Flight attendant and Gadling (www.gadling.com) blogger Heather Poole sits down with Frommers.com Editorial Director David Lytle to chat about her life in the sky, tell you how to be good passenger, and explain the "laviator," her passenger self-portrait concept that's caught on quickly.
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Male Announcer: Welcome to the Frommers.com travel podcast. For more information about planning a trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit www.Frommers.com.
David Lytle: Hi, this is David Lytle, Editorial Director of Frommer.com. Today we're talking with Heather Poole. She's a flight attendant and she's an author. You can find her regularly in the Galley Gossip column that is on Gadling.com, and she's also in the process of writing a book of essays called, "Cruising Up Attitude: My Life at 35, 000 Feet". Hi, Heather.
Heather Poole: Hi, David.
David: How are you?
Heather: I'm good. How are you?
David: I'm doing well. Thank you. It's nice to finally talk to you. You and I have a little bit of a history, just an Internet relationship.
Heather: That's right.
David: Do you want to?
Heather: Do you want me to tell the story?
David: Yeah. I want you to tell the story and then I can throw something in there if I need to.
Heather: OK. It's pretty funny. I'm writing for Galley Gossip. I was working on a post, and it was one of my more serious posts. So, we go on Flickr and there's a section where you can grab people's photographs and use them. So, I was going through some photographs and I needed a picture of a passenger. So, I was looking at all these pictures. There's a million. And I kept coming to this picture of this guy who was really funny. He kept taking these very serious pictures of himself on the airplane, not smiling. And it was over the years because sometimes he looked a little thinner, sometimes he looked a little bigger, sometimes he looked a little scruffy, sometimes he was very clean cut and it made me laugh. His name was Davidy Dave.
So, I didn't post that picture and I remembered it because I just thought that guy was really funny. Then, I was working on a post called, "Groped On The Plane". Groped On The Plane, What To Do. It was actually about a guy who got groped by a female and how he felt really uncomfortable about alerting the flight attendants to the situation because he, I guess being manly, he didn't want to. He was a little embarrassed.
I mentioned that I was writing this post to some people, and a female told me a story about how she was groped on the airplane. All these people were telling me these stories about being groped. So, I realized it was happening a lot more often than I thought. So, how do you find a picture of a passenger. And I thought, "Oh! That Davidy Dave guy. He's so funny!" And I wanted to be careful, "I'll put it between the guy's stories and the girl's stories. So, you can't really tell who's. So, people won't look at the picture and think, "Oh. That's the groper". He looked very serious. He could have been groped, or he could've been a groper. You couldn't tell.
So, I used the picture, whatever. The post went off and that was that. Then I saw, I think it was on Twitter. I saw Gadling who I write for on Twitter. I saw that they were talking to this guy named Davidy Dave. I was like, "Oh my God! That's that funny guy! I used his picture!" I didn't know who Davidy Dave was.
So, I write Davidy Dave and I'm like, "Oh! I used your picture in a post!" And Davidy Dave wrote on the picture in the post that his disclaimer. I don't remember what you wrote.
David: Right, because the picture was me. Every time I'd get on a plane, before we take off, I take a self-portrait just sitting in the chair. I have no emotion on my face. It really is just to sort of reflect flying again. I hate flying. But, I think it's the attitude that a lot of people have when they get on a plane.
Heather: Very good.
David: So, I have these series of self-portraits that I take sitting on a plane. It's actually kind of funny, the things that go on the background. It's always different. But, anyway. On Flickr, I can see traffic on a daily basis to specific images. It pops up, and I saw that this image had a lot of traffic one day. So, I went back through and it took me to Gadling and it was my face that appeared on the "I Have Been Groped On An Airplane" post, which I thought was hilarious. I sent it off to my friends. I said, "Oh, look". Exactly what you said. You couldn't quite tell if I was the person that had been groped and was thoroughly disappointed, or if I was the person that was the groper.
David: That was our first introduction to one other.
Heather: Then you wrote the little notes. I didn't know if you were mad or if you had just a really dry sense of humor. I never heard back from it again. Then of course, I found out that you were the Frommers guy which I didn't know. And as a person who is trying to make it in the travel writing world, I was horrified. But then, it was much later I was looking for some more pictures and all of a sudden, there's your little self-portrait with, "This one's for Heather". That was that was the second time that I was like, "OK. So, maybe he's a funny guy". Then you laviated. So, I was like, "OK. He is a funny guy". Dave, David is a funny guy.
