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On being a flight attendant: the best and the worst

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.

Best:

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.

Worst:

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.

5. Mistreatment

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.

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10 Comments

  1. High Flyer UK

    Hey,

    Thanks for the blog post about our question! You’ve made our day!!

    High Flyer Team

  2. Been reading your logical and intelligent comments and responses over at BPD’s blog. So refreshing among all the overheated emotions.

    Thank you for bringing up that weight is a choice and the health implications. I think that people are so willing to call it discrimination and lay blame on the corporations for their situations rather than take responsibility for their own actions… or inactions.

  3. This is a useful post for me, because I’m considering applying for a flight attendant job sometime in the future, so it’s good to get the “inside knowledge” of being a flight attendant! I knew about the sleep-unfriendly hours, but I didn’t know that you sometimes couldn’t eat on the flight. Is that when you are doing short flights, maybe one or two hour long flights continually for a whole day, when the planes don’t generally have a lot of food for the passengers either?

  4. Yeah it depends. I’m sure every airline has their own rules about when a flight attendant is provided a meal or what you’re allowed to eat on board. I know on my airline, if I work a certain number of hours and don’t have at least two hours at any airport, a meal is provided for me. It gets tricky when I don’t work quite enough hours in a day or something else unexpected comes up. If there are extra first class meals then the flight attendants can split those but sometimes everyone in first class eats so there’s nothing left over. The easiest way to make sure you always have food is to bring your own with you. Then you know it’s there and you don’t have to worry about it. That takes planning ahead though and I’m really bad at that, haha.

  5. ed_edd_eddie

    i just got accpeted for training. this is one helpfull blog… im excided and a bit scare of what to expect i guess this is one thing. but overall im happy i pass the interview i wanted to be on planes since i was a kid.. goodluck to me!

  6. Woo hoo! Good for you. Study hard and don’t give up during training. It’s totally worth it. Good luck! Keep me updated on how things go. Do you have a blog?

  7. Mark

    I have applied for fliight attendant positions, tried getting invited to informational sessions or initial interviews, but no luck. I understand since 911, things have changed, but what’s the best way to get noticed and get that opportunity for an interview? I’m a 40 yr male who is wanting a change in career. I’m mature, responsibile, dependable and I no longer need the big salary I’ve made in the past.
    Thanks
    Mark

  8. Hannah

    I, unfortunately, live above a flight attendant's apartment. I was told it was dead quiet here – even when she was here. But, NOT. The few days that she is here a week, she feels I should go without sleep at all hours of the night while she crashes and bangs downstairs doing whoknowswhat. I still have not figured it out. The owner doesn't even want to deal with her. Please note – I know that her job is not easy but she chose it. And, it is not right in any realm for her to take out her anger on me. Last week, she screamed at me for 15 minutes in MY apartment because the owner suggested I leave a polite, short, kind note about the noise. I even mentioned in the note that if there was anything I could do to help her, to let me know. She was a crazy person. I thought I was going to have to call the police. Last night when she was here – as usual – there was a huge crash downstairs out of nowhere. It does get horribly nervewracking. I can feel her anger and I know it has to do with her life and not mine. I was not brought up to be like this so it is very difficult to deal with such outright rudeness. There were complaints about her before I moved in but the owner did not inform me of this. So, she thinks I am the only one who has "complained". I am not good at conflict at all and run away from it – and I may move again to deal with this. She told me to move or take sleeping pills and told me she wanted to never hear from me again and didn't need my help and on and on. I was so shell shocked, I didn't dare say anything and started crying in front of her. She is one hard bully in my opinion. If she doesn't like what she is doing, she should get out. It is obvious I fed her ego when I tried to turn the conversation to a positive note saying how lucky she was to have the job she does. She seemed to "puff up". Honestly, people, she is ruining my life here. I just heard another crash from downstairs and have no idea what is going on. This is a really nice place but I feel as though I am living in a ghetto with her behavior. Last week, before she harassed me, she turned up her stereo to full blast and then came over here and told me I would have to live with it. I spent the entire weekend in tears. The owner must have told here quiet hours of 12 AM to 8 AM – but how long will it last? I have tried everything and it has been five months of hell. It is beyond me why she would live in New England when her base is in North Carolina. Her excuse is that she has to watch over her son who is 21. It is beyond my understanding. Bottom line is the owner lied to me. However, she waits until he is gone to make the most noise. He gets nervous every time I email and ask for his help. Well, he will have to now. She told me to never leave her another note. And, I let him know everything in order to document what happened. I had and have every right to call the police and get a restraining order. She threatened me. If I had "given it back", I know she would have physically harmed me. I never knew that flight attendants were like this. I have been fortunate when I have flown to have decent service. However, I can say that it is a rare thing that I ever saw anyone smile. And, this woman who harassed me – she is 53 years old behaving as a 2 year old. I know I need to learn to deal with conflict but the behavior I am having to deal with is completely unacceptable. I am only flying Virgin from now on – Richard Branson only has the best and I am sure you don't experience bad flight service on his flights.

  9. Nick

    Thank you so much for posting! I have an interview on June 6th with Westjet to be an FA… Finally a blog that outweighs true pros and cons.

    I think my decision is clear, so hopefully I get hired! Thanks again!

    N

  10. Laura

    One thing that should be mentioned also is the families that stay at home while the FA is gone three days at a time. My husband just became a FA last year and I have had a hard time dealing with the separation. I stopped working because of my health so I get quite lonely. If I mention it to him he gets mad at me because it’s his job. I am very proud of him and he makes alot more money than being in ground ops but this was his decision, not mine. He is lucky that he works for an airline that allows family members to meet on their ON’s so I try and do that as often as I can. He will pick up a trip to somewhere he knows I like and since they always stay in nice hotels it’s a treat for me. This job is a family affair, it’s not just the FA who has good and bad things about the job, we all live them. I hate reserves because if he gets back early on the third day he could have to go back out because someone called off. I don’t know about other airlines but his has a terrible problem with absenteeism. You look at anyones board and 9 out of 10 have sick time on it. My husband has good work ethics and has perfect attendance so he suffers for others. Anyway, I am grateful for his job but it does come with frustrations.

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