Linda and Jackie have worked together as flight attendants at a major U.S. airline for almost thirty years. Their flight attendant careers have been full of ups and downs — literally and figuratively!
“The first thing I would say to anyone who wants to be a flight attendant is, don’t waste your time and money going to flight attendant school,” says Linda. “They make it sound like you’re guaranteed a job after you graduate from their school, but it just isn’t true. The airlines aren’t hiring much right now. And flight attendant school never guarantees you a job. Besides, so many flight attendants have been laid off that they’ll be hired before anyone else who doesn’t have experience.”
How can someone get hired as a flight attendant if they have no experience? Jackie says, “If you’re bi-lingual or multi-lingual, you have a great chance at getting hired. It’s the best thing you could have going for you. Depending on what international routes an airline flies, speakers of languages spoken in those cities are needed the most.”
Linda adds, “And when you get an interview for a flight attendant’s position, you should be outgoing. You’ll stand out more than those candidates who are quiet.”
The challenge isn’t over even if you pass the interview. Linda explains,”If you don’t pass the flight attendant training, they kick you out. Our training lasted six weeks, and it was very thorough. You practice using the emergency slides and all kinds of procedures. You’ve got to know your stuff. Once you’ve passed, you have to take several flights as a trainee. And then you get FAA or Transport Canada-certified recurrency training every year after that. The recurrency training is intense too. You have to be able to perform CPR, open the emergency door, lots of things. And you can’t mess up.”
Jackie describes what a typical day is like for them. “On international flights, we’re there an hour and a half early. The pilots come into the briefing room and introduce themselves. They talk about the flight plan, when it’s going to be turbulent, and if there are any security issues. Then the flight attendants check on the emergency equipment, making sure the oxygen bottles are full, that sort of thing. We each have our assigned areas. Then we get our galleys set up, and when the passengers board, we make sure their baggage fits. If it doesn’t, we check it.”
As with any industry, aviation has changed over the years, but the biggest changes occurred because of 9/11. Linda says, “It affected the public because they didn’t fly as much, they were afraid. At the same time, oil prices went up. Airlines were hard hit, and as flight attendants, we’ve had to take major pay cuts, and we’ve lost some benefits, too. Several airlines have gone into bankruptcy. Because of the terrorism threat, we have to do galley sweeps to check for bombs and watch for any odd behavior among passengers. It’s been a rough five years. We hope it’ll change soon, and we’ve seen some signs that it has already, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
How many days are Linda and Jackie away from home? Jackie explains, “Because we don’t live in our home base city, on the day before our scheduled flight, we have to fly to that city. Then we stay in a hotel or a commuter apartment and go to work the next day. It’s our responsibility to get to work on time from where we live. Because we fly on passes, we’re not guaranteed a seat. That means we may not make it on time to our base city.” The alternative is for Linda and Jackie to live in the base city. As with the majority of flight attendants at their airline, Linda and Jackie have no wish to live in that city. They prefer to commute, though it adds an extra three days travel time away from home in addition to the 15 days they’re away working.
In fact, it’s the jetlag from traveling so much that the two flight attendants find the most challenging about their job. “What ends up happening when you come home from an international trip,” says Jackie, “Is that with all the time zone changes, it can be a nine-hour time change. By the time you get home, you may have been awake for 30 hours straight. It takes you two days to get somewhat back to normal. By the third day, you’re packing again for the next trip, and by the fourth day, you’re on another airplane to reach your base city. You never really quite adjust and getting enough sleep is a real challenge. When you get home, it’s all you can do to get back on your feet again. But, it’s just part of the job.”
Airlines only pay flight attendants for the time they work while flying. Their pay doesn’t include time spent on layovers, writing up incident reports, or pre-flight briefings. That means that for every 18-hours of paid flying time, they may be away from home for almost three days. “Because of the pay cuts, we’re having to work a lot more hours per month to make the same amount of money that we used to,” says Linda.
Ironically, though the traveling is the biggest challenge in their job, it’s also the most rewarding part of it. “We’ve seen the world,” says Jackie. “And we’ve loved every minute of that.” Do they actually have time to see the sights when they’re away from home flying? Linda says, “The airlines give you 24 hours between flights. Usually we go to our hotel room, which they pay for, and then we take a nap. Afterward, we see the sights. We’ve been to the Seine in Paris, and we’ve been to Rome and all sorts of places. Seeing the world has been a blast. I never would have gone on my own. It’s been fantastic.”