I was asked by High Flyer on Twitter what the best and worst things about my job are. Since there’s no way to fit that into the 140 character limit I thought I’d list my personal best and worst here. If you’re considering applying as a flight attendant take note.
1. Getting paid to travel the world
I am lucky enough to work for a major airline. This has meant being able to explore various major (and not so major) cities all over the USA during my layovers. Not only have I been able to explore the good ol’ USA but I’ve also been lucky enough to have been sent on many international trips. During my two years flying I got layovers in 13 different international destinations, some of them several times. I can’t tell you how many times, while lying on some exotic beach or standing in front of some major landmark, I’ve thought “I just can’t believe someone is paying me to be somewhere so amazing”. It’s really incredible.
2. The travel benefits
In addition to my assigned trips I have been able to take numerous amazing trips in my time off. Joel and I spent our anniversary in Buenos Aires, we traveled to Sydney Australia for a major motion picture world premiere, we went to The Netherlands to visit my former host family… I could go on and on. On my own I’ve flown to dozens of other destinations, often in first or business class. I could never afford to pay full fare for a first class seat normally. This job has allowed me to travel the world like a rock star, without all the annoying paparazzi.
3. Meeting new people
I have met so many fascinating people. I’ve made good friends during training, worked with some fantastic crews and met some incredibly interesting passengers.
4. Flexible schedules
I have 11 guaranteed days off every month. Even that is more than most people working a 9 to 5. In addition to that I am almost never used on all my days on call. Plus, I have the option of getting a schedule with several days off in a row. I’ve had up to two weeks off at a time and that isn’t even when I had vacation. How many jobs allow you to do that?
5. Lots of down time
Being on reserve means I work flights when other flight attendants call in sick, misconnect or can’t work the flight because of contract legalities. Some days, even though I’m on call, they simply don’t need me to cover any flights so I get a bonus day off. This sometimes happens several days in a row. Also, every time I get to my layover hotel it’s my free time to do whatever I want. Whether that means exploring the city I’m in, laying out at the pool or the beach, getting something to eat, reading a book or just sleeping for a long, long time.
6. Pride in my work
I am so proud to be a flight attendant. Only 1% of those who applied to work for my airline were hired. I completed 7 weeks of flight attendant training even though not everyone who began training completed it. I’m responsible for the lives of all the passengers on whatever plane I’m working on. My job is generally thought of as glamorous. While glamorous is not always the word I’d use to describe my job, I’m always proud to tell people that I’m a flight attendant.
7. A “fast pass” through security
Because our job often requires us to get to our flight quickly, most airports have a dedicated employee line. We’re allowed to use those lines even when we’re off duty. We still have to follow the same rules as everybody but it’s nice to be able to go to the front of line. Now that I’m on furlough and had to turn in my badge I really miss my “VIP” status in the security line.
8. Did I mention the travel benefits?
Because yeah, they’re awesome.
1. Irregular schedule
We have to bid for our schedules every month. They are assigned based on seniority. I’ve only been an employee for about two years so that puts me at the bottom of the barrel. Sometimes I get the days off I need in a month and sometimes I don’t. I never really know and that can be frustrating.
2. Weird sleeping and eating patterns
I could work a red-eye one day and a mid day flight the next. One day I could be in Des Moines Iowa and the next I could be on a 14 hour flight to Tokyo. Sometimes I get a long layover and have plenty of time to sleep and other times I barely have six hours at a hotel. I just never know. There are also times when I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to get my next meal. When I’m on a plane there may or may not be food. Also, I might get to my layover hotel after all the local restaurants are closed. There are times when I have to force myself to eat when I’m not hungry simply because I have no idea when I’ll get another chance. It’s not the healthiest way to live.
3. Missing major events and holidays
Only the most senior flight attendants get their first choice when it comes to getting holidays off. Sometimes I get to be with my family and sometimes I’m at an airport hotel alone. I’ve missed many birthdays, sports games and special events. Bidding for my schedule is always stressful when I have something important coming up.
4. Lots of down time
I know I listed this as one of the benefits but it can also be a pain. You have to be really creative to make a long Oklahoma City layover interesting (no offense to any Okies out there). Also, when the weather is good and not many people are calling in sick it’s really hard not to feel useless sitting at home for days on end waiting for a call. You can’t really make plans because you could get a call so you just sit. Because inevitably when you do make plans with someone that’s when you get the call and have to cancel.
I’ve had my share of difficult passengers. I can deal with someone who’s frustrated or angry. The worst is when it’s my own company. I watch the executives make muti-million dollar a year salaries and take huge bonuses while we’re not even making enough to live on. On top of that it seems like at every opportunity the crew schedulers try to bend or even outright break the contract rules. It’s frustrating to have to have to be on the defensive and feel like you have to fight for your rights with someone who should be on your side.
6. Crappy pay
I don’t care what you’ve heard, most flight attendants aren’t well paid. The very most senior flight attendants get paid fairly decently but even they are making up to 40% less than they were before 9/11. Their pensions were lost and hours were cut. If I wasn’t married, at my salary I qualify for food stamps and other government assistant programs.
Being a flight attendant is really hard work. It’s exhausting, frustrating and extremely rewarding. It’s not a job for everyone. While there are certain things I’d fix I believe the good definitely outweighs the bad and I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s my dream job and I feel so lucky to be able to say that I’m a flight attendant.