What is it like to be a reserve flight attendant? Part 1

The image above was called the “hot reserve room” – it was where I would go if I needed to escape the regular crew room for a while!

I’m sitting in the crew room. I’ve heard a few different titles for the crew room, including “crew lounge” and “crew dungeon”. “Crew dungeon” is a little harsh if you ask me, but I can easily see how that would be a valid opinion of someone having a bad day. I also wouldn’t go as far as referring to it as a “lounge”. It’s a classic break room with its share of tables and chairs, cinderblock walls, a microwave and fridge with questionable cleanliness and some file cabinets. It’s the place I’ve come to call home during my ten-hour shifts on hot reserve.

“Hot Reserve”, or “ready reserve” or “airport reserve” as some refer to it, is what this entry is all about. It’s the low of lows, the most disliked thing by the majority of reserve flight attendants you’ll encounter. “Reserve” means “on call”. “Hot Reserve” means on call at the airport. Most flight attendants have made their sacrifices to the hot reserve gods at one point in time, because it is assigned to the most junior flight attendants. Eventually, we build up enough seniority to not be on reserve anymore, and the flight attendants below us in seniority take over.

As I’ve already mentioned, at my airline it comes in ten-hour shifts that we’re notified of the day before, and can range anywhere from starting in the wee hours of the morning until midday, in which case your shift isn’t over until well past dinner and sometimes even bedtime if you aren’t a night owl. During hot reserve, crew scheduling can call us at any time and have us work a flight at a moment’s notice, for endless reasons such as flight attendants having to call in sick at the last minute to weather delays that prevent the crew from getting to the next flight they were supposed to work.

I have a feeling that at this point, it may begin to sound like I am complaining. I read something once that basically said “talk to any reserve flight attendant, and the first thing they’ll do is complain about being on reserve.” Really, I don’t mind it so much. It’s a good chance to get some reading in, or write a blog entry ☺. But it definitely is not glamorous. Here are a few scenarios to consider about your flight attendants the next time you fly:

– There are a handful of comfy (some would argue otherwise) recliner chairs in the crew room, and many of us sleep during hot reserve to help pass the ten hours, especially when we have to report at 4:30 or 5 in the morning. The sleep is often restless, as I constantly wake up feeling like I’ve missed a phone call from the crew schedulers. There have been times where I’m dead asleep, crew scheduling calls, and 20 minutes later I’m working a flight. It’s not always easy to shift gears from sleeping or hanging out in the crew room to working that quickly, and I remember laughing one time as I greeted passengers at how I was literally sleeping 20 minutes prior to the flight, and probably unfortunately looked like it too.

– Just because we have a ten-hour shift of hot reserve does not mean we can’t work past those ten hours. I once had a situation where I was sitting the 9 AM to 7 PM shift, and a few hours before it was time to go home I got a phone call that I would be working a flight that departed at 7 PM. It is common to have passengers that have been sitting in the airport all day due to delays or various circumstances, but I’m sure it is not a common thought in their minds that one of their flight attendants might have sat at the airport even longer than the passengers did before really beginning the workday.

– One last thought to debunk – sitting at the airport for ten hours may sound deceivingly easy, but don’t be fooled. Sitting reserve isn’t practically like having a day off as can sometimes be perceived, and the constant background thought of knowing that phone could ring at any time makes it anything but that. It’s a great time to get things done, but that only constitutes what can be done while at the airport, and often has to be put away at a snap of the fingers anyway.

When moments come around where on the surface it may seem that your flight attendants don’t have much sympathy for the fact that you’ve been sitting in an airport all day, I promise that in most of our jobs at one point in time, we came to know that feeling better than anyone.

You can read part 2 here!

2 Comments on “What is it like to be a reserve flight attendant? Part 1

  1. Well said.  I hope that you are paid well for that time.  Yes, I will have more empathy for attendants (pretty easy for me.  Happy that you fit right in, and have a great mind set.  I guess it makes sense, though I have been waiting for hours at airports for crew to get to the airport.  Guess they ran out of hostages.


  2. Pingback: What is it like to be a reserve flight attendant? Part 2 – Flying, Hiking, or Just Staying Home

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