David: Thank you. And this is the perfect transition to talk about two things. First one, you're an incredible writer. I think that your words seem to just spill out of you fairly naturally and you tell a great story in your blog post on Gadling and on your own website HeatherPoole.com. Your 9/11 post, in particular, was fairly amazing. And how it listed so many responses from people.
Heather: Well, that was the amazing part. I can write a story. It's interesting. But, what's always more interesting are the comments. I know I've written a good post based on how many people share their stories, which a little off topic. I just wrote about in flight emergencies on my last post. There's this flight attendant named Frank who has commented twice. I'm telling you, I had to wipe the tears. It's powerful stuff. It's always the people who, you know it's a good post when people actually share their stories. Some of those stories were heart breaking.
Heather: That was actually my first serious post. It might actually be my only serious post to date. I have another idea that I'm going to take the next 9/11 post I think. But, right now it's the most serious one I've done. That's my favorite post.
David: I have to say you have a distinct voice. You have a very good sense of humor in your writing. I love the post that was specifically about pet peeves of a flight attendant.
Heather: You've got to be careful with those.
David: Absolutely. But it was a difference between kvetching and giving instructive criticism. And I think you leaned towards the latter. You were telling people, "Please be aware of these issues. Flying has changed. Don't expect a blanket because planes hardly ever carry them anymore. They rarely carry food. So, bring your own snacks".
David: "Behave yourself. Don't be a jerk when you're on the flight". I think people often miss the point that your job, at least in my estimation, you have to things that you're doing. You're representing a brand - the airline that you fly for. And who do you fly for?
Heather: Oh, that's a secret. If you read my post, you'd probably be able to figure it out.
David: I completely understand. I wanted that to be stated. It is hard to be an employee of a company and then to write about your job on a regular basis.
Heather: Right, and I try to always share. If I had a bad passenger story, I try to share a bad flight attendant story because they're all there. All that is always there. One passenger will leave and tell me he had the best flight ever. Another passenger will leave and say it was worst flight. The airplane, interestingly enough, is a little microcosm of the world. You got the have's, you've got the have not's, you've got the first row, the last row, the middle seat. Everyone has got an issue. Some people got the exit row and they're happy. Somebody's by the bathroom and they're mad.
And it's like you're ruling a country. You can't make everyone happy. I try to share that in my posts.
David: And you're a benevolent Dictator, I'm assuming.
Heather: You know what ,though? I don't fly as much as my colleagues. I've got a little kid at home. My husband, he flies like a lunatic. I don't know how he does what he does. So, I'm lucky. I can come to work with a smile on my face because it's hard being a flight attendant. First of all, we didn't make a lot of money to begin with. Then, after 9/11 most of us took huge pay cuts. So, we're still not making what we used to. And with the airlines, they're trying to save money. So, they make our labor shorter, they make our duty days longer. It's just a horrible, vicious circle that, I guess, has to be considering the economic times. But, you wonder why your flight attendant is grumpy. It's probably because she's end of a horrendous three day trip, hasn't eaten anything either, there's no time. She's living off of soda, coffee, and crackers and whatever snacks she has she has in her bag.
David: Well, you're also totally exposed. You don't have a room to go into to close the door.
David: You are always in front of an audience.
Heather: We're the show.
David: Which is a tube filled with your customers.
Heather: If there's a problem, that person is stuck there fuming about it, looking at you for six hours. So, there's a lot of psychological things here too. People are afraid to fly. A lot of times when they're afraid to fly, or they're maybe controllers. Now, I'm sitting in a seat and I have no control. Now, it's the angry side comes out.
David: Do you feel like you're an unlicensed psychiatrist? Do you have to make a judgment call?
Heather: I would say yes because I studied psychology.
David: Oh, awesome.
Heather: I'm not anything close to a therapist because I didn't pursue that in the end. But, I do find you've got to use your people skills. I use them all the time.
David: When passengers are boarding the plane and the flight attendants are standing up front saying, "Hello" as you come in, are you doing a three second sussing out of each passenger?
