Good news: I’m officially off probation! (Have been for quite a while because I started this blog post and proceeded to ignore it for a decent chunk of time) In the flight attendant world, that means I haven’t colossally screwed up in my first few months of employment! Yay! It is now significantly more difficult for the company to get rid of me, I got a little pay bump, and I have buddy passes to give to people who get on my real good side. It’s an exciting time!
By airline standards, I’m still a baby. I still have that sickening sweetness toward passengers that senior mamas tell me will subside with time into what many deem “Nasty Nice” (though I know it won’t diminish that far because who can argue with the cash money in tips I pocket for a few extra smiles? And plus, you can’t really argue that having a pleasant demeanor isn’t part of the job description).
I DEFINITELY don’t know everything — but through these first few months, I’ve learned quite a bit about the job, lifestyle and the industry in general. Here are a few takeaways I thought you might deem worthy of your time that could surely otherwise be spent perusing memes, clipping your toenails, scooping the litter box, etc. Anywho:
1). This is not a job you pursue solely for the travel aspect.
“Oh, you must have become a flight attendant so you could travel!”
No sir, I did it for the uniform that somehow stains my armpits purple and the horn dog middle-aged men who think it’s OK to grab for my attention.
Don’t get me wrong, OF COURSE I travel more now than at any other time in my life — and I love it! But if you think every layover is going to be a lengthy adventure of sightseeing and general shenanigans, then you are sorely mistaken. There are times like that (again, don’t get me wrong), but there are also many instances of quick sleeps where you don’t even fully register where you are before you have to hoist your groggy bod out of bed and into the plane to go somewhere else.
You simply have to get some kind of kick out of interacting with people in a service environment and the general coming and going craziness (no parade of the same office walls!) of the lifestyle for it to work for you — a love of travel just isn’t enough.
Non-revenue travel is another ball of wax that requires flexibility. It’s still a completely awesome perk of the gig, but not quite as simple as just packing a bag and hopping on any ol’ plane anywhere at any time you please. Yes, the ticket is free, but you also might not get on that plane. This might mean not booking your accommodations until you arrive at your destination, forfeiting the trip altogether to try again another day, or somehow scoring the very last seat!
You also have to keep in mind that those who you wish to be your travel companions will probably not have the same all-over-the-place schedule as you with larger chunks of days off at a time (see #2). These people need to coordinate dates and take actual vacation time to go on your getaways.
And let’s be real: I’ve met many flight attendants who have been doing this job for years and still have barely traveled or even don’t have a great desire to do it — or maybe they just enjoy being “home” (whatever that might mean to them) on their days off/vacation time. I’ve also met flight attendants who have never once used their benefits but plan to travel once they pay off debt/have more savings. And of course I’ve met co-workers who barely call one place home because they travel so frequently all over the world. All of these options are perfectly fine!
The point I’m trying to get to is that not every moment of this job is some Instagrammy bullshit “follow me” travel blogger image of a girl in a flowing dress leading you to some exotic locale. More frequently, it involves scooping ice, being the keeper of all the trash, and calming the spoiled, bratty chick who’s throwing a tantrum because the plane doesn’t have an outlet for her to charge her precious phone. Apparently she didn’t like my “But you can talk to your neighbor for free! :)” quip that usually gets a chuckle. Side note: I’m GLAD we don’t have outlets or Wi-Fi. Freedom to disconnect! AIRPLANE MODE IS GOOD FOR YOU, BITCH!
But I digress.
For every “glamorous” aspect of this career, there is a blown up lavatory waiting for you. But in the words of Mark Manson on finding your life’s purpose, “What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?” In this case, I’ll take the literal shit. I love this job.
For every technology-induced tantrum, there’s a love story heard from your jumpseat across the aisle. A child who giggles and smiles every time you pass. A first-time flier turned aspiring flight attendant.
It’s truly not all about the destination when there’s so much beauty in the journey.
2). I have more free time now than ever before.
I was once a busy bee. There have been several points in my life when I just about tipped over with panic if I ever found myself with free time — I had to be forgetting something!
But somewhat ironically (what with the here and there of airports and new cities), this job has honestly taught me to slow down and enjoy life.
With an average of 12-13 days off per month (depending on if you want to/are able to pick up extra trips) coupled with being on reserve (workdays may not mean actually working!), I have a lot of downtime. So much that I’ve learned how to enjoy idle moments, reignited my long-lost love for reading fiction, rediscovered my “Color me Fucking Calm” coloring book, and infringed so much on my cat’s (and probably my boyfriend’s) coveted alone time.
I’ve said it before: reserve flight attendant life is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get. You could lose track of where all you’ve been through the month, or you could LITERALLY NOT WORK AT ALL.
3). I’ve learned to deal with the “why I left” question.
Everybody has something to work through — this is mine.
I love my job. I really do love being a flight attendant. It’s a fun, rewarding and fulfilling career that only gets better with time. It’s an authentic, genuine experience. I’m happy. I have NO interest in ever giving this up.
So how is it that I still carry around this massive amount of guilt for leaving journalism, my field of study and something I once wrapped up with my very identity, and for my very early abandonment of my newspaper reporter job? Once upon a time, I had considered that to absolutely be my dream job.
In many ways, I am so incredibly detached from that part of my life now — but yet I still regularly get extremely down on myself about it, feeling like I gave up, let myself and so many other people down.
I know I need to just forgive myself, but I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t going to take quite some time.
