“I’ve never been to Texas. I hear they have good food.” It didn’t take much to talk myself into interviewing for a flight attendant job. It was the year 2013 and after getting laid off from my first full-time job and finishing an AmeriCorps term, it was time for next big adventure.
Once I found out that the airline paid for my flight to the interview I was sold.
“If they don’t pick you at least you got a free flight and you get to say you’ve been to Texas. That’s awesome.” I told myself nonchalantly approaching the situation. The group interview was at least thirty people (I’m terrible at guestimating people) in a room round for round, rotating rooms answering questions. There were people who yearned for their dream job and then there was me who was curious and just showed up unprepared with a smile, nonchalant attitude, and thinking about all the food I’d eat while exploring the Dallas Airport. I already lost my job and direction so I had nothing to lose.
“We want to invite you to training.” Months went by and I got this invitation. I had to read the email twice in awe to how little ol’ me who prepared nothing and was just winging it, got selected.
I was in a temporary job at the time so I accepted. Training wasn’t paid but it was free housing and food and I had enough money tucked away for an adventure.
There were a lot of people in my training class. Each week there were two tests and you had pass each test with a ninety or above. If you failed the test you the opportunity to retake it but if you failed the retake you had to pack your bags and go home. There was a written test ensuring you knew all the safety equipment on every aircraft and a evacuation simulation. It was much like college but for aviation customer service as my classmates became family. We had inside jokes and by the end of the semester we were cheering on each other’s success.
Towards the end of it all there was a day spent on imaging. The Imaging Department came in and told the class everything they needed to know beyond the uniform. Only certain high heels or a specific width and height were acceptable, terrible roots were unacceptable, they even told you what they liked and didn’t like about your manicure and makeup. It almost felt surreal that day. Again, I showed up and they were surprised that I wasn’t caked in makeup beyond lipstick. “This is all I know how to do.”
“Keep doing it.”
It was by no means an easy training as flight attendants know the planes in and out and are prepared for every situation in the air and on the ground. Flight attendant training prepared me a bit for life.
After graduation I packed up the little things I had and landed in New York with less than a week to find housing. I did what any other millennial would do and put out an ad on Craigslist. My roommate from training came with me to find a few spots but after missing her family she utilized her few days off to go to California. Somehow, someway this awesome lady hit me up and showed me her cutesy apartment in Corona, Queens and I negotiated a six month lease. $1100 wasn’t bad for a one bedroom in Queens.
At first it was awesome. Me and my roommate would have the same schedule and sometimes we wouldn’t so it was like having a place occasionally to yourself.
The hours were my favorite part of the job as I’m a night owl and would try my hardest to end up with red eye flights and anything that took off after the sun went down. For a while my schedule was a lot of going to Ft. Myers Florida, Miami, and a lot of New York turns (meaning you start and end your day in the same airport). It was fun talking to customers as my personality was created to thrive off of people’s energy good or bad. I joked with the First Class passengers when all the cookies baked together and I had to cut them out into random shapes. I called it art. I also remember talking a woman out of a bathroom so we could takeoff in a timely manner, encouraging passengers to put their hands out to catch a kid who got out of his seat as we were landing, and last but not least I’ll never forget trying to successfully board a Miami flight. Everyone knows that boarding a Miami flight is either the easiest or hardest thing.
Being on call was fun. It was a lot of sitting at the house waiting for crew scheduling to call because you never knew when you would have to report to the airport. The last time I was on call I got the call I was dreading.
“You’re flying out of Newark.”
“How do I even get to Newark in two hours?” I remember being confused as I knew being New York based meant working out of Newark, Laguardia, and JFK but I had never once been to Newark. The good news is there was a shuttle from Laguardia to Newark and if I timed it right I could make it. Crew scheduling even said they would give me a break if I was a few minutes late. The great news is I was going to Buenos Aires. It was a ten hour flight. Every time I had left the country beforehand it was by boat.
Buenos Aires was my last flight. It wasn’t that trip that grounded me. It was more of a combination of things. The pay, work/life balance, and the culture of this particular company wasn’t for me. This experience taught me that it’s okay to quit some things especially if they’re not for you.
Fun fact: flight attendants only get their hourly wage when they’re in the air. I don’t know who this is fun for but that was the hardest part of the job. Imagine being so poor that after applying for income based repayment on your loans that the government just says, “nah we good. Hit you up next year.” This means flight attendants only get a per diem while at their hotels and during boarding and deplaning. Here’s some perspective, one month I worked 90 flight hours and brought home a check for $1100 after taxes. Living in New York with a Sour Patch Kid of a roommate, that was not enogh.
The airline I worked for was union protected which is a great and not so great thing. Union’s protect workers’ rights but the amount of complacency was ridiculous. Older workers who didn’t like their jobs would utilize being union protected as a reason to do whatever they wanted. For example, I once worked with a guy that was on the safety video and he was really nasty to a customer. I asked him about it and he cited he earned his attitude in his seniority. I made sure to tend to the customer he was rude to because I didn’t want the company reputation to suffer. I treated the customers like family because that’s how I would want to be treated.
Flight attendants meet new people every day. Your coworkers are sometimes the same but it can get to be a lonely job. Christmas and Thanksgiving have to be moved as you’ll most likely be working. The great news is you get a buddy pass for your favorite buddy. These are free standby flights that you only pay airport taxes on. My dad enjoyed these until he didn’t because stand by travel is treacherous.
“So why did you quit? Would you do it again?” I’ve had people ask me all the time. It was mostly because my heart wasn’t in it at the time and I was making too little money to survive. I know college prepared me to be poor but I was playing real life Chopped with my roommate. Kuddos to myself because I can make something out of nothing and if my mama taught me anything, she taught me how to survive.
If I had a bustling side hustle, a nice savings account, or my freelance writing career picked up, I’d do it again for another company. As the wage at the time wasn’t livable. Whoever said do what you love and the money will come never met a flight attendant as it takes a while for the money to come.
*This is part one of my Chronicles of a Stewardess.