So You Want to Be a Flight Attendant?

10.24.2012

This job really piques the interest of those with wanderlust and the like.

I know, because I wanted to do it for years before the opportunity ever presented itself. I wanted to travel, and see the world - and it's pretty rare to find a profession in which one would be paid to do so.

A lot of commercial airlines lately seem in constant need of flight attendants that speak a foreign language (which, always eliminated me). Sometimes the timing is just right, and they need regular English-speaking girls from Kentucky. I'm quickly approaching my two year mark, and it's gone by so quickly.

This past week, American Airlines announced they were hiring 1500 new flight attendants to begin training in January.

Since I've had so many friends and acquaintances ask what it's really like, and how to go about becoming a flight attendant - I thought it might be helpful to write out the benefits and setbacks of this profession.

To many that know me well, I probably sound like a broken record. The best way to describe it is that every job has pros and cons. The airline industry's tend to be more extreme. The good things can't be beat. The bad things are hard to ever get used to.

This is a long post. Hold on to your butts.

It's a great job for people who: like spontaneity, don't like a 9-5 desk job, are friendly, have big hair, love people, have strong immune systems, don't mind touching trash, don't mind being yelled at, love to  travel, like to spend inordinate amounts of time in airports, and are not cave-dwelling trolls.

Not a good idea for people who: are shy, like a reliable schedule, are stressed out by turbulence (or afraid to fly), don't thrive in customer service, act like dragons around people, afraid to evacuate a plane.



The PROs!

+ The obvious: fly anywhere for free. Sometimes you'll pay a small tax depending on the country you visit if it's for pleasure. If you're working the flight, though - you're paid to see places and your lodging it taken care of.

Examples: Fly to Seattle for the day, Spend the day in Barcelona or Venice. Take your sister to Ireland for her spring break.

+ See the world, visit friends.
Examples: Have dinner with a dear friend in Minneapolis and visit the Mall of America, Meet a new friend for coffee in Charleston.

+ It's one of the most culturally diverse jobs, basically ever. Meet and befriend other flight attendants of every nationality. I've learned so much about other countries and cultures because I get to spend time with some really interesting people. I've had some really fascinating and delightful passengers. They are the type of people you want to know better, and it's a little sad when they leave the plane.

+ A (relatively) flexible schedule. Your schedule varies each month. If you're used to working every Monday through Friday, 9-5 you can count on about 8 days off each month. Not the case with flight attendants. You can work as much as you need to fit in your schedule. You can have 15 days off a month if you need it.

+ It's never boring. The airline industry is constantly evolving and changing and growing. You're never flying with the same people, you're going to different places, there's never a typical day. Sometimes the tasks can become monotonous, but your passengers are never the same.

+ You'll meet celebrities. Maybe a lot of people don't care about that, but I think it keeps things fun. I also loved watching the Academy Awards as a five year old, so there's that. Meet Alec Baldwin, Sean Hayes, Harry Connick, Jr, Andy Samberg and many more.





Doesn't all of that sound awesome?

A lot of it is - but to be fair, I cannot only present it with rose-colored glasses. It can be really, really hard. It's important to know both sides of the coin. Don't bite off more than you can chew.



The CONs!

- Say goodbye to holidays (for a while at least). Most positions in the airline industry are based on seniority. Starting out, you're as low on the totem pole as possible. I knew going in to it that I would be gone a lot, but spending Christmas in a hotel by yourself is never going to be easy. Last year I was in Oregon for Thanksgiving, California for Christmas, and Florida for New Year's. Eventually as you gain more seniority that might change, but some people might not have holidays at home until they've been with the company for twenty years.

- With some airlines, you'll have to live where you are based. You might have to move. I can't speak for all of them, but starting out a lot of flight attendants are on reserve most of the time. I never had to - I commute to New York before and after my trips. And on that note...

- You might have to commute. Some people (my friends, actually) are dedicated enough to this job that they live in Anchorage and fly to Atlanta for work. Some commute from San Francisco to New York. I've even met some that live in Japan, or Australia and work two weeks on and two weeks off. That's a lot of time in your life spent.

- Your plans will always change. Consider every factor that goes into traveling. Your day and schedule will change with the weather. You might think you're going to spend a long layover in Boston, only to get re-routed and spent a short night in Milwaukee. You may think you're going to make it home for dinner, but your plane might have a mechanical issue and you'll get stuck in New York. I still hear horror stories from a couple of winters ago when people were stranded in New York for days because of the snow storms. With as flexible as I like to think I am, sometimes reliability sounds like the greatest luxury that my job can't always afford.

- You'll miss a lot of what happens at home. I've missed so many birthdays, so many parties. I've missed visits from out of town family and friends because I've had to work. There's something about flying out of town when you know you're about to miss something great that just hurts a person's heart. I've missed church more times than I can count, and I came pretty close to not having the time off that I needed for my own wedding.

- You'll spend a lot of time by yourself. I love hotels, and I love hanging out with new friends, but some days are so long and you're so exhausted that you can only pass out on your bed. With the personality that this job requires, it can be very isolating being by yourself in different parts of the country. It's easy to feel very disconnected. Even when you're home for a few days it can still feel like you're living out of a suitcase.

- You'll rarely fly with the same people. There are some crazy flight attendants that I'd rather not work with again, but there are some that I could fly with every time. The good ones make the job that much better. I've made some great friends from training and from flying. If you're a person that thrives on establishing community and building relationships, that might be something you'd struggle with. There's a lack of consistency that can be tiring, but it's doable.

- You'll fly standby. This isn't a deal breaker for me. You're still flying for free, but there's an added element of stress because sometimes you'll try to be getting somewhere and you'll sit in the airport watching flight after flight fill up without a seat for you. Sometimes you'll get first class, and that's bomb. But sometimes you'll break out in hives because you're going to be late for work or completely miss a trip.

- People can be mean. (And everyone says, "Well DUH) but hear me out. Traveling isn't what it used to be. Maybe you watched Pan Am (weren't you SO bored, though?) and thought it was your dream job. It's not like that anymore. People that aren't used to the routine of travel can get really stressed out. By the time they figure out parking, get through security, navigate their way through the busy airport, they can step on the plane and just completely unload on you. As flight attendants, we're sometimes the only face of the airline people get to interact with. This can be great, but it can also be brutal. I've had passengers yell at me, throw their bags down in a tantrum, cuss about injustice, and make people cry.

- It can be hard on relationships. I consider it a huge blessing that Bryan and I started dating just a couple months after I started flying. My job is the only thing we know. With me being gone so much, it forced us very early on to work on our communication with each other and never be passive. Had I started once we were already together, I don't think that would be the case. I know plenty of people that have no problem making it work, but in a lot of instances people just don't understand the job. A lot of people that came into training in a relationship didn't weather the transition. It requires a lot of trust, a lot of patience, a lot of understanding. I personally think it's easier to start out single with this job. If you're married or in a committed relationship, make sure you discuss every facet of how you will handle the constant separation.


Of course, this is barely scratching the surface - but I hope it gives you a better idea of what it's like. I think it always sounds like a fun and glamorous job, and it is often rewarding - but it can be equally challenging. Talk to people you know, make sure you think it through and figure out what you're committing yourself to.

Enjoy the world, but don't forget about your home.

Have you ever wanted to be a flight attendant? Let's talk in the comments. Annnnd go!