Jaded by air travel: What it’s really like to be a flight attendant

Jun 26, 2021

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“I prefer train travel and road trips.”

Not the words you expect to be uttered by a flight attendant who gets paid to see the world. But cabin crews will tell you, it’s not all upmarket hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants.

What was once known as a glamorous career (in some regards, it still is) now involves an added layer of stress with the increasing development of being tasked to crack down on unruly passenger behavior.

While there’s still a bit of mystery surrounding the life of the cabin crew, today, we’ll take a closer look at their reality through a flight attendant’s lens and demystify all we assumed to be true.

We sat down with a JetBlue flight attendant on the condition of anonymity to talk about his interesting life as a flight attendant.

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TPG: How did you get into becoming a flight attendant?

FA: In 2006, I moved back to New York City from Miami after dissolving my property management company and started networking to get back into the workforce. Most of my contacts were now working in the airline industry and they encouraged me to join. I applied for a recruiter position at JetBlue and received an email within hours stating that the position was filled but they would like me to interview for the inflight position. After clarifying that I’m only five feet, four inches in height and it was not a problem, the rest was history.

Related: How to become a flight attendant

TPG: How long have you been a flight attendant?

FA: February 2021 I accepted the fact that 15 years flew by (no pun intended).

TPG: What does a typical work week look like?

FA: My workweek usually starts on Monday morning with a commuting flight on any airline to my JFK base. Fortunately, my seniority allows me to hold early morning turns (flights that depart and return on the same day) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. My workweek ends much like it started, with a commuting flight back home on Thursday evening or Friday morning.

TPG: What is your favorite part of the job?

FA: My favorite part of the job is when my day goes from “check-in” to “check-out” in an uneventful way. Except for making someone’s day or vice versa.

baby mother and flight attendant
Flight attendant kindly warms up a bottle for mother with an infant. (Photo by Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek/Getty Images)

TPG: What is your least favorite part of the job?

FA: Delays and disruptions, period. Most people don’t realize that we only get paid from the moment the aircraft door closes until the time it’s reopened. We’re technically “on the clock” but don’t earn pay when waiting at the gate and prepping the flight for departure, hence, why delays and avoidable disruptions are a pesky thing for many flight attendants.

Related: How are flight attendants paid?

TPG: What’s the one thing you wish more people understood about your job?

FA: While it may seem that a flight attendant’s purpose is to deliver drinks and snacks to passengers and smile, I can assure you, during my four weeks of flight attendant training, the majority of the time was spent on practicing life-saving measures to make sure we’re equipped to handle high-stress situations inflight.

Related: Watch TPG go through Delta flight attendant training

TPG: What’s something anyone can do to be a better traveler in 2021 and beyond?

FA: It would be nice if passengers read their confirmation email after booking their flight and familiarized themselves with things such as their seat number, flight boarding time, carry-on restrictions and boarding zones. It would help streamline the boarding process.

Related: Here’s how you can thank a great flight attendant on your next trip

TPG: What is something a traveler can do to get the VIP treatment from you?

FA: Presentation matters. Now I’m not saying you’ll get into Mint or a premium cabin on another airline simply for how you’re dressed. That’s a myth. However, you can control how you’re perceived and how you present yourself. Well-mannered passengers improve their odds at having the beverage cart stop a few extra times by their seat when thirsty.  

Flight attendants are naturally drawn to well-mannered passengers.(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

TPG: How does working in the hospitality industry change your idea of travel or going on vacation?

FA: I actually love train and car travel. I spend so much time at airports that, when possible, I prefer the former modes of transportation over plane travel. I want to get to my final destination and if I can, I’ll forego flying any day of the week for a good old-fashioned road trip. 

Related: Not just for flights: Save money on summer road trips with points and miles

TPG: If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would it be and why?

FA: Being in the front line of travel has certainly influenced my decision on where to go for a vacation with my partner. I have become quite jaded from having face-to-face interaction with the current travelers heading to resort destinations. While I don’t have a specific place in the world in mind, I love discovering quaint towns and hidden destinations that the masses haven’t. 

Related: Don’t be a jerk on a flight; there are no more second chances this summer

TPG: Tell us about the best vacation you’ve ever taken or the best place you’ve ever traveled.

FA: Back in 1999, my partner and I visited Milan and quickly realized we were not fans. So, we decided to rent a car and explore other regions of Italy. We closed our eyes using a paper map (not literally since we were driving) and mindlessly pointed at the map. Those were the spots we were going to visit, navigating the Italian roadways.

We visited amazing villages — both coastal and inland — but our favorite destination was Sestri Levante, a quaint beach town with small hotels, local restaurants and a friendly bar scene. The highlight of this vacation and place was the incredible people we met who showed us around and are still in our lives today. We went back in 2019 and reunited with our Sestri Levante friends at the same restaurant we met in 1999. The memorable experience was simply priceless!

Related: Italy is reopening: 11 things I learned as a tourist there this week

Featured photo by Mehmet Ali Ozcan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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