Ask An A380 Purser: Part Two

I have a good friend that’s an A380 purser for a major carrier, and last week he was kind enough to post his answers to some questions I had about his job. I invited you guys to ask more follow up questions which he was happy to answer.

So here are the questions along with his answers:

Michael asked:

How is the crew prepared to deal with severe weather/turbulence? Have you ever experienced clear air turbulence?

The crew aren’t really trained to deal with this. We just know that we’re meant to stay calm in the view of passengers. I have never felt scared of turbulence, only sick/fed up. The worst turbulence I’ve experienced was over the Bay of Bengal. It’s an area where it usually occurs.

Miro asked:

Have you ever upgraded (non-rev) someone from Y to C or even F, and what was criterion?

It is strictly forbidden by the company I work for to give complimentary upgrades and if it was discovered that I had, the punishment is demotion. The only time I’ve upgraded a non-rev passenger is when I have had an issue in economy (broken seat) and had to move someone up to business.

Imperator asked:

I’ve had a small handful of flights with lousy inflight crews. In most of these rare incidences the crews were just indifferent, similar to Ben’s LH flight from Seattle to Frankfurt. However, I’ve had a couple of overseas flights where the crews have been laughingly rude. What is the best way to express displeasure with a crew’s service both while in flight and after the flight is complete?

I always appreciate it if a passenger informs me about one of the crew who they feel is not performing the way they should be. This at least gives me a chance to rectify the situation on board. If you are still not happy with the outcome it is a good idea to send an email to customer services. This is then followed up by the crew member’s manager and they can see if there is a trend with that particular person.

David asked:

How much are pursers paid?

I won’t tell you an exact figure, but I feel I am paid well for what I do. The benefits are not just money. I also receive extra perks such as getting upgraded at hotels and more staff travel benefits.

Joey asked:

Some questions:

1) Do you take a break during long-haul flights? If so, who is the purser then? Do you get a private room to sleep in or do you sleep/nap with the rest of the crew?
2) Have you ever had anyone in economy try to bribe you to get a seat in business class? (or a business class person to first class)
3) Does the crew have their own restroom? Or do they use the first class restrooms?
4) Have you ever given a tour of the bar or shower to someone who is in economy class? a tour of the A380 shower to someone who is in business class?
5) Has anyone ever given you their number or have you ever given your number to any passenger you fancied?
6) Have you ever met anyone famous in one your flights? Did they sit in economy?
7) In the passenger list for business class and first class, does it state whether a passenger is flying on a reward ticket?
8) Have you ever been on an A380 flight with an empty First class? If so, which route?
9) During purser training, do they fly you in first class at least once (so you know what it feels like to be a first class passenger and thus know the expectations.)

Yes we do get breaks on long haul flights. It can be anywhere from 45 minutes to 5 hours depending on the sector. When I am on my break I will designate one of the senior crew to take over my duties. They will deal with minor issues while I am resting, but I will be woken up if there is something major (such as a medical case which may require diversion). I share the same bunks as the rest of the crew but mine has a phone installed in case I need to be contacted.

I’ve never had anyone try to bribe me but I am always getting requests for upgrades. People will try to use medical excuses such as “my leg hurts and I need to stretch out.” It soon stops hurting when I inform them that I can arrange for them to be offloaded and to see a medical team. I also get lots of couples traveling together in different cabins who expect one of them to be upgraded. The general rule is ‘if you want to travel in a certain cabin, you need to book it!’

Crew are not meant to use the first class lavatories and will be reprimanded by me if they try to. Only the pilots get that privilege. I do know that some other A380 operators have their own crew bathroom on board.

The company policy is that no one may move between cabins (in an upward direction) during the flight. I personally think it is a great idea to show off our first and business products to high level frequent fliers. After all, they may book that cabin on their next trip. I will also show people if I find out that they have routed their trip just so they can fly on the A380. I’ll also try to arrange a flight deck visit for them on arrival. I would never do the above if I felt it would disturb passengers traveling in the higher cabins though.

I’ve received several numbers and business cards during my flights. Unfortunately they always seem to be from people you don’t plan to call! I’ve never given my personal number out to a passenger before.

