The fascination with airplanes and anything associated with them starts early
Hello! Nice to meet you. Why don’t you come have a seat beside me? Yes, I mean you. We both know the jump seat is authorized only for flight attendants, but this one time we’ll make an exception so you can get the feel of what it’s like to walk in my shoes.
When all the flight attendants disappear for takeoff and landing they’re taking a designated jump seat closest to all door exits. On this flight, I’m in coach. So you can join me on the most uncomfortable seat in the house, in the aft (back) galley of the plane. There’s not much room on this double jump seat, which folds down out of the wall like a built-in ironing board. Come on…have a seat. You can buckle up for this trip right beside me. We’ve finished our beverage service, so now I have time to talk.
You know there’s something magical about sitting on this cramped-hard jump seat that makes perfect strangers tell each other intimate secrets. Or is it being in the galley? We don’t call it “galley gossip” for nothing.
“DING!” Shoot, that’s a call light! Excuse me, but I have to go see what that passenger wants.
The man seated in 26A asked, “Oh miss, where’s my remote control for that television?” He pointed to the overhead monitors for the entire airplane.
I winked at his wife, and said, “On this airplane we only give the remote control to the wives.”
I thought he was going to have a heart attack but his wife pursed her mouth in a smirk of approval.
She gave him a condescending glance and said, “Wow that was a blow to your recliner mentality.”
I left him sniveling and mumbling about the remote. Bless his heart!
I’m back. Let me tell you my friend, people are very curious about my occupation. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’m asked where I’ve been that day, where I’m going, how long my trip will be and how many days a week or month I work.
I am, of course, referring to the casual traveler, not the business customer who flies almost as much as I do. Frequent flyers know about the major hassles required nowadays just to get through the airport. They know better than to try getting sympathy from a flight attendant about what time they got up that morning or how many days they’re away from home.
Leisure passengers, when they finally board the airplane, are excited to be going on their vacations to exotic locations. In the back of their minds they think that working this job is like that, too. They expect all the crew members on the plane to share that same exuberance, but I think that was back in the good old days when flying was glamorous. Film has enhanced that romantic image, like the TV show Pan Am and Leo DiCaprio’s movie Catch Me if You Can.
Could this be where the attraction to my occupation comes from?
“The fascination with airplanes and anything associated with them starts early.” My neighbor, Debbie said this to me out in my front yard as an airplane flew overhead in the clouds. Her little grandson shrieked with excitement as he pointed up to the sky. I understood, because when I was little I couldn’t comprehend how a jet could get off the ground either. I still don’t.
DING! Excuse me again. I need to answer that call light.
I’m back. I can tell you, as soon as I walked up to those two ladies, I could see they were having an elbow-fight over the armrest between them. I asked one of the women if she needed anything.
“She called me stupid.” She pointed her finger at the lady beside her.
“Well, she called me fat.” The other lady pointed back.
Speaking through clenched teeth, they both jockeyed for possession of the armrest. I never taught kindergarten, so I wasn’t quite sure how to handle this situation. I looked around for any empty seat to separate these two, but the flight was completely full. I pulled out two magazines from the seat-back pocket. I propped up one magazine on one side of the armrest so it blocked that side from being used by one of them. Then I did the same on the other side with the other magazine.
I told one lady, “Don’t cross over this magazine.”
Then I turned to the other lady and said, “And don’t you cross over the magazine from your side either.”
Now that neither one of them had access to the armrest, they both glared at me. “And don’t talk to each other either.”
One lady nearby, one of many who had to listen to this brawl, caught my eye and mouthed, “Thank you.”
I found out both of those women had husbands and children on the flight. But do you think those husbands said anything to help me out? Not a word. I guess they knew better than to throw fuel on the fire.
Now where was I? Oh yes, my job. Most people want to know how flight attendants choose where to fly. It works like this: we bid or request a trip schedule for the following month. The seniority-based assignment comes from a list put together by the airline. Each bid includes the number of days on duty, days off, and trip destinations. Bids also designate the flight attendant’s assigned position on the plane.
We submit our bid selections by computer. But then we have no idea what our actual work schedule, or bid line, will be for the following month until final bid awards are posted near the end of the current month.
