For many, this festive season is the loveliest of the year – getting together with family and friends to share delicious food, or to party. Many travel long distances to be with their loved ones at Christmas. But for flight crews it often means being thousands of miles away from home and family.
Planning is key
Planning for the festive season begins early for crews, in November. Using a complex computer system containing all the flights, you try to create the best possible duty roster for yourself for Christmas and New Year. Perhaps you’d like to do your Christmas shopping in New York? Or savour the heat in Bangkok a little while longer? It’s all possible. The flights are organised according to seniority which means, the longer you have been working as a cabin attendant, the greater your chance of getting the flight you want.
But what if you have to work this Christmas? The request system containing all the flights now offers a solution. After all, if you’re working a return flight in Europe on Christmas Day, you could still get home for Christmas dinner that evening. If you land on Christmas Eve that can still count that as having worked Christmas. And there’s another way you can join your family for Christmas – by getting them to travel with you. Lots of crew members try this for longer trips and it can result in some lovely moments. I once celebrated Christmas dinner with thirty people in Kuala Lumpur – my colleagues, their partners, children and friends.
It’s a puzzle
It’s a complex puzzle. Every year anew you wait anxiously to find out whether you’ve got what you requested. Sometimes none of the options are available. When you have 10,000 (!) colleagues, there’s a good chance that too many others will have requested the same flights and that everything has been taken. And who knows, you might fly to a destination and not be allowed to leave the hotel for safety reasons, or find yourself in a country where Christmas isn’t celebrated. Or perhaps you’re allocated a fantastic flight, but no one from home can come along.
But there is always your KLM family! As soon as the flights have been allocated, the search begins to find out who else is on that flight. Internally, calls go out so that plans can be made. While one person reserves a table for twelve strangers, another books a wine tour in Cape Town for the whole crew on Christmas Day. So suitcases get filled with clothes, traditional Christmas fare, drinks – even small gifts to celebrate Christmas en route or on board. KLM has a rule which ensures that if you work one Christmas, you don’t work the next.
Travelling is always different around Christmas. KLM does all it can to get passengers to their destinations at this busy time. Bearing in mind the range of nationalities on board our flights at any one time, aircraft are not decorated for Christmas and there’s no elaborate Christmas menu. Nonetheless, crews often do something small around Christmas, like offering battery-operated candles on a drinks tray, or by donning Christmas hats during boarding. They’re small things but they make the Christmas flights a little more special.
A Crew Christmas
One of my best memories of an on-duty Christmas was Christmas Eve in Chicago. We arrived at the hotel after a long flight. The bar had already closed, but the hotel had arranged something amazing. In a corner stood a gorgeous American Christmas tree, the fire was burning in the hearth, and there was a wonderful Christmas buffet laid out especially for us. Outside it began to snow and inside we raised our glasses to an unexpectedly warm KLM Christmas.
I wish everyone a similarly warm Christmas this year, whether at home, or ten kilometres high! 🎄✨