“More than a job, it’s a mission.”
The flight attendant noticed the lady as soon as she got on the plane. Of all the passengers he had discreetly observed, she was the one who seemed to need the most care. The tension in her face revealed some discomfort. Would she be afraid to fly? Was she in a fragile situation? He didn’t know, but he had noticed that she was alone and scared.
So, in every minute he found between tasks in the cabin, the flight attendant sat next to her, holding her hand, at a time when it was still possible to do so without thinking about Covid. At the end of the flight, the passenger smiled and would never forget João Paulo Costa’s gesture.
Professionalism or empathy?
It is not uncommon for SATA Air Açores’ passengers to feel that the crew anticipates their needs, and pay a special and very familiar attention to them. With frequent flyers, especially, there’s always a question about family, work, or just mood. This is partly due to their training.
But in the Azores, it is much more than that. Our crew members are aware, in a very personal way, of what it means to be an islander. Being islanders, they know first-hand the particularities of living on wonderful islands, but which, in winter, can be quite temperamental and even a little scary for those who have not made flying their career.
The work of a SATA Air Açores crew member: in practice
The best way to understand someone else’s work is to literally put yourself in their shoes and embrace their tasks for a while. Of course, it is not always possible, but observing also helps to understand. Therefore, we followed a day of work of a SATA Air Açores crew composed of Captain José Botelho, Co-pilot Pedro Cambraia and Pursers Carlos Gouveia and João Paulo Costa.
The working day started at 7:10 am in the briefing room where, after introducing themselves, the crew began analysing the flight process, where the flight plan was verified, a detailed analysis of the meteorological conditions was carried out to proceed, then to fuel calculation.
The list of passengers and special cases were also verified, such as the transport of stretchers or passengers in wheelchairs, among other situations.
The entire crew boarded twenty minutes before the passengers, to ensure that the aircraft was ready for flight service. Safety, emergency equipment and aircraft systems, catering and cleaning checklists were followed.
Meanwhile, in the cockpit, the safety inspection and preparation for the flight took place, during which the cockpit crew checked and connected all the equipment. After a vast set of mandatory procedures, the aircraft performance calculations for take-off were performed.
The day went on in a sequence of six take-offs and landings, where it was necessary to repeatedly perform various procedures and accommodate passengers, within a time window of 25 minutes, in order to guarantee the necessary and demanding levels of safety and, also, to ensure good punctuality levels.
Constant attention and focus
“Situation awareness” is an expression present in every moment on the work of a cabin crew member. It means having a good level of awareness of the environment to gather all the necessary data to make the best possible decision in case of need or emergency.
A regular working day normally has six landings, and can go up to eight if necessary. Considering that most of the working day is spent in critical phases, that is, landings and take-offs, we can already predict the level of demand and fatigue that the role implies.
“In the ten or fifteen minutes of flight that we have free of previously stipulated procedures, attention is always given to the cabin environment and passengers. We also have to constantly check that the luggage is properly accommodated, especially in cases of turbulence. And, in an instant, we are already landing and it starts all over again with new passengers, a new environment and a renewed need for attention”, explains Nélia Pavão who, as a purser, is also responsible for cabin management, and connection with the cockpit and with ground-handling staff.
Flexibility, resilience and decision-making ability
Some time ago, a passenger, who was traveling with her team to a sports championship on another island, forgot her cell phone in the departure lounge. The purser decided to inform the captain, who decided to ask her ground assistance colleagues for help in trying to find her cell phone so that the passenger could travel peacefully.
It is not always possible to proceed like that. A delay, even five minutes, can jeopardize the day’s flights and cause a lot of inconvenience to the company and other passengers. In this case, due to a series of favorable conditions, it was possible and, in a short time, the crew took the decision that not only reassured the passenger but also avoided a series of inconveniences that the search for the cell phone would cause the company later.
It is always necessary to decide considering the global situation of the entire SATA service, which goes far beyond the actual transport of passengers on an aircraft.
A job where many others fit
“It’s all right. Don’t worry because you will reach your destination safely.” stated Nélia, seconds after she had decided to get up to give emotional support to a passenger, whom she had noticed especially anxious. Looking into the passenger’s eyes and taking his hands, she reassured him, also avoiding a situation of generalized panic in the cabin. The flight turbulence level, on this winter day, recommended that the crew be seated and with the seat belt fastened. But, in the face of a passenger who panics, it is common for a crew member to leave his seat to calm him down and reassure him.
This decision is always taken with the premise of maintaining the safety of passengers, colleagues and cockpit.
It is in these situations that crew members have to show their multifaceted abilities to accommodate the most varied needs of passengers, often becoming nurses, police officers, teachers, psychologists, friends, and the safe haven of those who, for example, have a phobia of flying.
Sensitivity to the difficulties that passengers may be facing are also essential attributes in a cabin crew member.
Carlos Gouveia tells us about a situation in which, just before take-off and with the plane already moving on the runway, a passenger panicked and asked to leave the flight. He talked to him, with a lot of empathy and, realizing that he was really anxious, arranged everything, with the rest of the crew, so that the passenger could leave. “Years later, during a flight, you came to me, introduced yourself and thanked us for the care we took in managing the situation. By then, the fear of flying was already over.” tell us the cabin chief.
The day we followed the work of an SP crew was also the last day of work for the head of cabin, João Paulo Costa. He spent more than 35 years at SATA Air Açores, performing his duties with good mood, competence and friendliness. The working day was, therefore, full of tight hugs, wishes for happiness, health and luck, and also some tears of commotion from those who embrace a good phase of life, leaving a job that is like a second home.
João Paulo told us about the emotion he feels when he sees the joy of emigrants who come to visit the Azores, the way their eyes shine when smelling their islands, and how he can’t help but be saddened when he sees them leave, with a heavy heart.
He also tells us one of the funniest stories he lived:
Sense of Mission and the affection of passengers
SATA Air Açores has been part of the personal history of every Azorean for almost eighty years. Its mission goes far beyond the commercial transport of passengers between the nine islands of the archipelago. SATA Air Açores’ main mission is to always be there for the Azoreans, uniting what the sea separates, especially in the most difficult circumstances.
Maybe that’s why, and because they feel that SATA is theirs, that Azoreans have a very special relationship with the airline and its workers. As a family, they defend SATA with energy, but, naturally, they also demand that the company live up to their high expectations.
In the Azores, the appreciation and proximity that passengers feel towards SATA Air Açores is notorious.
“There is special recognition for the work provided to Azoreans by SATA Air Açores, especially on the smaller islands.” tells us the commander José Botelho, who has connected the islands of the Azores by air for more than two and a half decades.
Many smaller islands depend on SATA Air Açores to transport people for specialist medical appointments, in the case of baby births and, often, to have access to groceries and other essentials, when weather conditions do not allow the boats to move between islands.
In 2020, during the emergency phase caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, SATA Air Açores created conditions to guarantee the transport of priority cargo, such as medicines, medical supplies and essential goods, increasing the Dash8’s cargo capacity. Q200 operating in an alternative version Passenger / cargo configuration. In parallel, under specific legislation, SATA Air Açores obtained a special authorization from the National Civil Aviation Authority to convert a DASH8 Q400 into a freighter, in order to guarantee the transport of cargo and mail between the Azores/Mainland /Azores. Also, in these months, the pride felt in working at SATA was evident.
Serving the Azores and the Azoreans is like serving your own family and dearest friends, uniting what the sea separates. This is the mission of SATA Air Açores and its crews.