Photo © Joe Pries - A.T. TEAM
Since I thoroughly enjoyed reading a recent account of a day in the life of Britannia cabin crew, I’d like to write my own little version. I work for easyJet, and am trained to operate on the Boeing 737-300 and –700 series, as well as the A319.
Tuesday 6th April
I was on home standby from 0300-1100 local today; this basically means you must be contactable by phone during this period as the airline’s ‘crewing’ department may need to use you to replace an individual, or an entire crew due to either sickness, exceeding legal duty periods etc. etc. The rule at easyJet is that Crewing must give you 90 minutes notice before reporting for duty.
On this occasion, I actually decided to try my luck and phone Crewing at 1230am – sometimes the department already have a flight planned for you before you officially start your standby duty. This was indeed the case today, and I was told that I would need to report at LTN (my base) at 0800 for a 0900 departure to ZRH (Zurich). As there is usually no such flight from LTN at that time, I asked what was going on. Apparently we were replacing a service to ZRH that was meant to have left the previous evening but didn’t, due to technical problems with the assigned aircraft. I was surprised easyJet hadn’t managed to simply find a replacement aircraft or charter another aircraft from such ad-hoc operators as Titan Airways (which easyJet have used before). The passengers would not be in the best of moods, I thought.
Reported for duty at ‘easyLand’ at 0800 as requested. easyLand is simply the building at LTN from which the airline conducts its operations; it also serves as the airline’s main HQ. I checked-in using the computerized ‘AIMS’ system that all easyJet crew use before departing to operate a flight. This system basically confirms your flight assignment, the crew you will be flying with, flight times, aircraft type & registeration, and your flying programme for the rest of the month. It also advises you of any last-minute changes to your planned duties.
In the briefing room (simply a small room with high café-style tables on which flight & cabin crew meet to discuss the flight) I met the Senior Cabin Crew Member (SCCM) and the 2nd cabin crew; both were lovely girls, so this flight was sure to be a breeze. We then met our Captain, an Australian dude who used to fly for Qantas (737s) and Swissair (MD-80s), before joining easyJet; we were then introduced to the First Officer. Both were very pleasant chaps.
We were told by the Captain there and then that we would no longer be operating the ZRH flight; to cut a long story short, we ended up waiting for 2 hours whilst the Crewing department assigned us a new flight: LTN-AMS-LTN, departing at 1150 local. We spent the intervening time in the airline’s staff cafeteria, and I wondered off to the airline’s marketing department to make a suggestion.
At 1050 the briefing began; the SCCM’s job is to ask the two other cabin crew (3 in total on the 737) at least TWO Safety Equipment & Procedures Questions and 2 First Aid questions. I was asked about the airline’s policy on child-seats (they must be forward-facing, and fitted with a 5-point harness; each belt on the harness must be 1 inch in diameter; a person at least 14 years old must sit next to the infant and assume responsibility; the seat must be positioned on a window seat, and at least 1 row away from any restricted rows.) I was then asked to explain our emergency NITS briefing; in the event of a pre-planned emergency landing, the Captain briefs the SCCM using the ‘NITS’ code and the SCCM then discusses with the remainder of the crew, at the rear galley (NITS = Nature of emergency, Intentions, Time remaining, Special instructions). The 1st Aid questions concerned responding to medical shock and dealing with a Stroke victim.
Unlike many UK airlines, the Senior crewmember at easyJet does not get asked any SEP or 1st Aid questions which I think is a shame, as I am pretty sure some SCCMs don’t know everything they claim to know!
Our general appearance is then checked, and the SCCM makes sure we have the relevant manuals and documentation necessary for the flight. Today, the SCCM (Jennnifer) advised me that she would be conducting an ‘assessment’ on me (these are standard ‘reports’ which we must periodically have, to ensure we comply with company regulations etc. etc.)
