Interface between gate, cabin and cockpit.
On Friday morning at 4:30 a.m. my alarm clock yanks me out of my deep sleep. At this time of day, everything is organised precisely so that no time is lost. Thanks to the good preparation of the previous evening, I am quickly ready to start my working day. Three-quarters of an hour later I am already on the train to Zurich Airport. Once I have arrived at the Operation Center, I first go to my locker – just a few finishing touches and my uniform is ready. I then make a quick stop at the computer stations to check in for my flight duty and print out the most important rotation details before making my way to the briefing room assigned to us. Today we have a Stockholm turnaround with a subsequent Nice night stop.
My name is Alexandra and I work for SWISS as a Maître de Cabine (M/C). As M/C I am in charge of the cabin crew and responsible for ensuring that all the processes in the cabin function as smoothly as possible. I also act as an interface between the cabin, on the one hand, and the cockpit and gate, on the other. Prior to each flight, it is my job to inform the cabin crew about the forthcoming rotation. It is up to me to bond a newly formed crew and create a functioning team. We discuss today’s passenger numbers and profiles as well as the service processes envisaged for our flights. The various service standards depend on the respective time of day and flight time. In each briefing, however, there is also a safety section in which we discuss the processes to be followed in the case of any incidents. A standard saying for us is: «Expect the unexpected».
In our two week period of basic training to become an M/C, one of the things I have learned is to deploy the various tools available to me. Moreover, the function of instructor on board – that an M/C also has to carry out – demands that the various needs of the crew members have to be taken into account. The induction of a totally inexperienced flight attendant requires a different approach to that involved in the regular performance check of a longstanding colleague.
The first thing we do is always to check on board that our safety equipment and systems are complete and function correctly. At the same time, our machine is loaded, catering services are supplied and fuelling takes place. With a quick glance at the time, I realise that boarding is due to commence in three minutes. Time is always tight a consideration as such flight operations have to be organised and coordinated precisely. After I have been given the OK by my colleagues from the cabin crew and from the captain, I give the gate agent the signal to commence boarding.
Boarding is a key sequence for the flight in which we as the cabin crew and notably I as the M/C are stretched to our limits. In addition to greeting the passengers, another of my duties is to count each one as they come on board. At the same time, we have a brief moment during boarding to look at our guests and to act should we have an uneasy feeling about them. A relatively large number of people come together in a tight space at an altitude of 10,000 metres – not a good place to have to resolve conflicts of any significance. We therefore attempt to prevent such occurrences from happening while we are still on the ground and the doors are still open.
Such occurrences can include serious medical problems or behaviour that could compromise the operation of the flight or the safety of other passengers.
In such situations it is important to seek discussion with the guests to obtain more information and background details. I also then go to the captain and briefly describe my impressions to him. Open and direct communication within the crew is essential particularly in such cases in order to provide optimum mutual support. In the case of such decisions, various factors play a role for me and great sensitivity is required as a passenger may be unable to embark on his or her journey as planned. Conveying such a decision is never easy but is part of our job.
I recall parts of my M/C assessment in which that was precisely the task I had to perform. In addition to an interview and a 15-minute presentation, I was able to show in a role play exercise that I could handle an unpleasant situation in a calm and collected manner.
In the preparation period for the assessment over several weeks, I personally considered various management styles and their situational application in practice. My team leader supported me throughout the entire process and took me through a trial run of the assessment shortly before the big day itself.
After boarding has been completed, we can close the doors and embark on our journey to Stockholm. I can now devote myself fully to our 156 passengers and my colleagues.
The flight goes smoothly without any incidents. I even have a few minutes to enjoy my breakfast in the cockpit and appreciate the wonderful view. Such moments delight me every time anew. Our guests too are satisfied and grateful when we bid farewell to them after our almost punctual landing in Stockholm. That is always a great feeling.
Once back in Zurich, there is a delay to our flight to Nice as our aircraft from Berlin has landed late. The smallest unexpected events can disrupt the flight schedule such that time is tight on short-haul flights more often than one might think. Now we can continue our journey to Nice where we round off this long day with a cool beer in the evening and reflect again on all that has happened. It’s a good feeling as a team to have jointly mastered such flight operations with all the associated challenges.