Heather: Me? I don't. But, I think I'm very, I can't think of the word, I'm just intuitive. Is that the word, where I feel things. A long time ago, I was held up at gunpoint. I worked it out with the airlines. But, I learned from that experience to trust my fear. I learned to trust my, I guess they call it, your sixth sense. So, I don't have to look at somebody. If I, all of a sudden, become fearful for no reason, I trust that. It's happened on several occasions. A lot of times, nothing has happened and I thought to myself, "Maybe nothing happened this time. But, there's something there". It's really hard to explain.
Then you have the whole - I don't think men are in touch with their sixth sense. I don't think they really have to be because they're more physical and powerful. If I have a weird feeling about a passenger, I tell the cockpits. The pilots are very analytical. Everything has to make sense. That's their break, that's their job.
As soon as I'm like, "Oh, this passenger. I've got a weird feeling". They're kind of like, "What are we going to do with a weird feeling?" So, you've got to be careful with that. But, I've learned. I remember reading that Richard Reed, whenever he came onto an airplane, every flight attendant had a weird feeling about him. But, no one shared it. Maybe if they had, they would've.
David: The incident would not have got to the point that it had gone to?
Heather: Well, no. And I think I read. I can't remember. I just have the worst memory. But, I think I remember they even pulled him aside going through security the day before. People felt weird about him. I've had that with other passengers. I've actually had. I think I wrote about it in the 9/11 post where I had a weird feeling about a passenger. I try to avoid this to see what everybody else thinks. Then another flight attendant was like, before I could even say anything, "I kind of feel weird about those people".
So, we do that. Then, we just keep an eye. I don't look for people. I just trust my feelings and it happens naturally. you just get a weird vibe.
David: Right, and that's the point that I wanted to make which is that your job is a combination of providing creature comforts to passengers and security. You have to be aware of everybody making sure that they're happy with the service that they're receiving. But at the same time, you have to look at them and go, "Hm. Are you a potential threat?"
Heather: And be politically correct about it.
David: Exactly, and be politically correct about it because you can't just judge somebody because of their ethnicity or their religion.
Heather: Do you want to hear something interesting?
David: Oh, yeah absolutely.
Heather: I was actually going to write about this, but I'll just share about it here instead. So I'll be standing there greeting people and first impressions count, so I try to smile and I try to be friendly. When the line backs up, I'll try to talk to somebody briefly and I think that just sets the tone for the flight. But sometimes I'll be standing there and I'm like, "Hi, how are you? How are you?" and it'll be going great but let's say there's been a delay or something. I'll get to the point where I'm afraid to say, "How are you? Hi, how are you?" People will snap. And it's like, you know what? Now I can't even say, "Hi, how are you?" I can't even be nice; now they're all angry and attacking me.
I'm just the messenger, I'm dealing with the same mechanical and the same issues that the passengers are. I'm not eating; we don't get paid on delays, so I'm just as miserable as everybody else. That does bother me when I try to be nice and then I get my head bitten off.
David Lytle: Sure, absolutely, because you're a person, too.
Heather: Right, and then I think to myself, "I think I'm just going to stand here and smile now." So then the rest of the passengers come on, they might be thinking, "That flight attendant's not very friendly." But you got to step back and look at the whole picture, and my colleagues have to do the same thing sometimes. You got to step back and think, "Why is she not saying hello?" Well, maybe someone just yelled at her. It's the same thing for me, I have to step back and go, "Well, he just yelled at me because he just missed his meeting, or missed some important family function." Flying today is hard. I always say that it's like being on an episode of "Survivor" and you have to be prepared. At the same time, you have to step back and look at the bigger picture and not just how it affects you personally.
David: Right, exactly. You're talking about different sorts of people that are on a plane; you have your upper class, your lower class-the back, the middle, the front. You also have those people who are aware of how their behavior affects other people, and I think I'm that guy. I'm always aware that if I'm taking up too much space, if I've bumped into somebody.
Heather: That's me.
David: And then there's that other person who seems to be blithely unaware that they're in a space filled with other people.
Heather: I think most people are at that point now.
David: Yes. A personal pet peeve of mine: I have broad shoulders. I usually sit on an aisle seat because I feel cramped in a window or in the middle, but the problem is, is that my shoulder sort of juts out to the side, out into the aisle. There's always somebody who comes barreling down-to talk to a flight attendant, to go to the bathroom, whatever-and they crash into me and there's not even a recognition that they've just bumped into somebody.