I have flown with quite a few famous people now including Hollywood actors, footballers and politicians. Most of them will be sat in the first class cabin but occasionally they will be in business too. I love treating them like a normal person and I think they appreciate it too. On board is one of the only times they aren’t in the spotlight and can relax and I like to give them space to do that. My crew are not allowed to speak to them unless they are directly responsible for taking care of them. The only exception is if they offer to have photos/give autographs.

We can’t tell who is on an award ticket and who has paid. We can however see why someone has been upgraded (complimentary, paid or miles). We will discreetly offer meal choices last to someone on a complimentary upgrade. Paid or miles upgrades are treated the same as other passengers.

I wish! We get to be a first class passenger in one of the training classrooms when we are learning how to deliver that service.

JohnB asked:

Why can one flight’s service, even in the same class, be so different from other flights on the same airline?

This is all to do with the passenger profile and crew on the day. If the passengers all want the standard service (eg 3 courses in business) then it will run quite smoothly. If several people decide that they want to change something (eg only starter and dessert or they keep asking for extra things during the service) then it can really slow down/mess up the service for other people around them as it affects the flow. The other factor is the crew. They may be new or not used to the route or they might just not work well together as a team.

Erica asked:

Is there a good way to deal with a language barrier with crew members during flight? I recently flew from SFO to Hong Kong in first and one of the flight attendants came across pretty badly. I just chalked it up to the fact that either she was having a bad day or she just wasn’t as fluent in English as she could be…

The thing I’ve learnt with this is to be patient and keep repeating and rephrasing until they get it right. Culture can play a big part in misunderstandings. Last month I asked a crew member to “pass me the OJ”. I got a blank stare in return as she’d never heard orange juice called that before.

Mrs N asked:

This is coming from being a high school college & career counselor (I might use the contents of this post for a lesson): how did you become a purser? What sort of education or training would you recommend for a young person pursuing a career in this field?

I finished high school and then went on to work for a travel agency. This gave me a great insight into the world of travel. In the travel industry I think that experience is the most important thing you can have. It’s also a bonus if you’ve learnt another language (I speak sign language and German) or you have a certificate in first aid. I would avoid going to one of those ‘flight attendant schools’ that you sometimes see advertised. It does not help you get a job with an airline. When they recruit you, the airline will train you with everything you need to know.

Ed asked:

A few items in here suggest to me that maybe you’re flying for AF. Whether or not that’s the case (heh), can you tell me what your company and personal policies are that ensure great experiences for kids on board? I recently flew a certain carrier BOS-CDG and was so impressed (both ways) with how well children were handled that it’s extremely unlikely I’ll fly an different airline TATL with my family again.

My airline is great at looking after kids. We have TV programs, coloring books and toys. The service you will receive on any airline depends on how much the crew like/understand children. You might have a great flight on American and then a lousy one on Etihad (who have ‘Sky Nannies’) because of the crew’s attitude towards children.

JustSaying asked:

Following 9/11 I flew quite a few times on USA metal domestic where the flight team seemed to take the safety mission to their head in a way that really was distasteful and bullied the passengers…….as a passenger I felt there was really no way to respond other than take more driving vacations……have your airline experienced that over reaction with some crew and how have you dealt with it?

My personal opinion on this is that most crew (and airport staff) in the US use ‘security’ as an excuse to tell you to do something. I’ve seen some huge, over the top reactions from them when traveling as a passenger. All airlines care about security but most don’t want to show passengers what their procedures are.

Joey asked:

Have you ever helped passengers put their luggage on the overhead bin? Over here in the USA (United ahem), whenever I hear a request from an elderly passenger or a passenger who is short, the flight attendant flatly refuses to help! Either another passenger or myself would step up and help the passenger put his/her luggage up there.

If we injure ourselves whilst putting bags in an overhead locker and have to stay at home, that is a lot of money lost in wages. We will always assist someone who needs it (eg elderly) but I get really annoyed when I see fit people bringing on huge cases and then asking my team members to put them up. I encourage my crew to call me and I’ll put the bag in the hold instead. If you can’t lift it, don’t expect us to!