It’s pretty common for flight attendants to ask each other what we did before … and I feel like my story is such a bittersweet one.
“Wow, that’s so cool! You left that for this?”
“You didn’t want to use your degree?”
“Do you miss it?”
The first few times, those questions from co-workers kept me up at night. And I still find myself lurking on “Why I left journalism” columns in attempts to ease my guilt and justify my decision. Did I make the right choice? Would I one day regret deviating from what I once thought was a pretty clear path? Would it be hard to get back on it if, somewhere off in the distant future, I really, really wanted to?
But then I look around at my little slice of happiness, the realized dream I never really thought I’d follow, the freedom, the escape from the normal grind, the ability to disconnect … and I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief.
Airplane mode has been good to me.
A position I wound up in after the newspaper that shall not be named explicitly was a terrible (and I mean dreadful, doomed from the very beginning) fit for me (something I should have known that is no one’s fault but my own) gave me a little extra oomph when making the decision to do a major career switcheroo. I became incredibly cynical (overly cynical — I’m a major advocate for a healthy amount of cynicism) during this time, which was of course when I was invited back to my university to speak with students pursuing the major I studied. Due to the mass of career confusion and self-loathing I was wading through at the time, I actually considered declining. But I didn’t — I went. And through encouraging others to go after whatever it is they’re dreaming of, I was reassured that this flight attendant fantasy I had was worth chasing.
While it’s not ideal to be in a situation that makes you feel uninspired, unhappy and mundane, you’d be amazed at the kind of self-reflection and growth you can accomplish during it. A job you consider miserable can lead you on a personal renaissance of sorts. Side note: you also don’t expect to find yourself starting a romance during a time like this — proof for you that it happens when you least expect it.
I’ll be honest and say that there are certainly occasions when I miss my newspaper days, or maybe more accurately what I idealized them to be. But I remind myself that I should put in some more freelance applications, and then I pick up my seat belt extension to do the safety demonstration and illustrate the myriad of ways you could potentially perish on today’s flight.
4). Establishing close friendships is a different dance now.
I’ve more or less always had loner tendencies, but that doesn’t change the fact that this job can sometimes throw a bit of a wrench in the friend-making process. The crews you work with are constantly changing, so it’s not like you’re going to the office to sit with the same people day in and out.
I loooooooooooooooooooooooove the variety of this!
But that means no built-in social circle of office peeps to hang with on Friday night, a fixture many people thrive off of. When you do work with a flight attendant you seem to jive with, it can take a bit of effort to actually establish some kind of friendship — what with ever-changing schedules, the fact that many flight attendants commute (don’t actually live where they’re based, which will soon describe me!), and so on and so forth. But on the flip side — if you work with someone crotchety and unpleasant to be around, you may very well never lay eyes on them again!
As people-oriented as this job is, it actually does require (in my opinion anyway) a great deal of comfort when it comes to being alone. And in some instances of course, it may even sharpen that desire to be alone (even the most magnificent social butterfly needs a break from the flying public every now and then). Side note: I even acted relatively loner-ish during flight attendant training. Not that I wasn’t surrounded with several very genuinely cool people, but because I’ve never thrived in group study scenarios. It’s just not how I learn.
But let’s say you’re going through something — a fight with a loved one, money woes, or just a regular case of the blues — that click of the hotel room door that leaves you face to face with yourself can feel quite devastating indeed.
Moral of the story: though this job can expose you to hundreds upon hundreds of strangers per day, independence and an acceptance of your sense of self is key. If no one else on your crew wants to explore during a layover, nothing’s stopping you from having a solo adventure! And a lonely hotel room isn’t so lonely if you learn to cherish your alone time.
5). I couldn’t imagine going back to the “real world” or doing anything else, really.
We’re so spoiled as flight attendants — we really are.
And that’s not even considering the travel benefits layover adventures. I’m just talking about the freedom. On a daily basis, this job reminds me that I seem to have fooled the system. Despite the fact that I’m on my third cold in two weeks (germy, germy planes and changing seasons), I still can’t believe the hippy dippy, elated feeling this lifestyle allows. The rotating schedules, the unpredictability, and even the reserve life are things I’m aware some people would cringe at; but I’ve come to adore them for all their quirks.
It would be genuinely difficult to return to the grind of desk life. Of course I have plans I could potentially fall back on, as many of us do … but I sincerely don’t see myself having the desire to give any of this up.
I’ve met countless flight attendants now who left to pursue another profession only to return to the airline industry. I’m not saying any of those actions are mistakes — I’m the biggest cheerleader for following your heart/dreams and whatever curiosities you have — but this is a life I can already tell would be a challenge to move on from and not truly, deeply miss.
6). Lavatory doors will forever confound the human mind.
A cheery “twist and pull” ( pssst … like a normal door) has become my new mantra.
I fully acknowledge that they look a little spaceship-like, but what is it with folks and these doors? The attempts I’ve seen are, while quite endearing at times, truly remarkable.
I of course understand that many people aren’t familiar with these doors — because maybe it’s even their first time on a plane! But is it really all that logical to yank on a completely unrelated supply compartment NEXT TO THE BATHROOM DOOR? Has doing so ever granted you access to a restroom anywhere else?
I’m convinced that perhaps the doors themselves are enchanted and cast some type of mystical spell on the passengers, stopping them dead in their tracks as they approach. And I, wicked witch of the aft galley, am the only one whose magic words can break this trance.
Twist and pull, y’all. I know you can do it.