Heather: Again, the airplane is just a little example of what's going on in the real world. I just think that, because you're in that confined space and you're stuck there, you're able to look at it and see it. But it's funny because I'll go out to the grocery store, and when you're at the grocery store, you're probably thinking about your grocery list and you got your mind on things. You're not really paying attention to what's going on, but those same people are at the grocery store. Now they're not yelling at me, they might be yelling at the cashier, but then they leave. It's gone, it's over; whereas on an airplane, it just stays there.
David: Right, you're stuck with him for thirty minutes to five hours to eight hours, however long the flight is-literally, a captive audience. Let's talk a little bit about "laviators, " which I think is just hilarious. Did you come up with this term?
Heather: I had help, actually. Should I tell you how it started?
David: Absolutely. Tell me what a laviator is. I know, but the people listening need to be informed about this.
Heather: It's a person who takes their photograph in the bathroom by themselves. I got to start from the beginning, it sounds crazy.
David: On an airplane.
Heather: Yeah. I was writing a post, a very serious post about fear. I was trying to talk about that sixth sense and I needed a photograph of the toilet, so again, I go on Flickr looking for bathroom pictures, and I kid you not: 200 photographs of people taking their pictures in the bathroom. The funny thing about it was they're all very serious, very rarely smiling, and there was no rhyme or reason to it. You'd think that it would just be young people goofing off, but no. A lot of old people, every kind of person-old, young, short, tall, big, fat, little, all ethnicities.
I was like, "This is crazy!" And because I'm paid per post, and I want to write as many posts as I can, I'm like, "I'm turning this into a story." So I basically teased and made it sound like I was writing about the "Mile High Club" and then you get to the bottom and it ended up being they were taking pictures.
So I wrote my Gadling team and said, "I need to come up with a really great, quirky word for people who take their photographs in the bathroom." We were throwing out really funny things, and then Annie Scott-she's brilliant because she's like, "What about 'laviator'?" I was like, "Oh my God, that's it! That's the word, that's perfect!"
But then later on, my friend who's a pilot said, "You should have called it..." I forgot his whole reasoning why "laviator" didn't work, but he said, "Photo..." Oh, he had another term, it was just as great, but I wrote about the laviators.
David: Personally, I love the word. I mean it's "lavatory" and it's "aviator." They may not be the actual pilot, but to me it's brilliant. Or as I just said to a colleague of mine, as we say in the travel business, it's "Brazilliant."
Heather: When it gets into Websters...no not Websters, the one on the Internet...
David: When it gets into UrbanDictionary.com?
Heather: I'll be so happy.
David: Or Wikipedia? You've had people submit these...I saw it happening; I submitted one myself, and you put it up-which I loved.
Heather: I think you made all the writer people start submitting. You made it OK, I think, because before, nobody was really getting it. It was funny, as soon as the post posted, people started sending me their own personal photos, just random people. Then after you submitted, all these writers start submitting it too. I was like, "Oh that's funny." You paved the way. You legitimized it.
David: It's a perfect Internet snowball; it just can grow and grow. It's a very easy thing to do. People travel all the time and they usually have their cell phone on them so you can click a picture when you go into the lavatory on the plane. Just take a picture of yourself in the mirror. When you get off the plane and you get home, email it to you, right? So how do they submit it to you? What is the email address that they should send it to?
Heather Poole: Skydoll123@yahoo.com And then write a little note where you were, where you're flying to. It's the story behind the picture which makes it so much fun.
David: Right. What you want to know is who the person is, where they are going, why they are flying. Some people fly all the time. Some people take a trip once a year.
Heather: We're all connected in that respect.
David: Right. Absolutely. And that's the point. Everybody has this exact same experience --going into an airplane, bathroom. So while you are in there, take your picture in the mirror...
Heather: The important thing is that you want to be able to see that if you are in the bathroom.
David: Yeah. Exactly. Just going through the series of ...It's great to go airplane, bathroom, airplane, bathroom... But the peoples' faces, their attitudes to... You had a guy, I think, last week, maybe two weeks ago, that just had the biggest, beaming smile on his face.
