Stand-by - Column Linda Luftikuss

Stand-by: always ready for take-off

Linda Luftikuss
4 minutes

If you work as a flight attendant or as a pilot, you know what it’s like to be ‘on stand-by’. It’s a type of on-call shift that you find in other workplaces too, such as in the fire brigade, hospitals and even in childcare.

It’s a shift lasting a certain period of time; it’s usually twelve hours in our job. In the old days it even ran to 24 hours, but thankfully that’s a thing of the past. My employer must be able to get hold of me for these 12 hours, and if I get called up I need to make it to the airport within a certain period. In our case, that’s 60 minutes. The so-called stand-by shift may be rostered at different times of the day: from four in the morning until four in the afternoon, but also from eleven until eleven. The shift from 12 noon until midnight is particularly tricky.

Stand-by takes its toll on many colleagues, as they don’t know how their day will pan out. Will they get called up or not? Which route will it be? Stand-by does require a different mindset – particularly when it comes to the early shift. I attempt to organise everything on the previous day, as I theoretically don’t know whether I’ll have a working day that is short and sweet or long and arduous. For this reason, I’ll fix something to eat the night before or get my breakfast ready including snacks. When I’m on ‘earlies’, I lay out my entire uniform so that I’m prepared: if you’re called up from stand-by, you just need to get ready on auto pilot.

I often struggle to sleep before stand-by nights and am restless. This is what it must be like as a parent with a newborn baby trying to sleep. I wake up multiple times in the night and check whether I have a missed call. When I’m on stand-by, I always have the ringtone active; it’s on silent at all other times. However, on one occasion the inevitable finally happened: I missed a call. I was on stand-by from six in the morning until six in the evening. Sometimes you will already have been rostered a ‘flying shift’ the evening before, meaning that you can sleep more easily. However, I wasn’t that lucky this time around. On the prior evening, I went to bed early and set the alarm for 7 a.m. That would be the normal time I’d get up if I’m not woken earlier and would start a quite normal day. When the alarm went off, my first thought was ‘how nice, no news is good news.’ I glanced at my phone and was shocked to see that my company had already called me three times! My phone had been set to silent. You can take it from me: at that moment, my heart was in my mouth and beating nineteen to the dozen. I was immediately wide awake and called my company back.

I was able to count my lucky stars on that day, as they had already found a colleague to fill in for me. What’s more the timeframe was not too egregious – it makes a difference whether you call back within half an hour or you wait three hours. I received a new shift. Nonetheless, I was quite sorry about the incident, as I of course wanted to avoid any trouble for my colleagues. I even had a second slice of luck, as I didn’t get into hot water with my employer – I don’t know exactly why that was. If something of that ilk were to happen regularly, I’d surely get more than just a rap on the knuckles.

But the question is: how do I make sure that I go to bed early when the stand-by period starts at four the next morning? I sometimes wonder that myself. I’ve in the meantime got used to certain rituals making it easier to go to bed and get up earlier. I try to arrive home early on the previous day and get my head down at about 7 p.m. It helps if I imagine that I am just having a long nap. Fortunately I have blinds in my home that black out everything. I also don’t make any plans with other people, answer my phone or do any exercise. Anything helping you to calm down is just the ticket. I usually read or watch a series. The main thing is that you’re lying down and relaxing your body to a certain extent.

All in all, being on stand-by is always somewhat like a lucky dip. Sometimes you have a great day when you get one of your favourite colleagues on board or fly a particularly picturesque route. On the other hand, it can also be nice to be left in peace and after a few hours know that you’ve definitely got the rest of the day off, which you can then spend as you please.

Always happy landings,

Yours, Linda Luftikuss

by Linda Luftikuss

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