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Airports have always been a place for celebrity sightings, but these days it’s not just Hollywood stars who are getting noticed.
Through Instagram and other social media platforms, airline employees are getting recognized as influencers for their unconventional lifestyles, travels and zeal for aviation.
TPG asked some of these highly visible airline veterans and newcomers about their careers and for their best advice on everything from the best places to eat at the airport to tips for wrinkle-free packing to managing life in the air. Here’s what they had to say.
Occupation: Flight attendant, United Airlines
Motto: “Love life and life will love you back.”
Favorite aircraft: “I’ll take anything with wings! But to work, definitely United’s beautiful Dreamliner 787 aircraft.”
Favorite destination: Home (Hawai’i) or Greece
Best airport shopping: London Heathrow’s Queens Terminal 2
Packing tip: Iron clothes before packing, then fold clothing in “an optimal way to make each piece as flat as possible,” says Love. Finally, unpack, hang the clothes, and spray with Downy Wrinkle Releaser. And always carry a travel steamer.
When she’s not flying, “Love” as she is known, depends on technology, including FaceTime, to stay in touch with her daughter. “I literally take her with me as if she’s on my trip — she’s just physically not there.” Starting her 19th year in the sky, she advises parents who have to travel for work to be good communicators. She shares her schedule with her daughter before she departs and writes notes to her daughter when she is away.
Andrea Davis, @dreadavis
Occupation: Flight attendant, Delta Air Lines
Motto: “Enjoy this thing called life!”
Favorite aircraft: Boeing 747. “Though I’ve never had the opportunity to work on or travel on one, I find it exciting to watch them take off and land,” says Davis.
Suitcase essential: “My most important ‘MUST HAVE’ accessory in my suitcase is my sleep eye mask. Due to my fluctuating rest periods, I need to be able to get to sleep deep and fast. My eye mask helps to darken my environment quick.”
Family travel tip: “Pay attention to the time of day when you are traveling and how long the travel will take.”
Packing tips: “If the child is old enough, empower them to carry their essentials in a backpack they can handle. Parents with infants, try switching to a backpack diaper bag to have an even amount of weight distribution and the ability to be hands-free to hold the baby or push a stroller. You don’t need everything on a short flight and be sure to only bring the right things you need for long flights,” says Davis.
Nick Engen, @nonrevnick
Occupation: Flight attendant, United Airlines
Motto: “Travel while you can.”
Favorite aircraft: Boeing 777-300
Suitcase essential: A hoodie “even in summer, because you never know where you are going to be sent.”
Favorite destination: Hong Kong
From cold winter days on the tarmac to video tours of aircraft cabins complete with glimpses into the galley, visitors to Engen’s Instagram page will get an inside look at what life is like working for an airline. It’s a must-see for any AvGeek. Currently a flight attendant, Engen’s career at United Airlines began working the ramp, with ambitions to become a pilot. His advice to others: “Don’t give up on your dreams and to never let anyone stand in the way of the dreams you have. You can achieve anything you put your mind to!”
Billy Wilson, @flywithbilly48
Occupation: Captain, Southwest Airlines
Motto: “Attitudes are contagious. Make yours worth catching.”
Favorite aircraft: Boeing 737
Favorite healthy airport snack: “My go-to is a protein bar. I look for bars with at least 20g of protein, low sugars and low net carbs.”
Favorite way to stay fit during a layover: “I love doing pullups in between flights. I usually do three sets of 12. I also challenge other employees to join me in my pullups.”
Best fitness equipment to travel with: “My swim goggles. They are sometimes hard to find, but I love it when a hotel has a nice-sized swimming pool. I will even skip the gym for some good laps in the pool.”
Wilson has many titles. He served in the Air Force and he’s a father, a triathlete and a pilot for Southwest Airlines. His Instagram account reflects his eclectic life. From pictures with his family to a video doing burpees in his hotel room, Wilson shares his routines in an unpredictable industry. However, Wilson admits to also having a sweet tooth, indulging in chocolate or candy from fellow crew members or passengers.
Joe & Margrit Fahan, @FlyingFahans
Occupations: Joe is a captain with Delta Air Lines; Margrit is a first officer with Delta (and the first female pilot to fly the Airbus A320)
Joe’s motto: “If you can’t laugh, it’s time to cry.”
Margrit’s motto: “Life is short. Live for today.”
Favorite aircraft: Airbus A330
Suitcase essentials: “I have a bathing suit which lives in its own pocket. Also, a black long-sleeve sweater so if I’m riding in a passenger seat in uniform, I can be a little more anonymous,” says Joe.
“Most importantly, I carry a note from each of my sons that says, ‘I love you, mommy,’ which they wrote when they were 4 years old. I also have a baby sock that each one wore home from the hospital,” says Margrit.
Tips for handling delays: “Start early in the day. It’s probably the best thing you can do,” says Joe. “When booking a trip, stay away from those 30-minute connections — you are asking for trouble. I’m very happy with two hours between flights, and that’s speaking from experience. Try to eat before the flight, you’ll be much happier. If your flight cancels, get on the airline app or on the phone — long lines are for amateurs,” he adds.
