Memories are such funny little things! Isn’t it so peculiar how some small details from your past can catch the light somewhere inside of you and transport you to an exact moment in time, whereas 99% of the rest get trapped in storage somewhere and are ultimately left for the birds? For example, I don’t remember the moment I decided to apply to be a flight attendant but can somehow vividly recall standing in line at my gate at Washington Regan airport on my way to flight attendant training, eating my everything bagel with low fat cream cheese and thinking how weird it was that the airline was having the gentleman in front of me connect through Dallas (super south) to end up in Quebec (obviously north). I can’t recall which of the dozens of Broadway shows was the first I bought a ticket for after moving to Queens, but can describe exactly how much you can sweat while hoofing the 14 Manhattan blocks from Penn station to Broadway after losing your metro card on the Babylon train somewhere. I can now only guess at which city my first overnight work trip took me to, but I remember Captain Richard taking my whole crew out to dinner and dancing to celebrate once we touched down, wherever we were!
Likewise, when I look back to the summer of ’14, I have to dig deep into the basement of my brain to bring up any special memories from my time in flight attendant training; the tests, the drills, the late nights and the early mornings all fall into a general blur of cram-studying ‘station assignment charts’ and stress-eating breakfast tacos. Of those seven and a half weeks in our white walled class room, two moments alone still hit me like the hairspray in the face I used to make sure my makeup didn’t shift during each twelve hour daily dose of flight service education. The first was obviously the day they told me I’d be moving to New York. The second though, was much less immediately impactful; we had just come back from our lunch break, me with my chicken parm in a to-go box, having used that time to call my mom and pray together over the test I was about to take which was supposedly notoriously painful. One of our instructors (who shall remain nameless while fabulous) was dancing through the aisles to Adele’s Right as Rain and caught my eye mid spin to say, “trust me honey, if you can make it five years in this job, you’ll never ever leave!”
… It shouldn’t have stuck with me the way it did seeing as I had zero intention of sticking around that long but somehow, this past October, that freaking sneak of an industry milestone flew right by! When I launched myself into this circus of a life I really only intended for it to prop me up through the awkward transition of college kid to real life single adult who pays for all the things, but man! This little experiment of my early 20’s has emerged from it’s 5 year cocoon as a career with some serious staying power! Clearly, while finding myself in the Terminal C Starbucks line bright and early for the zillionth time was not a part of my own genius master plan, all of this was in The Master’s plan (ayyyyy) and I am just so ridiculously thankful that God obviously knows better and does better!
During this brief five year stint in the sky I’ve witnessed habits, homes and norms come and go, but one thing that has never seemed to let up is the constant spark of curiosity in others this job leaves in its’ wake! Whether it’s during a first time introduction, a passenger just asking questions to kill time while waiting for their turn in the lavatory, or getting to catch up with dear friends and relatives who love and know me well – over the year’s I’ve been hit with a ton of questions about this job, not the least of which being,
“Dude, how do I do that?”
And I’ve got to say, it’s been nothing short of thrilling getting to see people I love, know, and others I’ve just met set out after aviation careers of their own! Since I began flying only 5 years ago, two friends of mine have actually found homes as FA’s at other airlines. I have another sweet friend who is working at her local airport while simultaneously in the middle of the interview process with two different airlines. I’ve sat in the car while my Uber driver applied for the career change on her phone in the D Terminal airport parking lot!
It’s no mystery that being paid to travel the world is tré tempting in comparison to cubicle life, right? HOWEVER, after working behind the scenes in this big beautiful business for the past few years I’ve been exposed to all the quirks and perks of this job that reach way, way further than your dream flight itinerary! I’ve also got handle on the behind the curtain kinks & mechanics that passengers and airline hopefuls aren’t always privy to…
So, here’s an UNFILTERED pitch for 2020 to come join me in the sky! You and I both know why you want this job, let me tell you why you should …
Reality check #1 First & foremost we are in Customer service
I admit it, this is a total Duh moment but it needs to be said: if keeping your cool while people are at their most exhausted and entitled isn’t your game, regardless of how badly you want to fly to Prague for free, this job probably isn’t for you.
