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When you travel, do you ever wonder how you can be that person who is always ahead of the pack, even when things go awry? Hosts Vinod Viswalingam (@VViswalingam) and Geoff Dahl (@geoffdahl) are proud to present The Seat 1A Podcast.

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We have over 5 million miles of flying and over 10 years working for numerous airlines, enjoying all classes and cabins, and exploring airports on every continent. We're enthusiastic #avgeeks, with a keen interest in modern aviation trends and aim to share our knowledge in The Seat 1A Podcast. To learn more about who we are, check out Experience 010!

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Experience 034. Shownotes. Who's who at the zoo – part 2. Staff hierarchy onboard the plane. The Seat 1A Podcast.

Jun 16, 2020

Recorded 12 June 2020

Written by: Geoff Dahl & Vinod Viswalingam

Listen to this experience wherever you download your podcasts - including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, Google Podcasts, and Overcast.

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In this experience we continue our look at the aviation hierarchy – who's who at the zoo? Now we move onboard the plane itself. We will look at two different types of staffing – one for traditional international flag carrier flights and one for low-cost/ultra low-cost carrier flights.

Different airlines have different names for the same staff roles. And depending on where you are in the world, you could have a cabin crew or a flight attendant.

But there is always one person who is running the entire cabin experience on the flight. They go by many different names - senior purser, cabin service director, cabin manager, cabin flight director, onboard director, flight manager – but the role is generally the same. We use the term "senior purser" in this podcast experience. Once the door of the plane is closed, it's their flight.

The list of responsibilities of the senior purser is long – including crew performance, delay handling, passenger relations, onboard problems, timings, crew briefing and debriefing, crew rest periods and being the liaison to the flight deck for service and safety. They handle all of this while being an active cabin member. Your life is in their hands since they will lead plane evacuations.

For someone with all of this responsibility, how can you tell them apart? Some have a different uniform, while some have different pins or medallions.

On flights with multiple cabin classes a purser or cabin manager may be responsible for one cabin. On less complicated flights this sub-level may not exist. And then you have the cabin crew member / flight attendant.

How do you know that all the doors are accounted for in case of emergency – everyone knows where to sit during landing and takeoff.

The senior purser work doesn't end when the flight lands - layovers have to be coordinated, staff coordination has to happen if cabin crew gets sick.

On low-cost airlines often staff will rotate through who is the lead flight attendant.

When you board a flight, the flight staff are doing more than just giving you a smile and hello.

If you need to escalate – the senior purser will be the one who can get things done for you.

Vinod had an upgrade interaction with the senior purser when flying from London (LHR) to Nairobi (NBO).

We go beyond the cockpit door – to check on the Captain and First Officer. Who is the pilot in command? How many stripes do each have? On long-haul flights you will have multiple pilots – you may even see some in the cabin or sleeping.

We remember old movies and comment about the flight engineer – a role that is not very common these days.

Depending on the airline, you might see a hierarchy even when they walk through the airport. And some airlines have a very distinct uniform difference.

Vinod always made sure to pay it forward when flying staff standby. Sometimes the thank yous were almost non-stop.

Pro tip – keep an eye on who's wearing what.

News Items:

  • CNN Travel article "Taiwan airport offers 'pretend to go abroad' airport tours amid Covid-19 pandemic.".
  • article "British Airways changes food on board".

If you have a story about staff hierarchy onboard a flight, a question, or other experience that you would like to share, please email us at stories(at) or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Patreon. Show notes are available online at




NEWS ITEMS | Taiwan airport offers 'pretend to go abroad' airport tours amid Covid-19 pandemic (12 June 2020)
"...Taipei's Songshan airport will give 90 people the chance to take a tour of their airport and relive the experience of going through immigration, boarding a plane and then disembarking and returning home..." | British Airways changes food on board (12 June 2020)
"...British Airways has revealed the temporary adjustments it is making to its on board catering while it works for “a more permanent with its catering suppliers”.
The aim is to minimise interactions between customers and crew, according to the airline.
As a result, everything comes in a box..."



