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What It’s Really, Truly Like to Be a Flight Attendant

By Sarah Purkrabek

May 28, 2015

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It’s more than a job—it’s a lifestyle.

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Being a flight attendant comes with some major perks: For one, you get to travel the world. But the job isn’t without its own challenges, too. Those of us in more grounded offices get to go home everyday; if your office has wings, though, you might be away from your home on nights you’d rather be in your own bed.

So what wins out: Homesickness, or love of travel? Turns out that’s just one of the questions that comes up when you get ready to start a life in the sky. We got together with Glenn and Curtis, two flight attendants (and partners—they met on the job!) at the same major airline with a combined total of 37 years experience, to find out what the lifestyle of a professional flight attendant is like, from being a newbie to a pro in the business.

1. It’s not just a career.

Glenn: “It’s a career, but it’s also a lifestyle. We have friends all over the world. We’re professional travelers. I’ve been based in London and Hong Kong, as well as San Francisco, where we both are now. You get used to living out of a suitcase, and bringing your little toiletry kit with you everywhere. You have your set of routines, depending on whether the flight is domestic or international, what the weather is like in the place you’re going, things like that. But you adapt to it, too. At home we have this big bag with a bunch of little bags inside, all stuffed with different currencies.”

2. And it’s very different than any other career.

Curtis: “In our job, you’re basically trapped in a tin can hurdling through space.”

Glenn: “You really bond with other flight attendants, and the passengers become part of the family during the flight too. But you fly with different people every time. You have a different office and a different crew and different passengers every day.”

Curtis: “It’s a plus and a minus.”

Glenn: “But once you get used to it, it’s very hard to go back to a regular office job.”

3. You’ll wear many different hats.

Glenn: “What people don’t realize is that we’re there primarily as safety professionals. We’re trained in what to do if there’s a medical emergency, or any other kind of problems. Once, I was on a flight where a man had a heart attack. We had to turn the plane around so we could get him to the hospital, but in the meantime my training kicked in and I was doing CPR on him. I basically saved his life.”

Curtis: “We’re the faces of the airline. The airport has become a stressful place, and our passengers are beat by the time they arrive onboard. People sometimes do take out their frustration on us, but 99.9% of the time an hour later it’s fine. Our job is to get the passengers comfortable and relaxed.”

Glenn: “We’re also baby sitters, therapists, tour guides, and more. I’ve held a woman’s baby while she went to the bathroom, and both of us have given advice and recommendations.”

4. You don’t get to choose where you go. . . at first. 


Glenn: “Everything is based off seniority, and it takes a while to get to the top. We fly with people who have flown for 50 years or more. People don’t change careers as much in this industry, because the best perks come with the more years you’ve been with the airline.

“If you’re a junior attendant (new to the job) then you’ll probably be on reserve a lot. We have reserves because air travel obviously isn’t always predictable, or sometimes flight attendants get sick, and we need someone to fill in. If you’re on reserve, you could be just sitting at the airport waiting to be called in, or you’ll be at home and your phone will ring at 3AM telling you to get over there so you can fly to Wisconsin, or somewhere. You have to be very flexible. But again, you adapt.”

“When you’re young and don’t have as many responsibilities, it’s easier to do that kind of thing. If you’re older, it can be more difficult. Especially with a family, kids, or pets. But it can involve the whole family if you let it. We know flight attendants who are moms who use their layovers as their ‘me’ time, so they can do things for themselves. You can also take your family along with you on flights sometimes.”

5. But eventually, you’ll get to go everywhere.


Glenn: “I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica, and I think most if not all 50 states. I haven’t counted. In each new city, we explore. There’s a term in the industry, slam-clickers, referring to flight attendants or pilots who get to a new place and just head to their hotel, slam the door, click the lock, and don’t come out until it’s time to leave for their next flight.”

Curtis: “But why wouldn’t you explore?”

Glenn: “If you go somewhere on a regular basis, you learn the place. You have a favorite park or beach, a favorite restaurant. We know people that always get their hair done in Hong Kong or Sydney, because they go there regularly and they have a favorite place to go. In places you haven’t been before, no matter how small, you never know what you’re going to find. We’ve both come across all sorts of things—random free concerts and other events, beautiful towns, new friends. There are a lot of places and things that flying has allowed us to see that we would have never experienced otherwise. It’s been a decades long adventure.”

>>Next: A Pilot’s Perspective: What It’s Like to Fly Over Conflict Areas

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