Dealing with nasty passengers is the least glamorous part of this at-first-glance glamour-filled job. Ultimately, we are taught in training that our jobs exist for the purpose of safety; of evacuating the plane in a fire, of responding to medical emergencies with first aid knowledge, and as a physical barrier against attempted breaches of the cockpit or violence in the cabin. That being said though, the most common sentences I hear aren’t “I smell smoke” or “I think I’m having a heart attack”, they are “Can I have a glass of water so I can take my pills” and “Am I going to miss my connecting flight now that we are delayed?” In reality, on the daily we are actually the first line of defense against inconvenience and discomfort. We’re the face of the company we work for and are expected to be problem solvers, anxiety comforters, extra-miler’s and kind.
Truthfully, I get as many lovely, wonderful, appreciative and compliant passengers as I do those who demand that they are owed anything I have at my disposal, as well as everything I don’t, to satisfy their own whims. Even so, that’s still about a 50/50 shot that your next interaction is going to be a pleasant one. There is nothing more ridiculously adorable than a 6 year old on their way to the grand canyon for the first time, but hell hath no fury like that kid’s parents when they hear the flight’s been delayed all of 20 minutes.
I have worked in ministry, fast food, a hair salon and a full service restaurant, all challenging customer service work at times, but I’m convinced the patience needed to do this job well is in a league of it’s own. A thick skin and the ability not to take things personally are a must must must.
Life-giving perk #1 F L E X A B I L I T Y
Hands down, THE reason you should want this job! The standby flying benefits are the hook to the hundreds of thousands applicants, but I’m telling you, the schedule flexibility is the line and sinker that keeps Susan, mom of four who takes one vacation a year, flying for 20+ years. I’ll break this one into two gooey chunks of goodness.
This aspect of our job only gets better with company seniority, the longer you stay with the company and build up seniority, the more leeway you’ll have in creating your own schedule, but even on day 1, totally fresh to the sky you’ll be given roughly 11 days off each month. With that as a base you can build on top of that to stack your paycheck or you can trade and drop your trips (on the company trade boards or directly to other flight attendants) to get that number up! I typically work about half the month, always shooting for 14-20 days at home. My dearest friend and former roommate Kat flies a few more days per month than I do, but flies “high time” (trips with higher/more flight hours) to max perform her pay day. My fab friend Griffin who works as a Corporate flight attendant (aka private jets only) could work 20-30 days in a row for a single client OR turn that same trip down if he wanted to and have 20-30 days off! Then there’s Loraine, mom of two, who’s only away from home 9 days (or 40 work hours) out of the month and calls it good. This job is also unique in that it’s not terribly hard to get that time off; it’s not like you have a server’s shift at a restaurant and getting someone to cover for you for a family event is like pulling teeth ~ there are THOUSANDS of flight attendants at each of my company’s many bases to dangle your trips in front of!
I can take a vacation basically whenever I want in the year and still get paid vacation days from my company to either take as well, or work and get double-paid for! In all my back and forth with everyone who asks me questions about this job I have never heard of any career out there where you can take this much time off work and still receive a full time pay check, much less still have a job, period!
Depending on your airline, the potential for sheer variety of work at your fingertips is phenomenal! Don’t feel like flying to Minneapolis in the dead of winter under 4 ft of snow? Swap for a Miami layover instead. Need Tuesday off? Swap for a sequence that flies out on Thursday. Need to be back home by a certain time to get your kids off the bus? Have a friend you want to visit in Portland? Morning person or a night owl? … See a trend here?
The flexibility is so incredible that there are those of us who take this company perk to a whole nother level entirely! They call us commuters. We’re the crazy people who live in different cities, states and even countries than the airport base we work out of. As an Air Force wife this rocks my world because I don’t have to find a new job every time we move! I simply put in a transfer request to the closest base to our new home, and in the mean time, use my flight benefits to get to and from work. Personally I’ve commuted from Enid, Oklahoma to Queens, New York; from San Antonio to Dallas, Texas; and am currently flying from Columbia, South Carolina to Dallas, Texas while waiting for my Charlotte, North Carolina transfer to come through. As a commuter, I tend to only flight work trips that start out later in the day (so that I can fly in the morning of) and end earlier on the last day (so I can fly home that evening.)
