My name is Amanda Walker and I am a twenty-three year old ex-flight attendant. Surprisingly, not many people can say that statement though. As of 2007, less than 5 percent of the flight attendants within the United States were under the age of 25, so some might say that I belong to a very exclusive and elite group of young people.
I was a flight attendant for right at a year, and I quit nearly two years ago, so it's been quite a while since I was apart of the "aviation scene". Although I don't regret quitting, some days, I miss it like crazy. All it takes is the light buzzing sound of a Boeing to pull me back in. One sight of her soaring through the clouds leaves me breathlessly captivated as I stare off into the distance. My career in aviation was short-lived, but my faithful obsession with planes will never cease. I was seven years old the first time that I rode in one of life's greatest miracle beasts, and I was absolutely hooked ever since.
However, even though I love planes, I did not always love working inside of them. I am sad to say that my overall experience as a flight attendant was far from positive. The dream job that I had fantasized about for decades turned into more of a nightmare as I single-handedly debunked the flight attendant myths I had always believed to be true.
Traveling anywhere I wanted was a wonderful perk, but (in my opinion) it did not make up for the lack of stability, VERY MINIMAL PAY, lack of sleep, the insane shutdown of my immune system, lack of a social life, poor quality of life and about twenty-five other unmentionables. I am thankful for my time as a flight attendant, however, I am even more thankful that it is over.
But it never fails, even though I've been flight-free for almost two years now, my "exciting" job history still tends to come up in casual conversation. And every time that it does, people astound me with their elated responses. When I say the words, "I used to be a flight attendant", I reluctantly brace myself for the cringe-worthy reactions that follow. It normally starts with either a long pause, a dramatic gasp or an expression of pure glee.
When I tell people that I used to be a flight attendant, it's almost like I am telling them that I used to be a mermaid or something. To them, it's a really exciting concept to live in the great big ocean and swim with the dolphins every day. But when you've swam across the world twelve times already, smell like seaweed more often than not and you constantly get mistaken for a fish, it tends to take away the magic pretty quickly.
The world seems to obsess over a job and a lifestyle that they know absolutely nothing about. I cannot judge them though, because I too grew up believing that the flight attendant life was a glamorous one. It's funny how hindsight is 20/20.
Among ridiculous reactions, what's even more entertaining are the silly questions that people ask. So instead of entertaining the same mindless chatter for the five hundred and fiftieth time, I figured I would make a list for you guys regarding some of life's greatest flight attendant myths, including my unsolicited advice and witty commentary. I hope you enjoy.
1. You'll probably have to move at least once
Whether it's attending training for 1-3 months, or being assigned to your first official base/domicile/new home; chances are, you will have to relocate
temporarily for a very long time. This might mean moving a few hours away or it could mean moving to an entirely different part of the U.S., you just never know. Which leads me to my next point...
2. Stay out of relationships
You will never be home, you will never have time, you will never have energy and trust me, you will value your alone time like never before. Save the drama for your mama and just accept your season of singleness. I promise, whomever he is, he isn't worth the hassle.
3. Layovers are for sleeping
Speaking of good rest, let's talk about layovers! They're amazing, and if you get a really long one, you might actually get the chance to explore the city that you are in. However, more often than not, you are going to be jet-lagged and fatigued. Most of us don't go out and party every night. We grab some wine, choose a comforting chick-flick and fall asleep before ten.
4. We get free hotel rooms, but only when we're working
We cannot gallivant across the entire world and expect a free place to stay at every stop. Free hotels are exclusively available to working crew, due to a contract that's made between your airline and specific hotel chains. So unfortunately, you cannot just "cash in" these free nights whenever you please.
5. We fly for free, but there's a catch
Flight bennies are amazing, but in the words of Rumpelstiltskin, "all magic comes with a price deary". We don't obtain free tickets, we merely fly stand-by. Meaning that we can use the open seats that the paying customers have failed to purchase, which are far and few between considering the high rate of overselling flights these days. (Thanks greedy corporate America!) But keep in mind that even these open seats are selected by seniority. And that means, if you're lower on the totem pole (employed for less than 5 years), you can expect to be "bumped" down on the list by at least a couple
hundred thousand people on any given day. Sounds like some happy traveling, right? You might want to invest in some xanax due to the increased anxiety caused by flying stand-by.
6. Seniority is everything
As mentioned previously, seniority is priceless when flying stand-by. But it comes in handy in other aspects of the job, as well. Senior mamas as flight crew commonly call them get better pay, better hours, more flexibility, better vacation time and an overall higher respect across the board. Without seniority, you are nothing but the company's bitch. I genuinely mean that.
7. We are doing a lot more than "serving drinks"
Yes, everyone loves the phrase "waitress of the sky", and we are, to an extent. We do serve you drinks and snacks and tend to your trivial needs, but a flight attendant's purpose on the aircraft has nothing to do with peanuts or pretzels. It is our duty and pleasure to attend to your safety first. From the commands we are chanting in our minds during take-off and landing, the manner in which we open and close the aircraft door, the timing we take our seats and ways in which we communicate with the pilot are all done in a very precise fashion and with very good reasoning (shout out to the FAA for making this possible). If the aircraft were to experience turbulence, or God-forbid, something more severe, the flight attendant is the one who's going to save your ass. Not the pilot, not air traffic control and not even your best friend sitting next to you. So if the commander of the cabin (ie. the flight attendant) instructs you to turn off your phone or tablet, just freaking do it! They
probably definitely know what they're talking about.