Amama asked:

What will you do if the baby in the business class cries loudly and other passengers complain to you? Do the crews usually dislike babies on the plane, especially in first or business class?

We’ll see if we can help the parent by bringing them something but other than that, there’s not much we can really do. Babies are babies and they will cry. If we have empty seats in another area of the cabin I will offer those to the complaining passenger.

Thanks to everyone for their questions, and thanks to the A380 purser who shall remain nameless for his awesome answers! If there are enough further follow up questions, maybe I can twist his arm into writing another post. 😉

Filed Under: Advice
  1. This purser obviously works for Singapore Airlines. Tell tale signs. ( Hint : I fly SQ a lot)

  2. Great post. Many thanks to the purser for his/her candid answers (the gender term used in “his awesome answers” may just be a cover to throw people off!) 😉

  3. A “fact” told by a friend in UAE:”90% of Emirates’ Male flight attendants are gay”.

  4. To the purser, I don’t care about who your employer is, I really appreciated the insights, so thank you for this!

    @ Pablo (Comment 9)
    Thank you for your wonderful contribution to the sum of human knowledge, so so helpy.

  5. @TravelinWilly, don’t get me wrong, I’m not making a assumption here but just post what I was being told. BTW, Emirates is one of my favorite airlines and I get very excited every time I flew with them.

  6. “I speak sign language”. I’ve never heard someone say/write that before.

    @Pablo – WTF does that have to do with anything, let alone this topic?

    Thanks for the unique insight, “A380 purser”

  7. “Hollywood actors, footballers and politicians” = British Airways

    Also thanks for your insights.

  8. @Todd

    Completely and totally off topic, apologies to Lucky!

    It’s interesting how communicating with the deaf works. There was (it could be “is” but I don’t remember the guy’s screen name, so I’m not sure he’s still around) a member of Flyertalk who was deaf, and the way he wrote was quite unique. The guy was patient in explaining it to people (I think there are differences in sighing with ASL vs writing words in English using 26 characters, etc.), as some simply assumed that he was a troll or whatever. Ultimately and fortunately his posts always made sense, and he was a good contributor, but I learned a few things from that guy. And as a further interesting read, there’s this:

  9. Thoroughly enjoyed all the questions and answers! I learned so much. Thank you to the A380 Purser and to Lucky for coming up with this behind the scenes look at flying.

    Loved it!

    Please do more postings like this in addition to all your great stuff..It really balances your blog and that’s why we support you so much.

    You rule, my blog friend!!

  10. I hope you are running my crew when I get to fly the 380 up front……..appreciate you taking the time and your perspective serves the industry well!

  11. Babies cry.

    Right, so they really shouldn’t be in first class, just as they shouldn’t be at a Michelin starred fine dining restaurant.

  12. @ Pablo — Completely unrelated to this post (or purser in question, in this case), but asked a friend at Emirates about this, and his response was “I wish.” More like 60/40 apparently.

  13. Thank you! Especially enjoyed reading answers on security and carry-on luggage.

    @ Lucky – any thoughts to making a more “Ask a ____” posts, like a semi-regular series? Maybe something like a domestic FA, int’l FA, ground grew, etc.

  14. Nice post, I truly enjoyed the insightful responses from A380 purser, thanks for sharing. And Lucky, yes you should definitely do more of these write ups, it was great fun and informative.

  15. I just caught up on this. Thank you for answering my question, mystery purser, and Lucky – this is a really good idea for an ongoing column! I’d love some Q&A from the people that deal with us professionally (or some not-so).

    Regarding babies in F/J, if you don’t like it, fly private or find an airline that doesn’t allow it. Otherwise, although you’re paying a lot for that fare, you’re not paying enough to exclude babies so you just have to deal with it. If the airline will sell an infant fare for that cabin, it’s 100% fair for the parent and child to fly it. I’m not just saying that as a parent, either. I fully admit kids on planes (in any cabin) annoyed me pre-parenthood, but I never expected people to stay home for that reason.

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