The schedule can include any mix of one to six-day trips, with any number of legs, meaning one flight of a multi-flight trip. We could repeat the same trip each time or have a variety of different trips. For example, a bid line consisting of three-day trips could have three days on with three days off for one month. To maneuver days off, we can swap trips, as long as someone is willing to ‘trip trade.’
It sounds like an auction. And it is. Once a month my life is auctioned off.
DING! Call light! Sorry about all the interruptions, but this is how my day goes. Be right back.
The previous section was taken from my book Dear Passenger: Welcome to My Wacky World as a Flight Attendant. I have been told this book is an insightful and entertaining way to learn more about the life of a flight attendant. Because of movies and advertising, the image of a flight attendant is a wonderful, glamorous job having fun at exciting destinations. I wrote this book to reflect on the interesting aspects of traveling the world for work and to explain some of the background scene that you don’t see.
If you are thinking of becoming a flight attendant the first step is getting hired in this highly sought-after, competitive field. It could take three to six months to get through the hiring process. There is no age limit but an applicant must be twenty-one years old (eighteen with some airlines.) and complete the online assessment and a video interview. I passed through the initial inspection hoop of a major airline because I was within the height (5’3”-6’1”) and weight parameters and physically fit. A person must be a healthy weight for their height and capable of performing a range of physical tasks which include pushing, pulling, bending and lifting a certain amount of weight in order to perform the duties of a flight attendant.
They were impressed with my background in working with people and my ability to engage in easy conversation. I dressed professionally for the interview and professed that my customer service experience helped me build excellent communication and decision making skills.
That’s only the beginning. Each of your interviewers need to know you enjoy working with people. And that you are flexible. Flexible means you are prepared to move to wherever they need you to be based. Also, you must be flexible with regards to unconventional work shifts, schedules and time zone changes. A flight attendant could sign in at a pre-dawn hour or late at night for an all-night flight. A college degree, which I have, is preferred by airlines but the minimum requirement is a high school diploma, also being multi-lingual is an advantage.
As far as advancement opportunity is concerned, the vast majority stay flight attendants because the pay increases with seniority or your time in service. A few apply to become a supervisor/management position which is a separate job description within the airline.
And finally, the airline will require a back-ground security check and a drug test. Random drug and alcohol tests will occur many times throughout your career.
Most people think a flight attendant is on the plane for the comfort of the passengers but that is only a small part of the responsibilities of the job. A designated number of flight attendants are required by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) with the primary purpose of the safety and security of the passengers and crew. Six weeks of intensive formal instruction at the airline’s flight training center prepares a flight attendant in job duties, airline operations and FAA regulations. It covers a wide range of difficult and dangerous conditions, including medical emergencies, smoke or fire, and a possible emergency evacuation of the aircraft. Flight attendants are also aviation’s first responders.
I know this sounds like a great deal of effort, but to me it was all more than worth it. In my years as a flight attendant, I have seen a great deal of the world and met a lot of interesting people from all walks of life. Some were entertaining; others have given me the gift of moments I will never forget. I will always value these experiences and the lessons I learned.
Most days are routine, but you never know when you will encounter a unique experience. The joy of the unexpected keeps me looking forward to every new day. It’s the best part of my job. Thanks for riding along. Fly safe, and I hope to see you again on my next flight.
I’m Elizabeth Calwell, a flight attendant, and a writer. My book is a comedy memoir titled Dear Passenger: Welcome to My Wacky World as a Flight Attendant.
I’ve discovered I’m a magnet for bizarre incidents, on the ground as well as in mid-air. Here are some tales of the strange, the unexplained, and the downright hilarious from my world as a flight attendant.
On every trip a unique experience just falls out of the blue. These stories include dead bodies in garment bags, stowaway animals including a rooster for one, and the hilarious antics of passengers and crewmembers on the airplane. All these things have really happened—to me, or to my flying buddies during my twenty-eight years working with a major airline.
Have you ever wondered about the life of a flight attendant? If you’ve had a hard day at work and need to escape your job on the ground, put on your seat belt and join me at 35,000 feet. I can tell you all about it.
also read: How Tо Bесоmе A Helicopter Pilot