Reality Check #2 Seniority
[Disclaimer: As far as I know this section only applies to commercial airlines; corporate/private airlines operate differently, seemingly more in the vein of personal networking]
The simple rule of airline seniority is this: the more flight attendants are hired behind you, and the more flight attendants retire ahead of you, the higher up your place in the world.
Everyone submits their applications with beautiful, already insta-filtered visions of swooping into Paris with their red lips on and their smart phones all set to gram their ribboned $15 box of macaroons in front of the Eiffel tower, but ultimately until you have built up a little seniority with your airline they’re the one telling you – not asking you – where you’re going next and when. The rad news is, sometimes that’s Paris, tonight! … and sometimes it’s El Paso tomorrow at 5:00 am sharp. How long this junior season of flying lasts and what it can look like varies from airline to airline per their contracts.
*Cough Cough* again, this is where the trading flexibility comes in handy! For example, if you have the weekend off and Susie with the 24 hour downtown Seattle layover now has a date planned for Saturday, your El Paso trip getting back Friday night is looking prime to her!
Your seniority will also determine your pay scale and vacation time. It’s a universally accepted truth: the longer you stay at a company, the more you should be valued, right? Well, up here that’s actually, contractually true!
Life-giving perk #2 When you’re off, you’re off
Once a year you’ll go to “continued qualification” or CQ training for 2 days to demonstrate that you still recall the safety drills, assignments and daily tasks you were taught after you were hired on. Maybe 4-5 times a year your company will likely have you do a 30 minute online “module” or class to further educate and update the service they hope your giving their customers. Once a month you’ll “bid” or submit your requests for your following month’s schedule.
That’s it. When you step off that plane at the end of the day you get to leave work at work, go home and get to be present. No homework, no paperwork, no group projects, no phone calls. Just some Netflix time, glass of wine & bed by nine …
Reality Check #3 When you’re there, you’re theirs
Extending delays, unexpected reassignments, mundane airport sits and makeshift meal times. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) & your company contract combined set the ground rules for just how far they can push you & your work day. From the time you sign in at the airport, (usually an hour before your first departure time), until your last passenger steps off the last plane on the last day of your trip, everything that can go wrong will go wrong at some point, and your passengers (and you) aren’t going to like it. Weather has delayed me 26 hours on a single flight before: 6 of hours at the airport gate, 9 of those in the air and on the tarmac after landing, 3 more hours waiting for a hotel room to be assigned to us, and the last 8 in the hotel room, finally away from other people. Mechanical delays often take between 45 minutes and 2 hours to fix, but I’ve had the company wait 6 hours before canceling a flight due to maintenance.
Then there’s the understandable domino effect, i.e. when your current delay causes your next flight to be delayed and you show up to your next gate either find a host of disgruntled passengers waiting there for you, or that another crew was called in to work that flight to avoid the delay and that part of your trip is gone, replaced by something completely new, filling whatever your company’s need is at the moment. Ultimately, your day is at the mercy of a million little things until you are officially off the clock … applicants with no chill need not apply.
Life-giving Perk #3 Okay, okay, them Benefits, though
Yes, yes, yes. Depending on which airline you work for and their contractual partnerships or “alliances” with other airlines, you can fly for free (or in the case of international travel, for the low cost of the taxes on your would-be ticket fare), in OPEN PASSENGER SEATS & UNMANNED JUMPSEATS. This process is called Stand-by flying. If there is an unsold passenger seat in first class or main cabin, you can get in line to ride that puppy for free! If another employee is ahead of you on that list, you can ride in a flight attendant’s work jump seat, as long as the number of jump seats exceed the number of FAA required minimum flight crew for that route.
Whats bonkers and makes this perk so unbelievably wonderful is that they let us bring the people we love with us! At my airline my spouse can fly standby with me for free, my parents for a supremely discounted rate (I’m talking $60-100 coast to coast trips) and a select amount of other family and friends can fly standby for a still pretty darn discounted rate.
Beyond the incredible vacations though, just getting to travel while working is insane! I’ve been paid to layover in Cancun Mexico, Vancouver Canada, and Nashville Tennessee all in one week! I’ve had authentic, mind-blowing fondue in Zurich Switzerland, BBQ in Atlanta Georgia and steak in Brazil that was all 100% paid for in work per-diem. Getting to walk around in as many 8-10 cities a month is laughably stellar.
