Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the wild life of flight crews
I think my job is the coolest job in the world. No, really! It allows me to live a lifestyle I love, to travel the world, to meet new people daily, to work 15 days a month and call it full time. There are plenty of other jobs that are more impressive: Doctors, lawyers, professional athletes. Many of my peers make a lot more money than I do and garner more respect and prestige for their positions: Sales, nurses, public relations professionals. Sometimes I get a little down about the fact that, while I’m actually on the plane to save lives in the event of an emergency, a lot of people think that I’m only there to hold their garbage or get them drunk. But let me tell you something.
Bring me as your wedding date, office or birthday party guest and watch what happens. People lean in a bit closer, you can see the excitement in their eyes. We find out very quickly who has the coolest job in the room.
“That’s so cool! You must get to travel everywhere.”
“That’s so cool! I could never do it, I hate flying.”
“That’s so cool! I’ve always wanted to know…”
It’s a lifestyle many have never considered, and one that prompts a lot of questions. So here we are, and here are answers to some of the most common ones flight attendants receive.
1. Do you fly for free?
Duh! Why else in the world would I be breathing this recycled oxygen, collecting trash and serving sodas, and apologizing for a million things that have nothing to do with me? For the flights!
I fly free on my airline and on any other carrier within the U.S. If I fly international on my airline, I pay international taxes. If I fly international on other airlines I pay what is called a “Zed fare” which is a heavily discounted rate + international taxes. This is where it pays to work for one of the big international carriers like Delta or United or American: You can almost always avoid that Zed fare.
2. What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on a flight?
For me this is easy. The time a guy had explosive diarrhea in his pants, in his seat, while sleeping on the aircraft. I won’t get into more detail here, but maybe at a later date I’ll tell the whole story. It’s a doozy.
3. What route do you work?
I’m not a letter carrier or a paper boy. I don’t have a set route.
Every airline does their scheduling a bit differently, but here’s how mine works:
Everything is based on seniority, or how long you have been flying for the company. We bid our schedules in the first week of the month for the following month. Right now it’s the beginning of February, so I’m currently working on my “bid” for March. I ask for the days off I want, I ask for specific trips I want, I can ask for anything I want but will only get what the other, more senior people above me don’t ask for first.
Sometimes I work one-day trips. I fly to Denver, for example, and fly right back. Sometimes I work four-day trips and stay in hotels for three nights. Sometimes I work red eyes and stay up all night like a vampire. (I like this.) Sometimes I work very early mornings and wake up at 2-3am to go to work . (I like this much less.)
If I have enough seniority I can bid for the same trips throughout the month and essentially have a “route”. A lot of people who live in their base city work during the day and come home in the evening, same trip day after day. Sort of like a regular person schedule. This does nothing for me, so I take more of a “variety pack” approach to my schedule.
When you first start out in the biz, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole and we call this “reserve”. While you’re on reserve you will know your days off, but beyond that have no control over your schedule. Our reserves either get called in from home and have two hours to get to the airport to start a trip or they are scheduled to sit at the airport just in case they’re needed. Every day is a surprise when you’re a reserve, and the smart ones always have a bathing suit and a warm jacket packed in their suitcase.
4. Does the company pay for your hotels? Meals?
Yes they pay for hotels. I’m not made of money, and while I’m on the company’s time and representing their brand it is their responsibility to ensure I have a safe and comfortable place to rest my head.
My company does not pay for meals, however we do receive, on top of our hourly wage, a small stipend called “per diem.” This additional $2 per hour begins when we clock in and ends when our trip is complete. So on a multi-day trip you’re earning this while you’re sleeping, working out, watching Real Housewives, whatever. This is ostensibly what we can be using to pay for food or small expenses we incur while on the road.
5. Do you ever get scared?
In the five years I’ve been flying I recall two occurrences in which I was scared.
One was during an “emergency landing” in Las Vegas after a hydraulic system failed. We didn’t even have to prepare the cabin to evacuate, and our captain was so helpful and communicative that there was really no reason to be scared. But it was out of the ordinary and you never know how a situation could progress. It turned out fine; Our passengers got rebooked for the next day and my crew got stuck in Vegas, where we stayed out until 8am drinking at casinos.
The other time was after I had woken up early in the morning for work after having a vivid nightmare involving a plane. There was nothing rational about this one, just good old fashioned scared in your guts. This one turned out fine too.
6. What’s your favorite place?
In the U.S.? For layovers? For Travel? In the world in general? This question is silly and everyone who knows me knows I don’t pick favorites of anything.
(Except food: Pizza is the best and tacos are second.)
I do have a few cities that I particularly love laying over in: San Diego, Chicago, Austin. But any place can be awesome, especially if it’s warm and you’re escaping New England winters. And especially if you have an awesome crew to hang out with.
