In the airline industry it is important to take change the same way you take a breath, its going to happen, don’t even try to stop it because you’re only hurting yourself. This was a lesson slow in coming but certainly something that I have learned to deal with by now.
One of the bigger changes I’ve adjusted to was when the mainline airline decided they didn’t want any Saab 340s in their fleet. I fly two small regional jets, a 76 seater CRJ 900 and a fifty seater CRJ 200. I used to fly the old but true 34 seater prop plane, Saab 340. Now for someone based in Minneapolis/St Paul the smaller the plane, the smaller the airport an town one will be flying to. On the jets I fly the east coast and big cities much. On the Saab I was in and out of the Twin Cities and flying places like International Falls, Devils Lake, and Hibbing.
Most flight attendants I know prefer the larger jet we fly. The hours are better and the locations are bigger. But for me, it was all about the Saab. Everyone, including my 5’3” self, had to duck when stepping into the aircraft. They had one small cart and a handful of drawers that comprised the galley, which was actually the entry way to the flight deck. The seating was three across, one seat on one side, and two on the other. The overhead bins weren’t big enough for the smallest basic roller bag. It was a prop plane and sounded like it. In the summer season it was tossed around plenty and gave me lots of experience with turbulence.
I loved it. People didn’t have very high expectations when they were flying out of an airport with one or two gates They were polite and happy to be there. It was loud and passengers were afraid of the plane, and so would do what I tell them to. It was great. After two weeks or so full of flights in and out of big cities with people making international connections, and being shocked at the size of the plane when flying out of New York or Detroit, it was such a breath of fresh air to hop on the Saab. Passengers would simply put their bags under the seat when I asked them to, not ask me why. I would get done with my service in 15 minutes on a full flight. I could chat with passengers about their fishing trips as we flew up to International Falls.
I had several people have their first flight ever on the Saab. The most memorable was an elderly man in a small town in northern Minnesota. He climbed up the metal stairs, which by the way, I folded up and slid behind my jump seat (no joke). As he stepped onto the aircraft he asked where he should sit and I explain his boarding pass. He told me just to tell him what to do because he had never done this before.
Part of me felt bad for him because it was summer, and a more turbulent time of year to fly. We were on a small plane that had the tendency to get tossed around a bit, mostly because we didn’t fly high enough to need to be pressurized. He was wearing a trucker hat from the 80’s, a flannel shirt and had a big grey beard. He had a small duffle bag that was stuffed full enough to be straining at the seams, as his only luggage. He apologized profusely when I asked him (nicely!) to put the bag under the seat, repeating that he really didn’t know what he was doing. I assured him it was just fine and there was nothing to worry about on our way to the Twin Cities.
It was bumpy on the way back to the cities, and he did clutch the armrests with white knuckled vigor. I assured him that this was completely normal and there was nothing to worry about. He kept saying “oh, sure sure,” in an obvious effort to comfort himself. But he was was smiling on his way out.
There was more of a sense of comradery on the Saab as well, between the two pilots and the flight attendant. Its similar on the CRJ 200 when there is only the three of us. But on the Saab, there were a smaller number of pilots who flew the plane and a smaller number of flight attendants who preferred to fly it. It was easier to get to know each other when we were more likely to fly together often. If the crew went out to get drinks or a dinner we would be at a small neighborhood bar or restaurant.
I loved the Saab but most of the passengers didn’t. It was small and loud, and for the many other reasons I have already talked about, it wasn’t the most comfortable plane. The mainline decided it wasn’t up to snuff and after my first year of flying, the Saab was no more. I assumed they went back to Sweden where they were made. I occasionally see on on the east coast where US Airways still flies them.
I miss the relaxed atmosphere of the Saab. Even when things went wrong, I never felt like the passengers wanted to slit my throat for it. I miss the people and I miss knowing all the destinations that I would be staying in. But like I said before, things change often in my industry. The loss of the Saab was just a drop in the bucket.