Simon & Schuster
The new novel Fall takes place aboard a flight from Los Angeles to New York, in which the pilot learns that a terrorist is planning to kill his family unless he crashes the plane. Author TJ Newman, who spent 10 years as a flight attendant, says inspiration for the story came to her while she was at work.
“I look at the passengers who are all asleep… and I have this thought that their lives, my life, the lives of my teammates were all in the hands of the pilots,” said Newman. “It was the first time I thought: with so much power and responsibility, how vulnerable does that make a professional pilot?”
Newman couldn’t shake the question. She began working on the novel by hand, jotting down dialogue or ideas on napkins in the quiet moments of red-eye flights.
“A passenger would come around the corner [of the galley] and I would ask for something, and I would just turn the paper over and put it away, and then once they were taken care of, I would take it out and go on, ”she said.
Newman transferred his flight notes into a single document on his iPad during days off and layovers. Little by little, the book was formed.
Although she’s no longer a flight attendant, Newman says she would “absolutely” recommend the job to others.
“It’s a phenomenal job where you can visit great places that you probably wouldn’t have been able to visit otherwise, stay in beautiful hotels and fly with the best crews,” she says. “That being said, have I spent many days on my hands and knees, scraping up the vomit of a complete stranger? Yeah. I certainly have. It’s not often enough.”
Simon & Schuster
On training for all kinds of disaster situations, from self-defense to hijacking
There is a misconception that flight attendants are on board for duty, that we are only there to bring you food and drink, and that is simply not true. … If all you see us doing is drink service it’s a great workday because it means we aren’t actually doing our job because we have training in everything from hazardous materials to diversions going through medical situations, turbulence and mechanical issues. I mean, we go through an in-depth training program and then every year we go through a recurring training program that lasts for several days and has online components as well. We have an 800 page manual. … Service is something that is hardly touched upon in initial training. This is just not what we are doing. That’s not what we’re here for. But like I said, if that’s all you see us do … it’s a big day. It means that I am not really doing my job. I just do a delicious service.
On a frightening incident during a flight
One of the scariest things was that a passenger took a full psychotic break, and it wasn’t a medical emergency or physical threat enough that we turned away, but it did mean we had to deal with it. of this passenger, who at any moment could turn violent … in a pressure tube with hundreds of people traveling hundreds of kilometers an hour. And I think it was this tension going on for hours, as we were just trying to deal with this situation … I mean, the margin of error when you’re on a plane and you’re on a flight is so small and even something as small as someone having a psychotic attack, which could be considered small if it goes well, but if it does not go well, we are really in a world of pain.
Feel close to the crew
I felt that way all the time. It is what it is. You are in a closed environment with a small group of people. And for the duration of this flight, whether it’s a quick 45 minute flight or a six hour trip [transcontinental flight], it’s you guys, and you are all in the same boat and especially when you face any situation. It just becomes poignant that you are a small collective group. … This is how I look at the plane. This is how I look at a group of passengers. We’re a family, and it’s a limited time, but for this limited time, it’s us.
On the importance of identifying problematic passengers when boarding
Every boarding process, all eyes are on the passengers as they board, both to find … your hot spots, your potential problems and also to find – your ABPs, your able-bodied people, who are people that we will keep. be careful if we need to go looking for volunteers in case we have some kind of situation and we need strong bodies able to help us. And this is how we are trained to think. We are constantly on the lookout for these things and especially when boarding. This is essential, because being a flight attendant is all about de-escalation, but beyond de-escalation, it’s about spotting a problem before it becomes a problem so that we can occupy it before it escalates to a point beyond our control. And if we can handle a situation like that while we’re still on the pitch and the door is open, it’s a much preferred situation.
The most common is boarding passengers who appear to be intoxicated. And if before you even get on the flight, I smell alcohol on you and you are not walking straight and you have the wrong speech, we are really going to have a problem once we are at altitude and you’ll have another drink and now we’re in a closed environment. So in situations like this it is always better to have a boarding agent on board and try to deal with the situation or get the passenger out. And it happens very frequently.
On passengers watching flight attendants during turbulence
It’s a smirk of “nothing to do here, folks.” It’s so funny to me because people seem to lose sight of the fact that we’re in a metal tube miles in the air, traveling hundreds of miles an hour – like it’s a whole pretty unbelievable circumstances, but people forget it because we ‘I got so used to it. But the second the plane collides, the second there is turbulence, all eyes are on the flight attendants. Is this normal? Is it correct? Are we alright? Like, you can read it on their faces, and it’s our job … to calm and reassure and let people know that it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s gonna be okay. Even if in the back of your mind you say to yourself: “This is a lot, there is a lot going on! … But that’s not what they present to the passenger. When they walk around the kitchen curtain and are in the privacy of the kitchen, they’re going to be a bit more casual and improvised. But with the audience, it’s, “We’re fine. We’re under control.”
On her party trick – guess what people are going to order to drink before ordering it
It’s like a party trick for flight attendants. I can usually walk to a row and with fairly decent accuracy be able to call out what a person is going to drink before ordering it. … Not only that, you’re going to ask for coffee, but I know how you’re going to take it. Oh, you want cream or sugar. Tell are cities. You get to know your destinations well. Also, if I go to Boston, I know my seltzer is gone. Put all the tea bags you have on the cart as they will drink it all. So you get to know your routes. … we’re trained to read people and pick up on the subtle cues and body language, what they’re wearing and how they act, and all those subtle clues that they also add to something so silly and lacking. consequence that “What can I make you drink?” “
Sam Briger and Joel Wolfram produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper, and Petra Mayer adapted it for the web.