Since this series is as much about Aviation, as it is about travel, Its only fitting that Heather Poole, one of the most recognized #AvGeek on twitter, makes an appearance. Besides being the first lady, she will also be the first airline employee of the series, giving us a first hand inside look into the industry from her perspective.
Heather Poole has been working for a major US airline for over 18 years as Cabin crew and is a regular globetrotter. Her list of accomplishments also include a NY Times bestseller called “Cruising Altitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 feet”. Apart from that she also writes regularly for Gadling.com with her column called “Galley Gossip” and runs a pretty interesting blog too.
- First things first, what motivated you to travel, and become a flight attendant?
Heather – When I finally realised life was about amazing moments and new experiences, I knew what I wanted to do. I’ve been a flight attendant for almost 18 years now.
- As a flight attendant you often have a first hand view of people traveling to and back from their trips. What has been some of your most memorable travel and flight experiences?
Heather – My favourite trips tend to be the ones that were totally unplanned. I’ll never forget deciding at the last minute to hit the road with a colleague from work on a Friday afternoon. This was almost twenty years ago when I worked a regular 9-5 job on the ground. We drove from McAllen, Texas to Monterrey, Mexico for the weekend. We ate goat (a first), listened to guitar music under the stars, spent the night in a cottage on a mountain, and woke up early the next morning in the clouds. As a flight attendant, the nicest and most memorable layovers for me have more to do more with the people I meet than anything else. Once we landed late Christmas Eve in Bermuda. The man who picked us up at the airport and drove us to the hotel every week invited the entire crew over to his house on Christmas day for dinner. It was such a nice thing to do. This after having spent many Christmas dinners stuck at an overpriced hotel buffet.
- We know you work for a major American airline, do you have a favourite airline, if you’re allowed to answer this question 😉
Heather – Can I say my airline? I mean come on, they hired me! (After our competition didn’t.) I can’t tell you which carrier I work for because I’d like to keep my job, but it’s one of the big ones. And with that I’d like to thank all the frequent fliers who’ve helped me keep my secret. It’s got to be the worst best-kept secret in the world.
Also, I hear Cathay is pretty freakin nice. One day I’ll fly on them.
- Any preferred airport?
Heather – My favourite airport is Miami. Not to be confused with my favourite route! Because the NY-Miami is my least favourite route in the system. But as far as good food and people watching goes, you can’t beat Miami.
- And what about your favourite aircraft type? I bet it will be a Boeing 😉
Heather – Yep, I’m going to be sad to see the 767 go. I’ve worked that aircraft more than any of our other wide-body airplanes. I guess you could say I feel most at home on it.
- And I have read in one of your other interviews, that you’re fond of 777s as well. In all your worldwide travels, which has been your favourite city to travel to?
Heather – Anywhere we have a long layover that’s not at an airport hotel. All kidding aside, in the US I love spending time in San Francisco and Seattle. I’m based in NY, one of my favourite cities in the world and I live in LA, another pretty good place to be, so I’ve got those two cities covered. Right now I mostly fly domestic trips. My son is still pretty young so I don’t like to be away from home for too long.
- What advice would you give to budding travellers; those who are enamoured by it but still feel slightly befuddled with the idea of venturing into alien cultures.
Heather – My advice is to get out of your comfort zone, even if that means driving to a neighbouring city and checking out a new restaurant, park or museum. It doesn’t matter how far you go, as long as you go. You don’t have to jump on a plane and fly thousands of miles and spend a ton of money to experience something new.
- How do you like to prepare for your travel? Do you have a guide that you always turn to?
Heather – Frommer’s might be my favourite travel guide. But I spend WAY more time doing research online and getting advice from friends. One of my best vacations was a trip to Italy. I met a flight attendant on our flight to Rome who drew me a map of all her favourite places to go after I mentioned we would be staying in Positano. I visited every place she mentioned and it ended up being a spectacular trip. So don’t be afraid to talk to the flight crew. We like to talk. Plus we’re like cops; we know all the best places – that are cheap and good.
- What role do you think twitter has played in propagating travel at large?
Heather – I can’t imagine a world without twitter, and I mean that! You’ve got breaking news, travel advice, travel deals, and millions of people who can answer a question at the last minute about pretty much anything.
- And Finally, tell us couple of your must follow twitter accounts.
