We have all experienced dreaded airport delays where you approach the gate to board and instead of passengers starting to make their way on the aircraft, you find out that your flight now has a new ‘estimated’ departure time. And that in itself is the scariest word that you can see or hear at the moment for any person on that flight, be it passengers, the flight deck crew, or even the flight attendants. Anyone who flies on the regular knows that an estimated time of departure is usually bad news, due to uncertainty of when the flight will actually depart. The delay could be for a plethora of reasons from bad weather, to a mechanical, to an inoperative item on the aircraft, to just simply waiting for the aircraft to arrive from its inbound flight. But rest assured, the crew working the flight is in just as much of a rush to board the plane and depart, if not more of a rush than you are.
The main reason in which flight attendants are in such a rush to get everyone on the plane with them and their bags seated and stowed and the aircraft door closed, is that in reality most airlines do not starting paying their in-flight cabin crew until that aircraft door is closed. So helping you find your seat, assisting you in stowing your bags in the overhead compartments, hanging jackets, serving pre-departure beverages in business class, doing emergency equipment checks, and everything that goes on before the aircraft door actually is closed, is unpaid work for most of us.
So you could imagine from just the monetary aspect alone, if a flight is delayed and the flight attendants are sitting at the gate or on the plane, or even on the plane with all the passengers with the door open, waiting for the flight to depart, that they are not even getting paid yet. With that said, you could imagine that the cabin crew is ready to hustle and get the door closed to get you from Point A to B as quickly and safely as possible.
Another reason that flight attendants could end up disliking delays even more than most people realize is that their trip could completely fall apart. A lot of flight attendants fly certain trips for particular reasons. For example, some flight attendants fly trips that lay over in their home city, so on their layover they get to go home and see their friends and family. Some flight attendants like to fly trips that are turns (just fly to a city and then back home) because they have a family to take care of at home. Some flight attendants fly trips because they are high in flight time, and pay a lot. And other flight attendants fly trips to cities that they have never been to before, and are excited to lay over in an unfamiliar place.
Point being, we all fly what we fly for our own reasons. When one of the flights on our trip is late or delayed, we all risk the wrath of Crew Scheduling and being reassigned. Ask any flight attendant what they think of the word ‘reassignment’ and I am sure you will not hear anything positive. So rarely does Crew Scheduling reassign you in a way that makes your trip better, however they are masters of adding more flights to your work day, making layovers shorter, and making your trip longer in terms of the number of days you are gone for. When a flight is delayed, the entire cabin crew becomes victims to crew scheduling and are merely pieces in a giant chess game, so to speak.
Sometimes our work day has been extended so long because of a flight delay that we then become illegal to work any more flights that day without having legal rest. When that happens we are instantly trapped in whatever city we are in, and sent to a hotel room to get some rest. Once our legal rest is over, we are then open to reassignment from the company and can keep going as long as operational needs necessitates. This means that if you left on a trip that was supposed to be a turn but you are legal to fly for five more days, the company can then keep you flying with reassignment on top of reassignment, even on top of reassignment. You can even be trip removed from future trips if the company needs to do so, to cover flying.
An issue with a reassignment occurring because of flight delays like this regards what exactly you have packed in your suitcase. While most flight attendants do bring some clothes and toiletries with them even if they are just going on a turn (just because we have all had that turn become an overnight at some point), we usually are not packed to be out and away from home for six days. Clothes run out, clean uniforms disappear, under garments get dirty, and anything else that we may not have packed enough of. So we are usually looking for a washroom, or a Marshall’s or Primark somewhere on a layover just for basic necessities.
Additionally whether you may not realize it or not, a lot of flight attendants commute to work. Just like you may hop in your car every morning and drive a half hour to an hour in rush hour traffic and then back home again, or perhaps you hop on the subway for a couple of stops to get to and from work, many flight attendants head to the airport and hop on a plane to get to work. So when flights are delayed or even canceled, we have a hard time commuting in to work. Standby lists accrue more names than seats, and flight attendants are stuck playing the waiting game to see when they will actually make it to work.
Lastly, as flight attendants we are truly on the aircraft to keep you safe at all times, and usually a lengthy flight delay results in us be overworked for that day. Our sequences are already scheduled up to thirteen hours for a domestic duty day and international can be pretty much be any amount (consider the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney is sixteen hours on average), and a delay means just an even longer work day, for the same amount of pay. What other career can you think of where you work sixteen hours and get paid for maybe only nine? Or where it is physically allowed for an employee to work sixteen plus hours? And then only to have a nine-hour layover somewhere, which is nowhere near enough time to rest and recuperate from the day before.
All and all, flights delays are no fun, for both passengers and cabin crew alike. While we may dislike flight delays for opposite or possibly the same reasons, keep in mind that as cabin crew we are on your side. We want that plane to leave and take off just as fast as you, and we will try to do just that. So the next time a flight attendant is urging you to stow your bags and take your seats quickly, they are honestly probably trying to hurry up and get the door closed, preventing us from occurring some delay so we will all be on time.