8. You don't meet celebrities all the time, but it does happen occasionally
Unless you are flying out of LAX or one of the numerous NYC airports often, you probably won't see a celebrity on every single flight. This isn't the Oscars, it is still a regular job to some degree. But if you do see them, don't be creepy. Stop taking unsolicited/inappropriate pictures. Say hello. Be polite. Call it a day.
9. You might have to use your sick days early on
Due to the nature of the job and the continual exposure to literally hundreds (potentially thousands) of people every day, you could very well get very sickVERY OFTEN. Personally, I was one of those kids that (thankfully) only got sick about once a year growing up... and then I became a flight attendant. I have never had so many sore throats, stuffy noses, disgusting coughs, unusual ear-aches and unexplained fevers in my whole life. I have cleaned up more crap than I care to ever admit and I have had more snotty kids sneeze on me than a typical mom (ONLY THEY WEREN'T MY CHILDREN). It was awful and there was no escaping it! I am convinced that my immune system is still suffering to this very day.
10. You won't stay flawless for very long
In the movies, they make flight attendants out to be these supermodel-esqe creatures who look effortlessly beautiful at every interval of their work day. But that just isn't realistic. Unless you have a make-up primer from the gods, your make-up will inevitably fade about two flights into the day, which sucks if you have six flights on your schedule. The pressurization from the cabin can have a varying effect on different people depending on your body, skin etc. and how it reacts to different climates. I quickly learned that I had very poor skin for flying. My make-up would wear off to almost nothing only a few hours into the day (no matter how much I put on), my skin would dry out and crack some days and 90 percent of the time, I had a minimum of ten pimples I was trying to mask. Which really sucks when you have crap make-up that constantly wears off. In case it isn't obvious, I was not the pretty flight attendant that you see in the movies.
11. Stay away from the pilots
If a pilot is unmarried, he is unmarried for a reason. Trust me, there is something wrong with him, and you don't want to be the one to find out why. If he is married, then obviously don't destroy someone else's family for your own sexual gain. And as far as the female pilots go, LOVE THEM, THANK THEM, CHERISH THEM AND BEFRIEND THEM. Seriously, out of all of the pilots I have flown with, the females have always proven to be the most professional, most responsible, most reasonable and most understanding in a difficult situation. Those ladies are rock-stars! Seriously, go shake their hand or something.
12. We don't have a "hook up" in every city, so please stop assuming that we do
I know it fulfills some strange fetishization of flight attendants for you to believe that we are sex-crazed machines that must orgasm every time we exit the aircraft, but I promise, that isn't the case. Also, if someone does have a "special friend" in a few select cities, it isn't really your concern. Let people live their lives, but stop making stereotype-based assumptions.
13. You will probably miss every holiday, birthday and special occasion (for the first few years)
Just accept your fate now. Your social life will suffer. Your time with loved ones will dwindle. But if this is your dream job, then you will make the sacrifices that need to be made until your seniority goes up... or you will quit like I did. No shame in my game, people!
14. Sometimes we embellish on social media
Just like any position out there or any situation in life, sometimes flight attendants fail to be truthful on social media. That doesn't mean that we lie, it just means that we might make our lives out to be better than what they really are. But everyone does that, right?! So in case you're wondering, no, the flight attendant you follow on Snapchat does not have a perfect life, maybe she's just really good at capturing the tiny perfect moments within her life. I don't think that's a bad thing though.
15. Stop blaming the crew for your flight delays
It might seem shocking, but your flight crew does not control the weather. Let's stop pretending that flight attendants and pilots are magical weather wizards that control when it is rainy, snowy or windy. We can't help it. We want to get home just as badly as you do (if not even more so). Be kind always. Despite popular belief, normal societal rules still apply in the sky. Temper tantrums are never acceptable.
16. We do get paid for delays, but not enough to even cover the taxes taken out of our next check
This is one of the oldest myths in the aviation industry, and I honestly have no idea how it's carried on this long. To put it simply, we get paid per diem for the hours that we are "working" when the aircraft door is open. This includes but is not limited to the time spent in the airport, boarding, deplaning, delays, eating, time spent on a layover, etc. My airline paid first year flight attendants around $1.75/hr for all of these glorious things. So if we have a nine hour delay, we got paid around $15.00 for our troubles. FIFTEEN DOLLARS. I guess that's supposed to be enough to cover the emotional damage and abuse disgruntled passengers inflict. Makes perfect sense.
17. Nobody is getting rich from this job
This one has always baffled me, but no, flight attendants are not in it for the money. Not at my former airline, anyway. We get paid hourly and we get paid per diem. The hourly (normally around $18/hr starting out) is only accessible when the main cabin door is shut. So you might work three flight hours in a day, yet you have a ten hour work day. Unfortunately, you are only getting that $18/hr for those three flight hours, the remaining hours worked have only earned you a mere $1.75/hr. Doesn't sound so glamorous now, does it?
18. You'll probably drink more, eat more and gain weight like crazy
And lastly, you are going to spend tons of time alone, so if you're wise, that time will include meal prepping, two-a-day work out plans and reading a good book. But if you are anything like me, that time will consist of pizza, tacos, ice cream, wine and lots of Netflix, which surprisingly leads to an increase in your pants size followed by a wave of self-loathing.
I hope this excerpt didn't detour any of you from pursuing a career in aviation, but most of all, I hope that this little bit of insight gives you a tiny glimpse into the life of flight crew and what they go through to maintain their lives in the sky.
*This article exclusively represents my own personal experiences as a flight attendant. Depending on the airline you are employed with, your base, your age and your personal journey in life, your experiences may vary.*
Happy flying, y'all! And remember, be nice to your flight attendant!