Not to mention, as crew member’s we get MASSIVE discounts on our time off within the travel industry, including resort stays, cruises (for less than half the normal rate), hotel rooms, train tickets, excursions & experiences … I could keep going but blah, blah blah, you’re sold, haha! This is the work benefit that needs no selling!
Now that I’ve basically held your hand and walked you to our hiring website, before I call this done, I want to take just a little space to address what I have recognized as the elephant in the room in most of my conversations with my wonderful loved ones.
Ever since that beautiful & best day a little over two years ago, when I said “I do” to the hot guy I met in a bar on vacation, my job has done a dramatic 180 degree shift.
Where I spent my single days traipsing through New York City or flying into “one-hop” cities like Boston, Philly and Chicago for day trips or long weekends, I now focus all my efforts and attention on being in our sweet home as often and as soon as possible! Where I took 5-10 BIG vacations a year with friends, I now relish date night downtown with Evan just as much, where we’ll plan yet another trip to finally take once he’s through with part one thousand of pilot training. Where I intentionally took solo trips, attended movies and ate in restaurants alone to luxuriate in my treasured independence, I now crave fellowship and togetherness with my husband more than absolutely anything else in the world. So, it begs the question …
“If you’re always missing your family so much while you’re away, have you considered maybe a more conventional ‘home every night’ kind of career for the long haul?”
The short answer is, of course I have! I have made more pro & con lists than I can count! Candidly, the most recent of them inspired this blog post today.
If after yet another especially rough day of screaming babies you can’t get away from, over priced airport food you stretch into two meals and the millionth delay that made you miss your connecting flight home, you don’t wistfully remember that there are other jobs out there where people don’t change their baby on a tray table and try to hand you a bag of their child’s fecal matter, you’re just not the kind of human I can relate to, ya freak! But even if none of that ever happened and this dream job was no work and all play I’d still feel a pull towards home because the love of my life is there and we naturally want to live our lives side by side!
That being said, every time I have come to my husband, heart in my hand, offering to consider other options, he graciously and gently reminds me of all this job gives us and our families.
The biggest gift is that while it temporarily carries me away, it is probably as ideal a job for a military wife as there is out there. I have incredible job security – as I talked a little bit about in flexibility, I can choose to keep this job no matter where the in the world the air force sends us. What’s more, it keeps us connected to our families – no matter where we go, through my flight benefits we will always be able to get to them, and them to us, crazy affordably. A gift my Virginia-based parents are especially thankful for, given that my sister and her fiancé are also in the military and likely headed for Alaska in the future, my brother is living his own adventure out in Jackson Hole Wyoming, and Evan and I have lived in three different states during our two years of marriage. As an additional mercy, when Evan is eventually deployed one day, I will have work to do, places to go and loved ones I can travel to limitlessly to have community with while he’s gone. That alone is an immeasurably huge comfort to my heart!
This career is also helping to set us up for our financial future together in a big way! I get paid pretty well for someone without a completed college degree to basically work part time and be home as often as possible, and the longer I stay at it, the more I’ll get paid to work less and less! Most of my paychecks we get to put towards our retirement funds, which is extremely rewarding and peace-giving! When Evan and I have a family one day between our two jobs family planning might prove a challenge – maybe I’ll feel led to ground myself and find something else, or maybe I’ll be the mom toting her kids everywhere, making them lil’ globetrotting munchkins and getting to give them the world all before 18!
I know I’m only 27 which makes me totally unqualified to claim any grandiose absolute truths about life, but I’ll go so far as to share the two things I’ve got a pretty good grasp on thanks to this brief but wonderful season: the capacity free travel has to enhance your life just can’t be oversold & there is no perfect career anywhere.
This job is arguably one of the shiniest on the shelf, and it still proves to be hard work, day after day, trip after trip, year after year. I just happen to believe that the payoffs of the work you put in here are frankly mesmerizing! I fully respect that this job may not be for everyone, but until God calls me away and pries my tiny fingers off this beverage cart, this job is for me!
all my love,