Recently I had one of the most quintessential flight attendant days. It was like something out of a movie—a comedy, where the protagonist (me) can’t catch a break and finds herself encountering one obstacle after another in an almost too-much to-be-true fashion. I was on zero sleep and a time crunch and shit was just going wrong. But honestly, it was so typical I should have expected it. And so, rather than becoming frustrated or giving in to feeling bad for myself, I laughed. I laughed at the situations I get myself into, the lengths at which I have to go sometimes to get myself out, and this crazy scattered life we live. It was so good I decided mid-day, between one missed flight and one cancelled, that I’d write a piece about it here.
It was January 5, three days before I left for Mexico that I realized my ID badge—a mandatory item for my job that I use to identify myself as crew—was set to expire on January 31. Normally I’d say no big deal. I’d go down to the crew lounge in Boston and I’d take a new picture. Within a week or so they’d email me letting me know my new badge was ready. At that point I’d just drop by, turn in my old badge (‘cause security) and take the new one. The biggest worry in this scenario is how terrible my picture is going to be and what people will see when they search me in the company-wide directory for the next two years.
The one minor problem, and maybe you’ve spotted it already, is that I wouldn’t be there next week. Or the following. I’d be in Mexico for more than five weeks, returning mid-February.
Now, I’m going to be real honest with you here and tell you that I don’t even KNOW what happens if you let your badge expire. I know you can’t work. And I know you can’t fly as a nonrev. But like, que mas? No se. Would I get in trouble? Is there more of a waiting period if you let the time run out before renewing? Would I receive disciplinary points? Two things were for sure:
1. If I let my badge expire I would have to wait for a new one to be processed, time I couldn’t waste after five weeks in Mexico and before starting to work again.
2. I would have to buy a full fare-flight home from Mexico.
And ain’t nobody got time for full-fare tickets.
I fretted a bit. How had I forgotten that the date was approaching? (I answered this by simply remembering who I am.) I wondered if my mom, another flight attendant, could pick it up for me. But since I wouldn’t be able to return the old one and because it’s a security issue, that idea wasn’t plausible. I thought about letting it expire, seeing what happened and dealing with it once I came home (on my FULL FARE TICKET) from Mexico. But this seemed like a pretty irresponsible solution, so I nixed it.
If you’re wondering why I couldn’t push my departure date back a week to wait for my badge to be finished, the answer is simple. On January 8, I was taking my airline’s final flight to Mexico City. As in, the very next day it would no longer exist. Sure, I could take some other airline and connect and pay a whole lot more. Butttt that didn’t sound like a good option either. Then I found a solution.
For some reason there is a discrepancy in technology in our hubs such that in Boston it takes a full week for a new ID Badge to be processed and created, and in New York this can be done day-of, in about ten minutes.
Ain’t nobody got time for full-fare tickets.
My schedule was lined up like this: Sunday January 5, I would work a redeye turn (there and back, but overnight) to Denver. Sleep during the day until I went back to work that night (Monday, 1/6) for another red eye turn, this one to Las Vegas and back. I was to arrive at 4:30 am on January 7th and have the day off to nap and take care of my last minute things: getting an inspection sticker for my car, seeing some family before I left, doing laundry, packing for 5 weeks of varied temperatures in Mexico. And then I would depart on the 9am flight from Boston to Mexico City on January 8th.
My last day in town looked full, and the thought of not sleeping all day made me want to cry, but there was no other option. I had to go to New York.
So. After working a thirteen-hour overnight shift, instead of going to the crash pad for a quiet day sleep Tuesday morning, I hurried over to the New York gate and got myself on a flight to JFK. The plan was to take the first flight to JFK, get my new badge made, and hop a flight back to BOS as early as possible. I would try to nap on the flights and maybe could get some sleep in the crew lounge.
The flight to New York was only about an hour long, so while I was comfy and exhausted, the short time span coupled with how much I had to do made it impossible to sleep.
When I got to the airport, I went down to the crew lounge. I washed my Face and brushed my teeth and headed to the quiet room to try to get some shut eye. (A quiet room is a dark room full of armchairs where people can go to sleep for a few hours in between commutes and starting or ending trips.) Someone had told me the badge office was open normal business hours, so I set my alarm for 8:30, a mere hour away, and luckily, I did sleep some. When the alarm went off I wished for one more hour, nauseated, the way a real lack of sleep will leave you. I made a cup of coffee and headed to the bathroom to reapply my face. It’s TWO years with this picture, after all, and I was carrying some seriously oversized baggage under my eyes. By the time I shook the sleep off, put myself together and gathered my belongings to go it was 9:15. Perfect, I thought. I can catch the 10:30 flight on *Other Airline Name Here*
I made my way to the office where I would have my brand-new shiny badge made. Only to discover that they would not open for another 40 minutes, at 10 o’clock. Guess I could have taken that extra hour of sleep.
No matter, it would be alright. I bought a bagel, sat and ate it while I worked on a blog post, and waited for the office to open.
