Ask An A380 Purser

I have a good friend that’s an A380 purser for a major carrier. I find his job fascinating.

Here in the US we don’t really have “pursers.” Regardless of what they call the “position” in the US, the lead flight attendant is basically someone that bids for the position and is paid a few bucks extra per hour to do paperwork and make the announcements.

That’s not really the case at most foreign carriers, which have actual pursers. Their job titles vary, from customer service director to inflight service manager to purser.

I happen to think my friend has one of the coolest gigs in the airline industry, so I asked if he wouldn’t mind possibly answering some reader questions. Of course the views expressed don’t represent those of his airline, which shall remain nameless (though hey, there are only so many A380 operators, and I can tell you it’s not China Southern). 😉

What I decided to do is ask him a few questions, and then you guys can submit your questions for him in the comments section. He’ll write a follow up post answering as many of the questions as possible.

With that out of the way, here are my questions for him along with his answers:

What’s your favorite part about being a purser? Least favorite part?

I think my favourite part about being a purser is that I am the one who gets to set the tone for the flight. If I brief my team in an energetic way I usually find that this creates the right atmosphere for them to get on board and deliver a great service.

I also enjoy the fact that I am in charge on board and therefore I can make decisions without having to check if they’re ok with anyone else first (unless it’s safety related in which case I’ll always let the captain decide). Of course the company does have policies which I have to follow too. It makes my day when I am able to solve a problem for someone. They get off the plane happy and it saves customer services from having to deal with their complaint.

My least favourite part is having to deal with a lazy crew member who doesn’t care about the job. I wish they’d just quit rather than keep doing the job because they want the benefits. There are plenty of other people out there who would love to take their place.

As a purser, what are you responsible for? Do you primarily manage your crew, or also directly serve passengers?

As a purser I have many roles:

I am a performance manager for my team. I assign their working positions and I complete appraisals on some of them, during each trip. I can also stand them down from duty if I find they do not know their safety procedures, they are not carrying the correct documents (eg flying license, vaccination record) or their performance is extremely bad. Thankfully this is a very rare occurrence.

I am a customer service manager for the passengers. I ensure that the services are being delivered correctly. I help to solve problems and deal with complaints. I also welcome back the top level frequent flyers during the flight and check if I can do anything for them.

I am ‘the secretary’ for the aircraft. I ensure that all the paperwork is in order for the crew and aircraft. We get something called a GD which is a group passport for the crew and I have to check the details on it are correct. During each flight I must make sure that all relevant paperwork is completed for customs in the destination country (eg Bar contents lists for the UK, Aircraft disinfecting forms for Australia). I also arrange to order anything we need from catering that is not part of the standard uplift (eg Extra juices and water). I document issues and provide feedback to the company for each flight too (eg Customer complaints, Delays, Catering shortfalls).

I am a crew member. On certain aircraft types I am assigned an area of the first class cabin to serve. On others, I will help out where I think it is necessary. I still enjoy doing a cart in economy!

Have you ever had passengers on one of your flights try to join the mile high club?

I’ve had several passengers try this. The company policy is that it is not permitted, but my personal opinion is that if it doesn’t affect anyone else then why not let them get on with it? I did have one flight where one of my senior crew rang me to say it was happening. By the time I arrived she was just opening the lavatory door. I remember seeing the lady shoving the man’s shirt in the sink and shouting “He spilt something on it and I was just washing it!” It would’ve been plausible apart from the fact that he had no trousers on either!

What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever witnessed “on the job?”

There’s so many of these that most things don’t surprise me anymore. I’ve had crew members not knowing which country they’re going to, passengers trying to shove bags the size of vending machines into overhead lockers that are obviously too small, ground staff that can’t understand English and pilots having an argument.

What’s one thing a passenger can do to stand out or make their cabin crew smile?

Just being polite and patient with us. Manners cost nothing and the way you speak to someone can affect how you are treated in return. An example of this is when someone has a complaint. If they shout and scream and make a big scene about it, I will generally do the minimum that is required by company policy. If they speak calmly and explain the situation then I am a lot more willing to go above and beyond. This may be the difference between receiving a complaint form and being told to write in or ‘getting a better seat.’

Being patient can really help. Some people forget that there can be up to 400 other people seated behind them that we need to look after too. If you ask the crew for something please give them a few minutes to bring it back to you. We hate it when several of us are asked and we realise when we’re all trying to get it from the same galley.

Which cabin is most difficult to work – first, business or economy class?

In my opinion I find the business cabin the hardest to work in. The passengers sat there have paid quite a lot of money (or miles!) and they expect a high level of service. On my airline the business and first class services are very similar so that means we’ve got less crew trying to deliver it to more passengers. I feel guilty when the flight is full and we can’t offer the highest levels of service because we’re running around trying to look after everyone. At the end of the day all I can ask is my crew do their best.

Please post your questions for him below, and you can expect to see answers to most questions in a post next week.

Thanks for reading!

Comments

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

  2. 99% sure I know the airline based on two clues… would be completely irrelevant if they’re speaking from experience on multiple airlines, though

  3. 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?

    Thanks! And I agree with Lucky…is there any sweeter job then being a purser on an international flight?!?!

  4. 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.)

    Thanks for taking the time reading and answering these questions!

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

  6. 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…

  7. 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?

  8. @Tom

    who asked “How many times have you caught two people in the shower?”:

    The only airline with showers on their A380s allows (a maximum of) 2 people in there, so there should be no issue there 😉

  9. 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.

    If you’re not an AF purser, or responding would unwantedly out you, feel free to generalize to your airline.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

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

  13. @ Lucky & Secret Purser – thank you! That was quite informative.

    @ Joey – I believe in the US FAs aren’t allowed to help you with placing items in overhead bins because their/airline’s insurance doesn’t cover injuries in that scenario (don’t ask me why).

  14. Fabulous memories 1995 -2005 dc10 TriStar and a320 Gatwick and stansted London wish I was back !! ?

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