Heather – @PlaneBusiness for airline news
and, @FakeUnitedJeff for fun.
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- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Rick Ingersoll (Frugal Travel Guy) (vishal1mehra.com)
- Flight Attendant Heroism on Asiana 214: A Look at How the Job Has Evolved (theblaze.com)
This post was supposed to be your typical trip report until I heard Tim Clark (President, CEO) talk about future of Emirates and his view about airline alliances among many other things within that 30 minute podcast/interview on Emirates IFE (known as ICE) channel no #1500, the default start on the home screen.
Let me take you back to where this all began. I was flying from New Delhi to Barcelona in early May and during the DXB-BCN leg this post took a life of its own.
I was completely mesmerized by the sheer beauty of this Boeing 777-300, regal on the outside & luxurious on the inside. (Barring the bone crunching 3-4-3 seating arrangement of Emirates).
The IFE on this aircraft was state of the art in its truest sense and I can safely say the best IFE I have experienced till date on all 32 airlines I have flown in. The system is based on 3000i from Panasonic Avionics Corporation.
Even the handset had a small touch screen on it, and was capable of displaying information on its own without interrupting content on the main screen. We were served breakfast and lunch on this flight by a very efficient crew, both meals were good and above par.
& It was during this flight I had my eureka moment. Hearing Tim Clark talk about Emirates future plans, their new destinations, that even with current network they are only half done & of course why Emirates is averse to joining any Airline Alliance.
The meat of his answer revolved around the fact that Emirates was averse to joining any alliance because alliances never helped an airline much, and Emirates feared that transferring your pax from one airline to the other may give them inconsistent experiences, completely opposite to their vision of seamless, comfortable and world-class hospitality that Emirates wants its customers to feel across their network & at their home in Dubai International Airport, Terminal 3.
Fair enough I thought & agreed with his thought process in my mind as I disembarked.
The LIS-DXB flight of this trip was also on a B773.
I had an Open-jaw ticket & was returning to Delhi via Lisbon. The security and immigration was pretty painless, but the walk to the flight gate, which was actually the last of the airport, was quite a walk. Dare I say, it would have dwarfed the walk at Delhi Airport’s T3.
After an efficient boarding process I moved to my seat to see the same world-class IFE greeting me & I remember thinking to myself, “consistently world class indeed”.
But the biggest surprise of the flight was when Cabin crew armed & cross checked doors and I was sitting next to 2 empty seats.
Suddenly the Aviation Geek in me woke up & I stood up to have a look around the cabin to check for loads. It was a Saturday evening flight, with just about 50% occupancy in economy. The guy in the next middle row had all 4 seats for himself.
As we rose up over the balmy and beautiful evening of Lisbon, I fired up ICE and got to hear Tim Clark again. I must admit I loved hearing him speak; his voice was like a gentle massage to my eardrums with a soothing accent. He had me completely sold on Emirates vision and their reasoning for it.
Our crew for the flight was nice and chatty, and the meal service for this flight served as Dinner, was yummy. I had my first Indian meal in 8 days & the chicken tikka masala did not disappoint at all.
The crew also served drinks just before landing into DXB. Overall a flawless flight from Emirates.
AT DXB T3
But then we landed into DXB. We arrived slightly before time & I had 5 hours & 45 minutes left for my early morning connecting flight to New Delhi. Transfer and security was much better this time compared to my outward leg.
Here’s my take on Dubai International T3 after been there 6 times now. I find DXB as one of the world’s most boring airport/terminal. DXB sadly offers nothing for the traveler but shopping. I think that’s where it should take a cue from airports like Munich, Zurich, Amsterdam, Seoul and Changi. Shopping is just ONE part of the experience, not the ENTIRE experience. Being a hub airport for one of the largest airlines in the world should carry responsibilities with it & so far DXB T3 has failed on my watch in many aspects.
With my tired limbs & stressed mind I hopped on the train towards B Gates. I reach our scheduled gate only to hear an emirates employee shouting loudly that our flight is delayed by an hour and 30 minutes, with a gate change.
Later on an Emirates employee tells me all delays at the airport were due to unseasonal fog, which enveloped DXB in the morning & has had a knock on effect on flights throughout the day. Our aircraft was scheduled to arrive from Dammam & its arrival was delayed by 2 hours due to the same problem.
