On Becoming An Aviatrix: From Jumpseat to Left Seat (Part IV)

16 07 2010

At the end of my last post, Making My Way to the Front , I found myself in awe at an altitude of 24,000 feet in the flight deck for the first time. Who knew delivering a cup of coffee could be so life changing? As I walked back into the cabin and sat in my flight attendant jumpseat I could not get the experience of being in the flight deck out of my head. It played like a movie, and would continue to do so repeatedly. To this day I remember it clearly. A seed had germinated, and was about to go through its first rapid growth spurt.

What was the short term result of my experience in the flight deck? I became an excellent flight attendant of course! Not only is it in my nature to try and do whatever it is I do well (which I will add I accomplish to varying degrees), but I had one important extra incentive to do a good job and to do it quickly. Back in the pre-9/11 days, flight attendants were permitted to enter the flight deck during flights, unlike post-9/11 which allows them to enter the flight deck only under very few specific circumstances. So I learned to accomplish my flight attendant duties very quickly and efficiently, the reward being a short break up in the flight deck. This was no small feat. At American Eagle, being a regional airline, the flights were brief, most often under an hour and some as short as 20 minutes. It became like a game – literally.

One flight crew I was flying with for a month actually used to bet on how long it would take me to complete my inflight service and make my routine interphone call: “Anything needed in the flight deck?” That was their cue to ask me for something…anything. Even if they didn’t need anything my answer was always “Right away.”

That is how almost every flight possible I ended up in the flight deck jumpseat for about 5 to 10 minutes at a time. That was a lot of time considering our schedules included up to 7 flights each day, and our lines probably averaged about 70 hours per month. I did that for 2-1/2 years. Sometimes I would just sit and observe. Other times I would ask questions. Many of the pilots were very encouraging about my desire to learn to fly, and gave me short “lessons.” They let me shadow them on their pre- and post-flight aircraft inspections while explaining what they were doing and answering any questions I may have had.

Later on, after I had begun formal flight training, I even called in for the preflight ATIS (automated terminal information system, i.e. weather, airport notes, etc.) and IFR (instrument flight rules) clearance on the ground while at LAX.

It was June 4, 1998, just a little over three months after I had become a flight attendant that I took my introductory flight at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP) on the California Central Coast. A good friend of my husband who was a private pilot highly recommended to me his CFI (certified flight instructor). I trusted this particular friend’s judgment, so I went with his recommendation and scheduled my first flight. I showed up to the airport having no idea what to expect.

No one that I was very close to was a pilot, so I was “green” in the true sense of the term. I remember thinking that he would probably do most or all of the flying while explaining to me what he was doing. How wrong I was! From preflight to postflight and everything in between he had me do everything.

The first of many surprises was how small the airplane was. It was two-place, Cessna 152. While sitting inside it felt smaller than any car in which I had ever been! But first things first: we would begin by inspecting the plane, simply called the preflight. I actually questioned whether or not he was pulling my leg when he told me to climb up on the strut to inspect the wing and then take off the gas caps and smell the gasoline…”Really?!,” I said. “Yes, really,” he said. That particular dialog happened repeatedly throughout the flight as he talked me through the whole experience, step-by-step. “I’m going to take off??? …..You want me to stall the plane?!?….Turn this steeply??? …..Do you really think I can land this?!?!” YES, I could do it, and I did it. When it was all over, I was back on the ground, but still in the clouds! Every pilot remembers their first flight, which is always a magical moment in one’s life.

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return. — Leonardo Da Vinci

Next blog post: The logistics & challenges of learning to fly while juggling home life and working as a full time flight crew member.

Previously published July 7, 2010 at Forbes.com “Wheels Up”

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4 responses

16 07 2010
gregackerman

Great post Michelle. You really took the reader along with you on your journey. Thanks for sharing and have a super weekend, friend.

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16 07 2010
Michelle C. Torres-Grant

Thanks Greg! You’re a great friend, and I hope your weekend is fantastic 🙂

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21 08 2010
ladypilot

Thank you so much for sharing your walk and I am so looking forward to your next post. I am beginning my flight training. My favorite sound is is the sound of jets engines starting up.

Sincerely, Tricia

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21 08 2010
Michelle C. Torres-Grant

You’re welcome ~ glad to share in your enthusiasm for aviation! My next blog post should be up this coming week 🙂

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