Reserve...what is it like being on Reserve. This is often a question I'm asked by people who don't understand the airline terminology. That's ok, it's even hard for us flight attendants to explain it becuase often times, we don't understand it ourselves....even when we've been flying for so long. It does seem that once we think we understand something, the rules always change, and often not in our favor
What is reserve? Reserve means different things to the different airlines. At my airline, it means death. You have no life. Your life and soul is the airlines! LOL No, not really, it’s just a dreaded time where you have to do some penance and 'pay your dues' to the airline. This is where you have to fully understand what you are signing on the dotted line as a New Hire stating that you will agree to do anything, at anytime the airline may need you for ‘Operational Needs’!
Majority of the airlines have a system in place where they have crewmembers either sitting at the airport waiting to be called to work a trip at a moments notice, or waiting at home with their bags packed, showered and ready to go to the airport within a certain time-frame. This often means those on Reserve are crewmembers covering for another flight attendant who can’t make it for their flight due to a number of things, ie…inclement weather, traffic accident, sick family member (child or elder relative), prior work related injury, falling ill themselves, or crewmembers going ‘illegal’ due to FAA regulations.
For the most part, flight attendants want to work the trips they are scheduled to fly, however there are times when circumstances don’t allow them to make it in for their flight, so they have to call in sick, then provide some type of proof or reason as to why they couldn’t make it to the airport for their trip.
This is where a Reserve crewmember is used. They are the ones who are generally on the lower end of the system seniority and have to be readily available to get to the airport within a certain timeframe in order to make it for the flight they are covering.
I’m not exactly sure how other airlines work; I’ve heard some call their airport standby’s 'ready reserves'. This is usually where a crewmember is sitting in the operations lounge at the airport for a certain amount of time, waiting to possibly fill a position because another crewmember was no where to be seen, late for their trip, or can’t make it due to unforeseen circumstances. Airlines are generally pretty good at looking at the day ahead and estimating how many ‘Reserves’ they will need due to the average amount of sick calls they received in the past, or what the weather is expected to do for that particular airport. (during certain holidays, the amount of sick calls can increase, so some airlines have certain disciplinary measures in place in order for people to not call in sick)
For my airline, a ‘standby’ flight attendant is someone who is sitting at the airport for six hours. Phone in hand, ready for that 'dreadful' call from Crew Scheduling to inform you they have a trip for you! Standbys are often used at the last minute to fill in as a replacement flight attendant of the original crewmember who couldn’t make it for some unknown reason. There are times where the standby is called to the gate because the original crewmember didn’t sign-in, and it shows to the schedulers that a flight is getting ready to board with less than minimum crew. So to ensure the flight boards and leaves on time, a ‘stand-by’ is called to get the flight out on time and make sure the passengers are on their way to their destination.
I could never figure out when the best time was to be on Standby. Of course, it really depended if you wanted to go somewhere. I usually liked the morning Standby’s because they often didn’t have any issues (unless there was that flight attendant that over-slept and you had to take their position). One of the problems with having afternoon standbys was usually because weather and/or air traffic delays started to build up and in-bound crews may miss-connect for their next flight so the standby would have to fill in.
Another portion of our reserve is called “Ready-Reserve”. Being on ‘ready-reserve’, we are available to the company for any trip during a 24hr day period. If someone calls in sick prior to them going to the airport, and there is more than two hours before departure, then the crew schedulers will call the next available flight attendant who is on ‘Ready-Reserve’. The scheduler will call the reserve and inform them of the trip that they will be covering. Depending on what the original trip was, this can consist of anything from a turn-around trip, a two-day trip, or even a three-day trip.
This also depends on how many days the reserve flight attendant is available for. When we bid for our schedules, as a reserve flight attendant, you often bid for days off. For the days that you are ‘good’, you are at the company’s mercy. They can either use you on all the available days, or depending on how many hours you have from other reserve flight attendants, you could sit around and do nothing for a few days.
Throughout the month, the company tries to ensure your hours increase to a certain maximum. Once you reach that maximum, then you are released from the company and no longer have to be available, even if you were still ‘good’ for a few more days (this is generally towards the end of the month)
Each airline has their own way of working and utilizing Reserves, however for us, we can try to input preferences for certain trips, layovers, trip duration, or when a trip departs.
Thisl depends on the operational needs of the company, but we can wish for certain things such as if we want to depart first thing in the morning, depart out of a certain terminal (for co-terminal cities..ie. NYC-LGA/JFK/EWR), specify one or multiple trip durations (1-day, 2-day, 3-day, or 4+days), or specific layover cities.
Another option we can request are Long or Short Call-Out and/or to be Released for the rest of the day. Requesting for long call ready reserve means the flight attendant will not be assigned a trip sequence that signs in prior to 12:00pm. Short call-out indicates a willingness to be contacted out of time accrued order for a sequence that departs less than two hours. The most important is asking to be released! This means that if you have enough hours, and it doesn’t look like the company will use you, you will be released either for the entire day, or for the remainder of the day and don’t have to worry about being utilized for a trip.