Joe and Margrit Fahan live together and fly together. As married pilots for Delta, the two share the cockpit together as often as possible, with Joe as captain and Margrit as first officer. They both have flown for Delta for more than 30 years. Known as the Flying Fahans, they share a passion for aviation with their family as well: their two sons are also pilots — one commercially, the other in the military. If you log onto their Instagram account, you’ll see their love of trips to Greece and the layover that comes with it. They’ve also created bonds with young and aspiring aviators, fellow crew members and passengers, all highlighted in their social feed.
Scott Shankland, @captscott737
Occupation: Captain, American Airlines
Motto: “Work like a captain, play like a pirate!”
Favorite aircraft: McDonnell Douglas DC-10 (“the most magnificent large cockpit windows”); Boeing 757
Favorite airport restaurant: Garrett’s Popcorn in Chicago (ORD) and Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)
Suitcase essential: Workout clothing
Best airport shopping: The Smithsonian Museum Store, Washington, DC, Reagan International Airport (DCA)
Scott Shankland met Jennifer Ewald-Shankland (see below for profile) on a Boeing 757. Jennifer was in the jump seat on a flight from St. Louis to Dallas Fort Worth, Scott was the first officer. By the time they landed in Dallas, Scott had asked her out on a date. They’ve now been married for 10 years and regularly share the flight deck. “When flying together, we comfortably fit into our roles as captain and first officer, as well defined by AA’s exceptional standardized flight procedures,” says Scott.
Jennifer Ewald-Shankland, @jetchick92
Occupation: First Officer, American Airlines
Motto: “Flying is a great equalizer; the plane doesn’t know or care about your gender as a pilot.”
Favorite aircraft: Fokker F-100; 737 MAX. “We [Scott and Jennifer] enjoyed our experiences flying the new 737 Max-8 aircraft before they were temporarily grounded; a magnificent new jet that we look forward to resume flying,” says Jennifer.
Favorite airport restaurants: “An airline crew member favorite for dining is La Carreta, a cooked on-site Cuban restaurant in the Miami International Airport. Also, the DFW Airport terminals have fabulous restaurants, including Ling & Louie Asian Bar, Pappadeaux, Reata Grill, and Twisted Root Burger Bar, just to name a few.”
Suitcase essentials: Swimsuit and comfortable sandals
Aviation is a family tradition for Scott (see above for profile) and Jennifer. Scott flew in the Air Force. Jennifer’s father was a United Airlines 747 captain; her mother, a flight attendant. Their son is an airline pilot. Now flying the Boeing 737 on international routes, they highlight their layovers — from New York City to the tropics — on their Instagram account.
“Any layover where Scott and I are together is turned into a great layover,” says Jennifer. “Our joy flying together is contagious for the rest of the crew, so the trips are always fun. I particularly remember a Belize layover where we chartered a boat and took our crew out for an afternoon of snorkeling and swimming.”
Maddie Peters, @maddieryanee
Occupation: Flight Attendant, American Airlines
Motto: “Make the most of every opportunity.”
Favorite aircraft: Boeing 777
Favorite airport restaurant: Banh Shop at DFW, Terminal D. “I always get the tofu green curry,” says Peters.
Packing tip: “I am the worst packer. I over-pack, I under-pack. I hate packing. But I always keep the same essentials in my bag: one item of clothing for each climate.”
Dubbed the “Mile High Mess” by the Today Show, flight attendant Maddie Peters made the news after spilling drinks on American Airlines CEO Doug Parker while boarding a flight earlier this year. Both Parker and Peters took the mishap in stride, joking together and snapping a picture.
It also led to a teachable moment about dealing with embarrassing and unexpected situations. “Turn what seems to be a negative into a positive,” says Peters, who has been flying for four years. “Don’t let it weigh too heavily on yourself. We are all human and accidents happen. It’s how you handle it that defines the outcome of the situation. Thankfully, Mr. Parker and I were able to joke about the situation after the fact, but that’s because I didn’t let it get to me.”
Nate Coats, @b737mech
Occupation: Line maintenance supervisor, Alaska Airlines
Motto: “Always student, sometimes teacher”
Favorite aircraft: Boeing 737
Favorite airport restaurant: Nugget Restaurant and Bakery at the Sitka, Alaska airport. “Always get a slice of their pie,” says Coats.
Favorite style of suitcase for travel: Hard shell. “I recently switched to a hard aluminum carry-on from Away Travel. Absolutely love the metal protection, and built-in TSA-approved locks. Plus, it comes with a bunch of other features that are great for traveling domestically and internationally.”
Working on Alaska Airline’s fleet as a maintenance supervisor, Coats captures stunning pictures of commercial and military aircraft in the Pacific Northwest. With a focus on safety, his advice to passengers facing a mechanical delay is to be patient. “Maintenance is here to make sure the aircraft is safe to operate. We all know you want to get to your destination on time but we want everybody to get there safely,” Coats says. Although it’s often hard to pinpoint how long you’ll have to wait, he stresses there is close connection between maintenance and operations to make the best decision possible.
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Photo by Andrei Troitskiy / Getty Images
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