Things I Never Anticipated Workng about as a Flight Attendant

The job of flight attendant is usually considered to be glamorous, sexy, adventurous and exciting. It is all these things, but there are many more facets to the job than most people realize. When contemplating the career, it is recommended that attention be paid to some of the added “baggage” we take on.

No one told me about reserve, let alone that I would be sitting it for 4 years! The idea of not knowing where I would be from one day to the next was at first intriguing and somewhat mysterious; I imagined myself a capricious character out of a romantic novel, basking in the Caribbean sun one day, skiing down a snow-capped slope in the Alps the next.

But after six months of red-eye flights to the west coast, early check-ins and 14-hour days with 5 trip segments per day, I had just about had my fill of reserve. I did end up in some unusual places, but not at all what I had hoped for - nothing romantic, nothing really exotic, just lots of hard work, weird hours and long days.

I felt really unglamorous on one occasion while down on my hands and knees, searching through the food bins of an MD-80 for an elderly gentleman’s lower dentures that he inadvertently left on his tray!

Then there was the airport in Omaha – snowed in, and the hotel van could not get to the airport. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately for my cold and soaking wet feet, the hotel was close enough to make the trip by foot! So we trudged through a foot of slushy gray snow, in street shoes, sans boots, two blocks to the hotel.

After a year, I was getting used to reserve duty as a flight attendant. Now there were other annoyances that were beginning to set in. Winter had arrived. Every flight we had what seemed like 300 winter coats to stuff into the already loaded overhead bins, and flight delays were numerous. Passengers were grumbling to us as if it were our fault that the plane couldn’t get down the snow-coated runway.

Who cares if it slides off the runway – Mr. so-and-so had to get to his business meeting in Boston by noon. And Fred somebody was irate because his syrup was cold – he said, “on Air Wonderful the syrup is warm – I’m flying on that airline next time!”

He had complained during the entire flight about various indignities dealt to him by our airline, and we wanted desperately to tell him that everyone would probably be happier if he HAD flown Air Wonderful! We don’t like flight delays either, but we had to remind ourselves to smile and not take things personally!

Speaking of weather – the next thing I knew, spring was in the air and so were the thunderstorms. No one wants to be late getting to his or her destination, but do people really want to arrive on time so badly that they are willing to fly in dangerous weather? Flying in extreme turbulence and lightning is no fun, believe me.

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And when something is wrong with the airplane, do people really want to get off the ground so badly that they can’t be patient long enough to have the mechanical problem repaired before takeoff? It certainly seems so, but these are usually the same folks that you see on the TV news talking about how shaken with fear they were when this unnerving experience occurred.

Drunks. Can we ever say enough about how obnoxious drunken passengers disrupt a flight? Documented cases of air rage resulting in verbal abuse as well as physical assault on flight attendants or other passengers are becoming more frequent.

Most of the time these incidents are exacerbated by alcohol consumption. An out-of-control drunk has no place on a metal tube hurtling through the air at 45,000 feet - there is no security guard and no 911 to call.

At the hands of unruly passengers, flight attendants can suffer such things as disorderly children allowed to run wildly through the cabin, people who are demanding and rude, and worst of all, entitled travelers. These people think that the price of a first class ticket warrants them anything their hearts desire, just because they are celebrities, athletes, big shots in the business world or just feel special for some reason.

Whether it is free drinks, an extra meal, not having to put their oversized bag under the seat for takeoff, or helping themselves to goosing a flight attendant’s behind, these people leave their good sense and maturity in the departure lounge (or airport bar)! Flight attendants must learn to become assertive very quickly, or they can be manipulated and exploited in every way imaginable.

No one told me about cleaning the airplane. Sometimes we go to cities where aircraft cleaners are not available, and guess who has to clean and straighten up the plane? Vomit-filled barf bags, seatbacks stuffed with dirty tissues, diapers and God-only-knows what else, and surprises left in the lavatories!

People can be very nasty when traveling, and the flight attendant must prepare the plane for the next onslaught of wayward voyagers.

Taking into account all these frustrations, for some of us there is still no other job as fulfilling as that of a flight attendant. The perks far outweigh the disadvantages. If you like working with and helping people, flying provides the perfect outlet. Airlines are looking for folks who possess good interpersonal skills and a measure of compassion.

No other jobs satisfy the fantasy of world travel quite as completely as flying; none are so gratifying to the itinerant career seeker in terms of scope and mobility. How many other jobs offer the benefits, excitement and prestige that flying does, not to mention the shopping and sightseeing!

---By Wendy Stafford, a former flight attendant and president and senior consultant at Airline Inflight Resources, a professional interview coaching company devoted exclusively to airlines. Visit her website at

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