When 10 rolled around—to be really fair, they opened early for me, at about 9:55—I was in and out of the office in minutes with a new badge and what would have been a nice photo if their printer had adequate levels of toner. I realized it *might* still be possible for me to catch that flight I’d been eyeing. I had thirty minutes and had to make it across the airport, to a different terminal, but it was worth a shot, right?
Day dreams of sweet dreams.
The noon flight on my own airline had suddenly filled past capacity due to a delay, making the probability of my getting on approximately -20. So, I ran. I ran through the terminal, dragging my bag behind me, all the way to the Airtrain and waited, rather impatiently, for its arrival. When it came, I boarded and sat down, fidgeting nervously and checking my watch every thirty seconds as it trudged slowly from terminal to terminal.
At 10:16, still 4 terminals away, I determined it was a lost cause and jumped out of the tram and into Plan C. I ordered an Uber and ran down to the ground level for pickup. Buckle up, folks, we’re going to LaGuardia.
My airline also has flights out of this little gem of an airport, so I listed myself for the 10:55 and crossed my fingers that the driver wouldn’t be some kind of law-abiding grandma. Lucky for me she was sympathetic to the cause. She put the pedal to the metal and I burst through the door of the terminal at 10:38, just 17 minutes before departure. I had emailed the crew alerting them that I was trying to catch the flight in hopes that they wouldn’t leave early. I was running through the terminal to find my gate and was stopped by a gate agent.
“Whoa, whoa, where are you going?”
“Boston!” I answered, too rushed to make small talk.
“You don’t need to run. It’s cancelled.”
But it was true. One of the crewmembers had even emailed me just minutes before to tell me so. Could that $32 Uber ride and irregular heartbeat have been all for nothing?
The thing is, in this life, there will always be room for a Plan D and Plan E
and even Plan Z, if you need it.
I’m quick with the typing and discovered that TWO major airlines had flights leaving at noon. (I’d never have made the 11 o’clock ones.) The new problem, presenting itself in Plan D, was that both airlines were in different terminals which required a ten-minute shuttle to travel to. Since both flights left at the same time, and out of different terminals, I had to choose one, not knowing the flight loads (how many available seats), putting all my eggs into one basket completely blind. I stood outside by the busses that would take me to whichever of the terminals I decided to try, unsure of what to do. When I saw that one of the shuttle busses looked ready to leave, I took a deep breath, stepped aboard and hoped for the best.
Walking into the new terminal, which really was a ten-minute drive, I couldn’t help but find the comedy in the situation. Was I on one hour of sleep after working all night? Sure. Had I missed three opportunities for other flights home? Yep. But the thing is, in this life, there will always be room for a Plan D and Plan E and even Plan Z if you need it. And here I was, a new badge in my pocket, good for another two years, and on my way home to take care of business before heading off for FIVE entire weeks in Mexico.
I checked in for the flight and was delighted to learn that it was nearly empty. With a whole row to myself, I managed to sneak in another 45-minute nap in what would be one of my sleepiest days to date. I landed in Boston at 13:30 and while a nap sounds like a good ending to the story it’s not how it went.
I got the biggest blackest coffee I could from Starbucks.
I got an inspection sticker for my car.
I drove thirty minutes north of Boston to visit with my Dad and then went shopping with my Grandmother.
I drove back down to Boston and got myself ready and had a ridiculously delicious dinner and all-around fabulous date night with New Guy.
And then, finally, very late in the evening, I laid down for what would be another nap—but a nicer, warmer, longer, and dare I say “dreamy” one.
It was a day.
One of those days where you have to just laugh because giving in to stress or worry isn’t going to help your situation, but instead would only make you feel worse. And who the heck needs that? I also have to say, oddly, that this was another instance where I was so grateful for this job and this crazy life I’ve chosen for myself.
Was it a pain in the ass to haul it over to New York, to forego sleep and run through terminals? To take Ubers and Airtrains and shuttle busses and airplanes—just to run a simple errand?
Sure it was.
But in my life; at the rate that I forget things or wait until the last minute, having this autonomy in my schedule, the ability to move so freely, is nothing short of a blessing. I can make what seems impossible or improbably a reality just by deciding to do it. I can be in a million places in as many hours. I can go where I want when I want. (Or in this situation, where I must, when I must.) I have the ability to roll over from Plan B to C to D an infinite number of times, and the flexibility in my being—strengthened by years of needing it—to give in to the universe and accept (mostly) that things will happen how they happen and will work out in the end.
I know we all have this ability, if we just loosen our grip and trust in the obvious, albeit sometimes difficult, truth: It will all be okay.
But boy, oh boy, being a flight attendant makes shit a whole lot easier.
Apologies to anyone who suffered anxiety from reading this post. Tell me your best tips for getting organized or staying on top of deadlines. Or tips for SLEEPING ON PLANES! I really must learn someday.
As always, Thanks for reading!