The Captain and FO then join us (we already knew each other), and inform us that the LTN-AMS sector will be 40 minutes in length, the return leg will be 45 minutes; 107 passengers + 4 infants were expected on the outward leg, 85 + 2 on the return (quite a poor load given our 737s are fitted with 149 seats). We were also advised that we could expect some considerable turbulence on approach to AMS, and that we were flying G-EZJB, a 737-700; the aircraft would be parked at stand 6, which is the closest spot to the departure gates at LTN.
After this, the briefing was officially over, and it was time to get the show on the road. At LTN, crew must walk from the HQ building, across the road and towards the side-entrance to the departures area; before heading through the departures area, we are required to go through security, as expected, although our airline Ids serve as our ‘passports’ (although we also carry these, in case of complications). LTN is probably one of the few airports in the UK where Flightcrew are not actually transported straight to the aircraft stand from their place of briefing.
Before walking out the doors and onto the apron, we place our high-viz jackets on, a mandatory requirement at many airports.
We find stand 6 devoid of any life. After 5 minutes wishing I was somewhere else (given the horrible weather and our exposure to it), I spot Juliet Bravo taxiing in from ALC (Alicante, a city on Spain’s eastern coast).
After disembarkation of all the ALC passengers, Kate and myself walk to the back stairs and board through door 2L. There, we meet the inbound crew, still clearing away rubbish and completing security checks before handing the aircraft over to us.
We then begin our security checks, scanning overhead lockers, seat pockets and all areas of the cabin floor, ensuring we pick up any sweet wrappers and other rubbish that the previous crew might have missed. We also feel under every seat (within our assigned areas of responsibility, mine today were rows 7 to 16) to ensure each seat is equipped with a lifejacket; we do lose a few from time to time, as some passengers take them away as souvenirs; this is of course forbidden, and classed as theft.
We aim to start our checks at least 35 minutes before departure; this gives us a 10 minute window to report any problems and missing items before the passengers are released from the gate, and charge towards the aircraft….the toilets are of course also checked fully stocked, operational & clear of foreign objects. Safety equipment checks include checking that all torches, crew lifejackets, extinguishers, fire gloves, 1st Aid kits, portable oxygen bottles, smokehoods, crashaxes, lifecots, infant lifejackets, infant seat-belts & megaphones are in their correct areas and quantities.
Once these checks are completed, they are passed onto to the SCCM, who in turn passes the message to the Captain, who has authority to release passengers from the gate.
At easyJet, one crewmember positions by door 2L, the senior positions by door 1L, and the 3rd crewmember positions at the overwing exit doors; this is to aid any potential evacuation.
As ‘No.3’, my job is to make sure that at least 2 ABPs (‘able-bodied passengers’ are located by each emergency exit. This is generally very easy, as it is often taller and younger types that seem to be at the front of the queue to board (easyJet doesn’t allocate seats). These people don’t need to be told where to sit, they could probably find the exit seats blindfolded, especially the businessmen!
Once all passengers are aboard, the Senior presses the call bell on row 1 to grab my attention; I walk to the front and guard door 1L while she performs a headcount; she then walks back to the front and advises me whether her number tallies with that of the dispatcher. If so, I am free to walk back to the rear galley, closing overhead lockers as I go, and distributing infant seat belts as applicable.
Once push-back begins, the SCCM requests “Cabin Crew prepare doors for departure” on the PA. We both arm our respective doors, and the ‘No. 2’ calls the SCCM on the interphone to confirm ‘rear doors armed & cross-checked’. SCCM replies with ‘Thank you, forward doors armed’.
At this point the Dutch safety demo tape is turned on. This is then of course followed by a manual safety demo, with the SCCM performing at the front, the No.3 (that’s me) at the overwing tying my lifejacket in a neat double-bow ) and the No.2 at the back reading the Safety Demo, either by memory or from the PA booklet.
After the demo I brief the ABPs at the overwing on the operation of the window exits (pulling the red bar down & letting go, allowing the door to hinge upwards automatically, then running in the direction of the tail).
