August 13, 2009

When "Being Helpful" Really Isn't

Sitting at the desk in my hotel room, listening to the baby in the room next door cry. It's not so much the crying that's the problem, but the fact that whenever I turn up the tv to drown out the noise, the baby cries even more. The walls in this joint are too darn thin! I mean I'm trying to watch a tv show at regular volume, for goodness' sake! I shouldn't be able to hear the baby as though it's in the bathroom. (Hang on, is there a baby in the bathroom? Nope- just checked, in case)

The tv show in question was one I just happened upon by chance, called 'Drop Dead Diva'. Basically, hot shallow girl dies & gets reincarnated into the body of a mousy lawyer. Hilarity ensues. Well, I didn't think it was that bad, so given that I remember to watch regular tv next week, and not just cable, I'll watch it again. Just to see what happens.

I was getting a bit hungry by the time the show ended, so I headed to a nearby convenience store to get some supplies. This is proving kind of hard as at the moment I'm on a diet- of sorts. No eating carbs after 8pm. Which is harder than it sounds. Given that I've never really been on a diet in my life, it's proving to need willpower. Out of the multitude of choices there I settled on the least evil of spicy capsicum dip (2g of carbs per 100g) and celery sticks. I don't think celery has carbs, but even if it does, I'm sure I read somewhere that you use up more energy eating it than you get out of it, anyway.

Okay. So, first leg of the trip went pretty well. Crew were nice, which is always good. One of them slightly crazy, but in a good way. She was really funny. Even had a show & tell of her tattoo in the rear galley! I was in charge of the emergency exits for this flight. I had all seats full, so I did the briefing. Then the final passenger to board tells me that someone is sitting in his seat. It's in the exit row. I check all of the boarding passes, just to make sure that no-one got past 3 card checks onto the wrong flight. (Don't laugh, it has happened once or twice!)

Turns out a guy sitting in the exit row is meant to be in a different row. Since his friend is in the row in front, he thought they were sitting behind each other, and misread his boarding card. Happens a lot on this type of aircraft as the seat rows kind of sit above the seat backs, so heaps of people confuse row 13 for row 12. The guy sitting in the wrong seat is actually a well-known football player. Normally they love the exit seats for the extra leg room. But, he didn't get that seat, the other guy did, and he wanted his allocated seat. Fair enough. So I had to eexplain why he needed to move, and he seemed okay. Later, I thanked him for being understanding, and he said no worries. He then said he thought I might have brought him a meal from business class to make up for it. Make up for what, I thought. Seeing as there was no mistake on my part, there was nothing to make up for! If he had wanted an exit seat, he should have booked it. The other guy had every right to ask me to move him. Pffft, so funny!

The service went fine, aside from one or two things. One guy, who seemed to think he needed his beer quicker than anyone else, and wanted seconds before we had even finished serving the rest of the cabin, and a guy in a family of tray stackers. My fellow FAs shudder here, because they know what this means.

For my non-airline-savvy readers, let me explain. When passengers travel in a group, and they finish the meal, sometimes they think they will be nice & helpful and stack everything up in a pile, like at home when you take dishes from the dining table. That's all well & good, except it isn't actually helpful to us. When we pass out trays, they come from inside the meal cart (or trolley) which contains racks, kind of like inside the oven. Each 'slot' in the cart has room for one row of trays (whether that's 2 or 3 or 4).

On your tray, you have a meal, the cutlery, a cup and maybe a snack or other dessert item.

Each utensil, cup & dish is a specific shape & height to fit into the tray itself & also into the trolley, without disturbing the trays above and below it.

When people stack trays, what they tend to do is this: remove everything from the trays, and stack each tray on top of the other. Then, place all the dishes in a pile, the cups in a pile, and so on, putting these piles on top of the stack of trays, creating a nice little mountain of airline-logoed plastic. Often, a scrumpled napkin serves as a crown to this epic masterpiece.

Unfortunately, this stack of traydom doesn't fit in the trolley, and everything has to go back in the way it came out. There's usually no extra room anywhere. So what must happen? FA collecting trays must first take one empty tray & place it in the trolley, then place one set of utensils on that tray, and repeat, until all trays are back in original, yet empty, order inside the trolley. Add to this process a quick flight, full aircraft, and a 70% loading of 'stackers' out of the passengers on board, and you might begin to understand why your FA looks slightly grumpy when you hand her your little Mt Everest of stacked trays after dinner. We know you're trying to be helpful, but really you're not, you just create more mess for us to clean up. We know it's our job, but it makes it that much easier if you try to return everything how it was given to you. We expecially love this when it comes to blankets (folded on the seat is great), and if you cross your own seatbelt, well, you've just made crew friends for life! I can always pick a non-revving airline staff member- they're the one who leaves the seat pocket neat, with safety card facing out, and their seatbelt crossed when they leave! (Don't get me started on military charters- pure flight attendant bliss! It's tidy-airplane heaven! =)

Anyway, back to the dad. He had finished creating this masterpiece, but as is often the case, it was unevenly stacked. Just as we were about to reach his row to collect the trays, it crashed down around the place, sending cups and bread crumbs all over. Immediately he blamed my colleague for knocking it over. I felt like saying I saw it fall before we even got there, but you know, customer is always right, blah blah blah. It was so funny, colleague's face was hilarious. She was making faces as she couldn't be seen! I had to try clean it up without laughing. She said sorry to me, for having to pick it all up, but Mr Stacker thought she was apologising to him, and told her that so she should. The cheek...

The moral of the story? Hand back thy tray as thou would like thy tray handed back to you!

Believe it or not, there's even a Facebook group dedicated to the FA peeve of stacked trays!


  1. Now this is the kind of funny, helpful blog post I love. I'll never be able to fly again without thinking of you and crossing my belt!

  2. It's my mission in life to educate the flying public... most of the things people do which 'annoy' is are purely out of ignorance that there's a better way to do it.

    Look forward to seeinng you on board one day!

  3. Excellent post TT - when I fly with people that I dislike, I will now stack my tray and mess up the seat pouch!

  4. Oh, and how about the pax who hand you said epic stacked masterpieces along with everything else they need to divest themselves of at the same time as if you have magically grown a few extra hands? Love them!

  5. ...and diapers, for you to put in the food carts!

  6. Just shut your eye when this happens, because you know it will be over once the flight ends, and when you open your eyes you know you are still living your dream!! :)

  7. Brilliant. I want more. Reckon you should have a series of tips on how to be nice to FAs.

  8. In my humble opionion, I don't think passengers are trying to be "helpful" when they stack their trays. I think they just want to get both the tray and traytable out of their way. Often times the trays will be stacked in front of an adjacent vacant seat (if available), or in front of the one person in the group who cares least about having the trays stacked in front of him/her. Sometimes passengers even place stacked trays on the floor just to get them out of their way.

  9. I didn't know that bout the tray's so I'll remember that in the future- Marcel and I always stack..well it's more me than Marcel.

    I also fold the blanket before I leave and don't leave a mess for the FA's to have to clean up. I think people who do are pigs.



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