But there’s another dimension to this thought. As the disruptions have been on since morning, Emirates must have known about possible delays for our flight to DEL as well, then why it decided to inform passengers at the very last minute, at their boarding gate?
Also, from my point of view, If Emirates knew about this 2 hour delay much earlier, they could have even given me a hotel accommodation at DXB. Emirates has a policy of granting all economy passengers with a layover of more than 8 hours at DXB, a complimentary hotel stay. Needless to say I was physically exhausted after almost 15 hours of travel & would have loved some shuteye, even for couple of hours. My decision of not going to the Lounge at T1 came to haunt me.
I reach the new gate as per the re-scheduled departure time only to find that the gate has been changed again. So, I reach the 3rd gate of this journey & it finally seems to be the correct one. We start boarding 15 minutes after the re-scheduled departure time, and are already running late. Again. And there is no explanation from the airline staff as well. And to top it all of, we are transferred to buses. It seems our Airbus A330-200 has chosen to park remotely.
Certainly not the world-class consistent experience that Tim Clark promised.
By the time I boarded my DXB-DEL flight, I had lost all sense of time, but it would be safe to say that the flight took off at least 2 hours and 15 minutes post-scheduled departure.
The boarding for this flight was completely mismanaged by the Emirates crew/ground staff. First and Business class passengers were requested to use the front staircase understandably but the entire economy class passengers were required to board the aircraft from the rear.
Even those with early economy seats were turned away from the front door to board from rear. Naturally that had many passengers agitated, as they had to carry their hand baggage from the back of the aircraft, almost to the front.
One of the few positives about the flight I immediately noticed was the 2-4-2 seating arrangement, with a window seat It seemed ideal for me. My luck continued with this flight as well as the seat next to me remained vacant.
But as I sat down, I immediately saw this staring back at me.
From the best to the worst, Emirates had provided me two extreme IFE options & the voice of Tim Clark talking about consistent world-class experience for passengers started ringing in my ears. You see having a mediocre IFE system is one thing, but this was the worst.
Just as we were all set for the taxi to runway, the captain informed us of another 20-minute delay. Apparently the control tower wanted us to wait, if we hadn’t waited enough already. Meanwhile I also took notice of one of the most uncomfortable seats I have been on in an aircraft (not as bad as my Ryan Air flight but close enough) with weird lower back support settings which made a thick uncomfortable cushion pop out & the seat itself was not the best.
Tim Clark & his voice came back to my mind & ears. Shouting.
We were served lunch on this flight & the butter chicken I opted for was very well prepared. The crew of the flight, barring the initial boarding process, was also very friendly and professional.
Did I mention that the IFE on this flight was almost repulsive & I never bothered to even use it once, preferring to read FT on Sunday, provided gratis by Emirates at the boarding gate.
Nothing else of much note in the flight as we had a smooth landing at Delhi and the captain apologized in the end for multiple delays.
One big question lords over my mind after these extreme experiences
Where is the consistent world class seamless (and other adjectives) experience that Emirates loves to boast about? This is not a one-off thing as Emirates operates this very A332 daily to Delhi? I haven’t documented my first flight, DEL-DXB in detail, again on A330-200, but if it wasn’t for catching up on sleep or a chatty co-passenger, I would have been horrified about that as well.
India is supposed to be Emirates biggest market, then why this huge inconsistency? Emirates flies more Indian passengers abroad than any other Indian carrier, Why the Indian passenger is almost taken for granted? Especially considering other global players like Lufthansa fly their top the line aircraft, the Boeing 747-8, to Indian cities.
And it’s just not me pointing out their inconsistencies; plenty of others are talking about it as well. Just that nobody else has devoted such detail to it.
I won’t be surprised if the more nimble (and smaller as of now) gulf carriers like Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways attract more Indian travelers to their much superior product in time to come. For Emirates, I only wish for a consistent passenger experience, only to live up to their own promise, which should be good enough for now.
Overall I would rate my 4 flights with Emirates as the following:
DEL-DXB – 6.5/10
DXB-BCN – 8.5/10
LIS-DXB – 9.5/10
DXB-DEL – 3.5/10
- Emirates delayed me for 24 hours on flight to Sydney (guardian.co.uk)
- Trip Report – YYZ-DXB on Emirates’s Airbus A380 (June 2009) (av8radi.wordpress.com)
- Codeshares and alliances for dummies – Part 2 (rewardingtravels.wordpress.com)