7. The pilots: Are they creeps? Are they hot? Do flight attendants and pilots hook up?
Yes, yes, yes. And also no, no, no.
Some are creeps. Some are really cool guys and not creepy at all. Some are married but will slide in your “DM” (company email) to be creeps. Some love their wives and kids and want to show you literally 500 photos on their phone whenever you’re up in the cockpit. (Like, no Lyle, 14 pictures is the limit.) It’s still a male-dominated field, so all the things that come with men are to be expected. Some are arrogant d*cks. A lot of them are ultimate nerds, for whom buttons and switches and technical endeavors are so easy but human interaction is the most difficult thing. There are hot pilots. There are ugly pilots. Old ones, young ones, gym rats and hopelessly unhealthy. I guess if you’re working for a younger airline you can expect to have younger (ergo cuter) pilots and when you’re at a legacy carrier they tend to be more experienced (older). No shade, older dudes can be foxy too. And the women are just as much of a mixed bag.
There is a lot of love in the airline industry. Yes, pilots and FAs hook up on layovers. They also date. They also get married. Does it happen as much as you’d think? No, probably not. But we’re hot blooded people. Because our work groups are still so gender-segregated it’s sort of a kid-in-a-candy-shop setup. It’s easy. They’re everywhere. New ones every day.
I put it to a friend of mine like this: I don’t like skittles. I like chocolate. But if I see a swimming pool full of skittles, you better believe I want to dive into it and swim around.
It’s a part of the lifestyle for some people, but certainly not for everyone.
8. Do you get hit on, like, all the time?
No. I get hit on sometimes. Mostly people are respectful and realize I’m at work for their safety, not their amusement. I have had a few people slip me their numbers on the way out or ask sheepishly if I’m single.
Actually one time a guy, having missed his opportunity to ask me out, attempted to get back onto the plane telling the gate agent he had left his phone on board. That obviously didn’t work as we have security in mind above cell phones. But he ended up running into the other FA I was working with and asked her to call me to give me his number. Which she did. This could have been creepy, but since he looked like Ryan Gossling it seemed more like a scene from a rom-com.
If you’re thinking of hitting on a flight attendant my advice is the same as it is for any other person you’d meet in the world: If you think the two of you have some kind of special connection, you can ask a follow up question. Something friendly and not invasive. If they have on a wedding ring, if they don’t engage in the line of conversation (i.e. asking you questions as well, leaning in, etc.) then you should probably thank them for their time and abort mission. There is nothing worse than someone continuing to hammer away at trying to seduce you when you’re visibly and clearly not interested. Just have some situational awareness.
9. Have you ever caught someone joining “The mile high club”?
Let me just take a moment to vomit in my mouth.
Okay, that’s done.
No. I have never caught anyone attempting this. And for you people who think it sounds exciting I’m gonna go ahead and burst your bubble right here. Airplane bathrooms are dirty. The liquid on the floor is not water. It’s pee. At best. I’ve had to lock off lavatories mid-flight because someone has managed (intentionally or not I’ll never know) to get feces all over the walls/door/sink/etc. People have clogged the sinks by puking in them because apparently they weren’t raised right (vomit is not for sinks). And the space is so tight that there is absolutely no way of not touching the walls/countertop/sink/toilet if you’re in there with another human. It’s gross. For you adventurers: Find a different exciting spot that won’t make you filthier than your mind already is.
10. You live WHERE and work WHERE?
Okay, so this one doesn’t technically apply to me because I live in base (where I work), but this question is relevant for millions of other flight attendants so here we go.
I drive to work, just like many of you. Some of you might take a bus or the train or for you fitness fanatics, ride a bicycle. Many of my co-workers travel to work on airplanes. Yes, plural, because some of them actually take TWO flights to get to work.
One of the great benefits about being a pilot or flight attendant is that you can live anywhere, regardless of where you work. So if you get a job opportunity and have a family, you don’t have to rip your kids out of school and start them in a new state. If you have ailing parents you can be with them on your off days. If you just love where you are from, there’s no need to relocate. Plus, you can essentially give yourself a raise by living in a state/city with a low cost of living and commuting to your base city. Pay’s the same no matter where you live.
All this sounds great, and having the option totally is. But there is obviously a downside. Commuting can suck sometimes. You fly standby to get to work, so if there’s a snow storm or if a flight cancels or if your flight is just too full, you may not get there on time or at all. This can be really, really stressful. And the other problem with commuting is it cuts into your time off. At the end of my trip I drive thirty minutes and I’m home. Done. Finito. But if I were commuting to, say, Los Angeles, like a good friend of mine does, I would have to wait for the next flight to LAX and then sit on a plane for six hours and then drive however long the ride home is. If I’ve missed the last flight of the day, I have to start that long journey home tomorrow, my day off. Commuting just shaves a bit off both ends of your off-time.