  • What's in this experience? [00:00:57]
  • In the last experience we looked at the different people in the airport. [00:01:14]
  • Now we're going to review the who's who inside of the airplane. [00:01:42]
  • Looking at cabin crew with two different types of flights - flag carrier international flight and low-cost/ultra low-cost models. [00:01:49]
  • Job title terms vary depending on the airline. [00:02:36]
  • Cabin crew versus flight attendant. [00:03:29]
  • There is always one person who the entire flight falls under. [00:04:24]
  • Senior purser, cabin service director, cabin manager, cabin flight director, onboard director, flight manager - dependent on the airline what it will be called. [00:04:35]
  • Once the door is closed, it is that senior person's flight. [00:04:56]
  • We'll use Senior Purser for this experience for that position. What are they in charge of? [00:05:12]
  • Responsible for crew performance, delay handling, passenger and customer relations, dealing with onboard problems, timings. [00:05:41]
  • The senior purser has flown a lot and seen a lot. [00:06:39]
  • This person is also the link and liaison to the flight deck for service and safety. [00:07:19]
  • Responsible for the cabin crew briefing and debriefing. [00:08:23]
  • Often deals with staffing of rest-periods. [00:09:39]
  • Senior purser - interaction with premium cabin. [00:11:03]
  • Senior purser is an active cabin crew member. [00:11:27]
  • The whole experience also stems from safety as well - the senior purser will lead plane evacuations. [00:12:12]
  • Purser may be dressed differently. [00:12:44]
  • KLM stripes on the sleeve. [00:13:10]
  • Some airlines have a lapel pin, while others have a pin that says the role. [00:13:22]
  • Raising a concern. [00:13:43]
  • Multiple cabins on an international flight - purser or cabin manager responsible for one cabin. [00:14:07]
  • On a less complicated flight the sub-level position may not exist. [00:15:04]
  • The airline may just have an assistant flight director or purser. [00:15:13]
  • Below that, you have a cabin crew member / fight attendant. [00:15:33]
  • Generally each flight attendant is responsible for an evacuation door. [00:16:09]
  • Which door they're assigned to, may not match where they're assigned to during the rest of the flight. [00:16:28]
  • There are a lot of people moving about the cabin. [00:17:15]
  • Once the flight is over, it doesn't end there - flight reports and debriefing required. [00:17:25]
  • Layovers have to be coordinated with the pilots. [00:17:48]
  • Any layover delays or incidents goes through senior purser. [00:18:20]
  • If cabin crew member gets sick - it needs to be relayed back to airline by senior purser. [00:18:37]
  • If things go sideways on board - has to be a debrief led by senior purser or purser. [00:19:00]
  • Looking at non-traditional carrier. [00:19:38]
  • Often everyone is equivalent, and rotate who is the lead flight attendant. [00:20:01]
  • Back to boarding - often the senior purser wants to be at the boarding. [00:21:09]
  • The purser wants to assess passengers for any potential unruly passengers. [00:21:29]
  • Once the door is closed, generally the person of leadership will do one tour of the cabin before departure. [00:21:55]
  • Senior purser is the person to be nice to if you want to get anything done. [00:22:37]
  • Vinod and his upgrade experience from London to Nairobi. [00:23:20]
  • Going beyond the door onto the flight deck. [00:24:13]
  • Loose public term is pilot and co-pilot. Correct term is captain and first officer. [00:24:18]
  • Whoever is at the controls is the pilot in command. [00:24:41]
  • Captain has four stripes on the epaulette, first officer has three stripes. [00:25:05]
  • Larger long-haul flights need multiple pilots to meet crew duty time rules. [00:25:16]
  • You may see a pilot fully laid out in a first class area sleeping - that's normal. [00:26:40]
  • The role of the flight engineer on the flight deck - now mostly computerized. [00:27:56]
  • Some airlines have a specific order of staff walking in airport. [00:29:22]
  • Spotting uniform differences on Cathay Pacific. [00:30:10]
  • Vinod paying it forward as a standby crew passenger. [00:31:08]
  • The hierarchy on board is well respected. [00:32:11]
  • Vinod gets lots and lots (and lots) of thanks on an Emirates flight. [00:32:17]
  • Pro tip - keep an eye on who's wearing what. [00:33:54]
  • Exception for public address announcement hierarchy is when items are translated. [00:34:52]
  • News items. [00:35:53]
    • Taiwan airport offers 'pretend to go abroad' airport tours amid Covid-19 pandemic. [00:36:01]
    • British Airways changes food on board. [00:37:59]
  • Show wrap-up. [00:41:40]