Heather: Oh. The guy with his son. That was Dan...
Heather: Dan ... The funny thing is that I have the worst memory in the world and I almost remember every single laviator's name. I really think it was Dan Webber. Why do I think it was that?
David: It was such a great picture. It was.
Heather: That's in my top five.
David: Yeah. When you go to that series of photos and then suddenly you are like, there's Dan, thumbs up, big smile. It made me laugh. And that is exactly...
Heather: Well, one of the one's that made me laugh was this guy, middle-aged, just a regular-looking guy. He went and put a poster in there. It said, "Laviators Unit." He wrote me the funniest email. In it he said that he wanted to leave the note in there but then he got scared. People who don't know... Well it would be is he did not want to create a bad situation. But there are some funny stories. I think that I have 49... I have 49 official laviators that I have put on the Gadling Photo Gallery. I get about ten pictures a week and I try to write a little story about them and instead of just doing one at a time I wait until I get a big group and...
David: Right. Right. It is a nice occasional post that I really like seeing when it comes up.
Heather: I was going to make some T-shirts. I have to send you one.
David: Oh. Awesome.
Heather: It is just going to say...
David: I love insidery T-shirts, believe me.
Heather: I had a great idea where I was going to take all those photographs and make little thumbnails and make a big collage and write "laviator" across it, but then I was afraid that I would have to go back and get everyone to sign a paper saying that they would be willing to legally do that. So now I think that I am going to do just a simple "laviator" across the chest. And only the people who are in the club would know.
David: But you know what you are going to get then? You are going to get the people with the T-shirt taking a laviator picture on the plane and then sending it back to you, so it is going to become sort of meta and sort of roll up on itself. It will be great. We're wrapping up on our time here. I just wanted to ask a pretty simple question. If you had some advice to give to travelers, what would you tell them?
Heather: To relax. I mean, this is what I tell my husband all the time. He flies over 100,000 miles a year. He gets all worked up sometimes, so I'm just like, "you know what, if your day works out the way you intended it to work out, that is great. You are lucky. Wonderful." Why should it work out perfectly? You know, things don't always work out perfectly. So come prepared for whatever can happen. And just go with the flow. you can't change it. You can't make it different. My husband, right now, he's in Alaska, he just called me to tell me that his airplane is broken and they are having to ferry in a mechanic. He is all worked up about it. I'm like, "just deal with it." You know what?
Heather: Give it time and do some work. Make those phone calls that you need to make. Call your mom. You know, like...
David: All the moms, all the mothers out there, listening, love that advice.
Heather: You know, for people who are --especially frequent flyers-- who are usually business travelers who don't have time to make all those long phone calls. Hey. Go with it. Read that book. Go buy that magazine. Take advantage of that time that you are sitting there and make it work for you. That's what I say. Make the trouble, the flying... Make that the experience and maybe get to know the people around you, especially as a flight attendant. You know that, now that we're minimum crew and there are just so many passengers compared to flight attendants, you can become overwhelmed, especially if you're working in a large airplane like ... If I look back... If I am on a 762 class and there's hundreds of people just looking at me and there are just three of us, it can become overwhelming. If you actually, talk to people. I always find out the most interesting stories. It makes it a fun, interesting time and...
David: Yeah. No. I think it is perfect advice. Your one word answer was absolutely correct. Relax.
Heather: You know people get all worked up about...
David: Because you can't change the situation personally. To get angry, to get frustrated, unless of course you are stranded on the tarmac for seven hours.
Heather: Oh yeah. No one likes that.
David: But that's an unusual and an awful situation but flight delays happen. You really should go to the airport knowing that they could happen, to begin with. And be prepared for that.
Heather: And when they don't happen be very happy.
David: Yeah. Exactly.
Heather: It is a miracle.
David: That is called managing expectations. OK. Heather, I want to say, "Thank you." I've enjoyed this conversation so, so much.
Heather: Oh. Thanks.
David: And I would like to talk to you again in the future.
Heather: Of course. I would love it. OK. Thank you.
David: For all our listeners out there, you can read Heather's column "Galley Gossip" on gadling.com. You can also read her personal blog which has some of the same content, at heatherpoole and that is poole with an "e," .com. Thanks. And have a good day.
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