We have all heard the complaints, “flying is not what it used to be.” Blame overpriced fares, the flying public who don’t know how to fly, and gluten. While this may be a seemingly passenger problem, I’m here to let you know your flight attendants know the feeling even better than you. Life’s not all chips and guacamole for us either. Oversold flights, bad attitudes, and parents mistaking the plane for a playground can cause anyone to have a meltdown.
When I catch myself participating in coworker’s grumblings or I’ve sat at the airport all day on standby trying to get home after watching jet after jet leave without me, I remind myself of the important lessons I’ve learned while flying, and why I wouldn’t change my lifestyle for anything.
I am grateful I do not have a boss watching my every move.
Sure, there are days when I want a “normal” job. It’s often on long fourteen hour work days due to weather delays or when I wake up and can’t remember what city I’m in (Bangor, Toledo, Kalamazoo?). But then I remember all the passengers I observe on the plane attached to their devices and think “no, thank you!”
Some passengers will board while still typing on their laptops (good luck stowing that gargantuan suitcase) and talking on their bluetooth. Gone are the days when flying was a built in excuse to take a break. Thanks to inflight wifi, your boss can (and may expect) to reach you at any time. Lucky for flight attendants we are not supposed to be on our phones. Period.
The art of being alone.
In a conversation with a friend (in his late twenties) he mentioned, “I am just now okay with going to a restaurant by myself.” Not feeling comfortable eating alone was as foreign concept to me. As a flight attendant, you don’t always have people to go out with. If you are on an overnight, there is the possibility your entire crew will slam click (airline lingo for slamming the hotel door and clicking the lock with complete disregard to the one crew member who is not yet sick of people).
If you are tired of seeing mundane hotel walls, there is no choice but to relive that first day of kindergarten moment. You know the one, where your mom shoved you out of the car or the teacher shoved your mom out of the room leaving you to face the gigantic world. Alone. In your underwear. Okay, maybe not the last part, but the feeling is the same. Sure, I was anxious at first, but that was ages ago. Now I do a lot of activities on my own and don’t think twice. This attitude has carried over to solo travel. It’s exhilarating to go to a new city and explore without worrying about accommodating another person.
How to cope with loneliness.
During my first few months of flying, “Oh the places you’ll go, and the things that you’ll see” kept running through my head. Then reserve came calling, and I realized Dr. Seuss never sat reserve for a commercial airline. I often sat on call far enough outside a city I was unable to explore because I needed to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. I would be held captive in hotel rooms for up to four days; meanwhile, thanks to social media, I would see all the fun my friends appeared to be having while I sat around twiddling my thumbs trying to figure out world peace.
During these times the job can be lonely. I had to learn how to combat the lonely times so I could keep my cheerful disposition. A whole new world of hobbies and activities I never would have tried were opened up to me because I was forced to get busy or stay lonely.
“Things” aren’t important.
It’s no secret first year flight attendants make poverty wages. I was no exception. During my first nine months, I survived in a crashpad with eight other people. The only space I could truly claim as my own was the 22 inches inside my carry on suitcase.
It was extremely humbling (and a tad unnerving) to share my personal bubble with strangers, and when I finally unpacked belongings from my storage unit three years later, I was astonished at the items I once thought I could never live without, had been out of my possession for so long. I had finally become the carefree vagabond of my dreams. Adapting and changing to my newfound lifestyle, I was able downsize so my “stuff” was not longer encumbering.
Time is precious.
Sure you hear the adage “time is money,” but time means exceedingly more to me. I’m gone frequently, and when I am home, it’s imperative I do activities meaningful to me. I intentionally give friends and family my attention, but on days when I would rather be crafty than paint the town red, I allow myself the much needed me time to be creative.
My busyness is a fantastic filter for time waster hobbies. I rarely sit and scroll through Facebook, and I don’t invest much in superficial relationships. Rather, I focus on building quality friendships by investing in past times such as writing and mailing birthday cards and cooking dinner for friends.
I care about my health.
While this may not seem like a physically draining job, I’m here to tell you that sashaying up and down the aisle during the beverage service while in turbulence, running a marathon from one terminal to the next while dragging 75 lbs of bricks behind you, and schlepping four bags from plane to plane in the middle of an airport obstacle course, is indeed physically demanding. Flight attendants can work up to sixteen hours with few breaks in between. On average I walk about 15 -17k steps. That’s seven to nine miles. In four days I can walk 28-36 miles. That’s equivalent to walking up and back down Manhattan Island.
Combine heavy walking, exposure to germs, irregular sleep schedules, and fatigue comes easily. If I want to stay in tip top shape and have enough energy to make it through my day, I need to eat properly and get enough rest. I have also incorporated yoga into my life, and am able to do it on overnights. If only my twenty year old self could see me now! She would never believe I love to be in bed at a decent hour so I’m able to wake up early and enjoy a cup of coffee and the sunrise.
Humbly realize “it’s not all about me.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day happenings in our lives without any real thought to the daily grind and struggles taking place in other areas of the world. This job has given me the opportunity to see many places. What a humbling experience it was to step off the plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and feel like I was in Lost in Translation.
I observed the hustle and bustle of the city during my visit and realized people all over the world wake up, have routines, appointments, fun that needs to be had, lives to live. It makes the spats and struggles in my own life back home seem insignificant.
To say I spent the early part of my life uptight and stressed over every little detail is an understatement. Trips, events, outings. They all had to go according to plan, or I would have a mini meltdown. Since we all know life isn’t in the business of happening the way we want or expect it to, this job gave me a crash course in being more flexible.
From sitting reserve not knowing where I would head next to spending the night in some random city when I was supposed to be home, I have learned to adapt. Last year I had a trip to Barcelona planned with some friends, but we also had a back up trip to the Caribbean in case the flight filled up and standbys wouldn’t get on. I have learned to enjoy the current moment I’m living rather than focus on what’s not happening in the future.
The world is truly beautiful.
We see pictures, but those are just a glimpse to the true beauty of our gorgeous planet. Sure, the Grand Canyon is pretty impressive in pictures, but to fly over it day after day and see how captivating it is paints the world in a new light.
The Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming look pretty in magazines, but to be there in person and see them in all their glory will take your breathe away. When the urban bustle of a bigger city starts to wear me down, I simply think of all the amazing places I’ve seen: Ireland, Spain, France, Jamaica, and I remember, this world is a pretty spectacular place.