We must then complete a ‘Cabin Secure’ for our assigned rows; this basically means we ensure the obvious: seat-belts fastened, all portable electronics turned off, bags where they should be, seats upright with armrests down, tray-tables up, window blinds fully open, lockers closed, galley latches, trolleys and electrics switched off and so on.
We then proceed to our stations, and we hand over ‘Cabin Secure’ to the Senior on the interphone (whenever the interphone is in use, you will hear a ‘ding dong’, or 2 such sounds when the Captain is ‘phoning for more coffee ).
We’re then cleared for take off. Once at a comfortable and non-turbulent height, the Captain releases us by flicking the seat-belt signs OFF then ON again. I distribute magazines whilst the No.2 prepares the ‘easyKiosk’, our snacks & beverage service. It is a fact that on a busy LTN-AMS flights of only 40 minutes duration we simply cannot serve all passengers, and since we begin the service from the overwing area, the last row always misses out.
However, with the light loads today, we managed to serve everyone; in any case, there wasn’t much demand for the easyKiosk.
Literally 10 minutes after the service, the seat-belt signs are flicked on, and the Captain announces ‘Cabin Crew prepare cabin for arrival’. This is the cue for rubbish and magazine collection, and another Cabin & galley secure check. The Captain also advises the senior that we will have a short taxi at AMS, but will have a 20-minute taxi on departure (anyone familiar with AMS will recall the either very short or very long taxiing required, depending on which runway is in use).
Once the galley & cabin is secure, we all take our seats as quickly as possible as we have just been struck by some considerable turbulence, something the Captain had warned us about at the briefing.
On arrival, we take a high speed exit off the runway; this is the cue for me to perform the ‘after landing PA’ which consists of the usual ‘please stay in your seats’ stuff plus our ‘promo PA’ advising passengers of the expansion of the EU on May 1st, and our new flights to Hungary, Slovenia, Germany and Switzerland (Budapest, Ljubljana, Cologne, Dortmund, Berlin & Basel respectively).
At a lot of the European airports we serve, airbridges are used and AMS is no exception. Airbridges are not popular with cabin crew, as their presence means we can’t embark or disembark from the rear door, thus slowing down the flow of passengers, which can contribute to delays.
Once the aircraft has stopped on stand, SCCM makes a ‘Cabin Crew prepare doors for arrival’ PA; cue to disarm our doors. Today, stairs were attached to door 2L, but only for the purposes of leaving rubbish, so after all pax had disembarked, we opened the door and threw out the (orange) rubbish bags.
We then have 25 minutes before pushback!! That means security checks, rubbish collection and passenger boarding must all be accomplished relatively quickly! With an airbridge attached, this wasn’t going to happen – and it didn’t. The problem here is that since we don’t assign any seating, the first group of passengers always seem to take the rows nearest the front first, and then work their way back towards the rear. This means everyone else behind getting stuck in a long queue waiting to board. It’s so frustrating!
In any case, the push-back wasn’t too late, although we had an ATC slot delay of 15 minutes, which we took advantage of by distributing inflight magazines and performing the demos straight away.
The remainder of the flight, operationally speaking, follows the same pattern as the first sector described above. The only difference is that the remaining contents of the in-flight bar & Gift Shop must be counted and logged, and the various different currencies must be counted and banked, by sealing the money in a cash-bag which is then placed in a Safe back at easyJet HQ.
Today, we landed back at LTN 10 minutes later than expected due to the late arrival of the aircraft from ALC. However, the passengers didn’t look too upset as they disembarked today!
Once all passengers have disembarked, we complete another security check, collect all rubbish and finally leave the aircraft with our fluorescent jackets, walking back to the terminal building, through arrivals security and baggage reclaim and eventually back to our HQ building at LTN.
I am sorry for the length of the report, and I hope you don’t think I’ve made it excessively detailed. The point is that you now have some idea of what the cabin crew are doing when you next (if ever) fly with easyJet!