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Coast-to-Coast Class

Flight attendant Heather Adams serves up can-do spirit all across the country

Author Pete Rapalus

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This fall, United’s Heather Adams celebrates her Sweet Sixteen—the number of years the New York–based flight attendant has worn the uniform. Adams has spent most of the past decade working United’s “p.s.” premium service flights, jaunts connecting New York with San Francisco and Los Angeles that are often packed with celebrities and tech firm executives. She works to deliver a flyer-friendly experience to road warriors and infrequent flyers alike.

“We get a lot of famous people on the p.s. flights, of course, and a lot of regular customers we know on a first-name basis by now,” Adams says. “I believe it’s our job to make sure that everybody on the plane is made to feel special and will choose United again.”

Some customers board having already had a bad day, and Adams takes extra care to make their flights pleasant. After all, no crew wants an unhappy cabin for six hours.
“For each person who comes through the door, there are things we just don’t know,” she says. “Everybody is flying for a reason, and we don’t know that reason or what else happened. We’re there for their safety, to make them comfortable and to make their flying experience as pleasurable as possible.”

Making the travel experience a positive one can involve undoing a problem that started in the terminal, or even a problem that may have had nothing to do with the trip. Adams recalls one man on a flight she recently worked who was “ready to explode” by the time he sat down. He and his family were on their highly anticipated annual vacation. When the airline needed to make an aircraft change to avoid a long delay, the family members were separated throughout the cabin.

“I couldn’t get him his seats back, but I could let him vent a little and tell his story. After he calmed down, I talked it over with the rest of the crew, and we made sure his family got excellent and personalized service the whole flight,” Adams says.

It worked. Afterward, the customer wrote to complain about the seat-assignment changes, but said, “… because of Heather Adams, I will fly United again.”

Adams says that when she was hired in Southern California in 1997, she felt honored to have been picked from an applicant pool that numbered in six figures, and to this day considers herself lucky to serve as a United flight attendant. Her friend, fellow flight attendant Kathy Goldstein, says she’s inspired by the “dignity and respect” Adams shows everyone in the cabin.

“Respect and dignity go a very long way to making a flight a good experience for everyone on the plane,” Goldstein says. “The rest is easy, because the fun always comes easy. Working flights with Heather, we all have a good time.”

Adams says she still treats each flight like a unique, special experience, “Because for some of my customers, that’s exactly what it is.

“I really like taking care of our customers,” she continues. “I enjoy the interactions. I like making a difference for people, and I know that I can make a big difference in whether they come back for another flight or choose another airline.”

Adams is also a big promoter of the new p.s. cabins, which feature lie-flat beds for the Premium cabin customers and a greatly improved Economy cabin, with Wi-Fi and personal on-demand entertainment at every seat, among other things.

“I was on the team that helped introduce the new cabin to other crews, and I love it,” she says. “As a workplace, it’s second to none in the skies. I have noticed, however, that everyone is enjoying the entertainment and using Wi-Fi so much, we don’t get as many requests for service on the new planes. Sometimes I look around the cabin and everyone is so occupied, it’s almost like they don’t need us as much.”

As if that were possible.

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