactly was I doing there? you may wonder. Would you believe that I was risking life and limb for a job that pays not much over minimum wage?

See, last month I started a new job (lucky number 19!) and I’m now working as an airline customer service agent. That means that in that addition to helping customers check-in and board, I’m bestowed with the awesome responsibility of sealing the plane door and seeing that the jet bridge properly detaches and is steered to safety (I.e, far, FAR from the departing jet).

But although I’d seen it done before and had even practiced it once during training, closing a plane door in a classroom with the assistance of an instructor and closing the door of an actual, operating airplane (and all by myself, I might add) are two very different things.

Technically, I should have never been there in the first place. But my supervisor was tending to an emergency and my co-workers were clear across the concourse boarding another flight. And with only a minute left on the clock before that plane needed to be taxi-ing down the runway, I was the airline’s only hope.

A fact that left the lead flight attendant completely flabbergasted.

“What? You never closed the door before?! Oh no, honey “. He gave me a pitying look.

“I’m new!” I yelled over the plane engine, an answer which over the last few weeks has turned into my go-to response for pretty much everything. As in, “I accidentally checked you into the wrong flight? Oh, I’m sorry sir…I’m new.” Or, “I’m sorry mam, but your luggage was sent to San Jose, Costa Rica. I know that you’re in San Jose, California mam, and I apologize for that. You see, I’m new…”

And for the most part this answer has worked like a charm. A simple smile, a shrug and a “This is my first day…” (an answer I plan on using for the next three months, by the way) has this magical way of creating all sorts of understanding to a situation where there once was only anger and outrage. “Oh, wow. Well congratulations! How do you like the job so far?” Is what passengers will usually say in response and presto! They’ll forget all about their missing bag/boarding pass/seeing eye dog (I’m totally kidding about that last part).

Well, suffice to say that answer didn’t work as well on the flight attendant.

“Well honey, you’ve got about 20 seconds to figure it out.” And he wasn’t exaggerating. The flight was already running behind schedule and there was only a minute left on the clock. And in that minute I’d have to seal the aircraft, move the jet bridge out of the way and pray that the captain took his foot off the break in time. Because until he released the break, any delay that happened before then would fall on me. And if you delay a flight, you get written up. If you do it more than once, you lose your job. It’s that serious.

“Help! Anyone! Do you copy?” I shouted into the walkie-talkie. “I don’t know how to close the plane door!”

Static, static. “Push…” static. More static. “Make sure…” Static…”Hand…” Static…”Aircraft.” came the reply. I stared at the walkie talkie in disbelief.

Like, WHAT?

“You’re going to have to do it right now. We’ve got to go.” The flight attendant was impatient. And irritated. And probably thinking that I was an idiot. “Just push really hard and then when the jet bridge goes “beep beep beep!” you move it backwards with the controls.” He then pointed at a counter full of knobs and buttons and something that resembled a 1980’s Pacman joystick.

“Um…alright. Okay….Um,” I said uncertainly. But he’d already disappeared back into the plane.

Great, I can’t even parallel park and now I’m expected to back a giant slinky tunnel on wheels alongside a glass terminal full of people? Like, what if I back into a parked plane?

Somehow I doubted that the owner of a 747 jumbo jet would let a minor fender bender slide. And I’m sure an “Oops! Sorry! I’m new…” wouldn’t fly (ha).

….To be continued….

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