10 Years of Flight Attendant Life: Reflecting On A Decade In The Air
“I’ll try it for a year,” I said. “Until I figure out what’s next.”
That resolution was uttered for the first time in 2013, moments after accepting my flight attendant job offer and months before training would start. I was on a cross-country road trip headed for Portland, Oregon, where I’d decided to up and move because I needed “A change.”
Change was coming.
Monday, January 22, was my ten-year anniversary of working as a flight attendant. I have been slinging drinks, hopping flights, bearing delays, boarding for free, and dragging bags through airports for an entire DECADE. All with the same company. It’s double my longest relationship, triple my longest residence, and feels pretty surreal.
Today I’m reflecting on ten years as a Flight Attendant: The highs, the lows, the change of heart, and whether I can stomach another ten years. This post will also be sprinkled with past blog posts that have documented #flightattendantlife along the way. Leggoooo!
Hello, it's your DECADE in Review calling!
Class 01-14, just graduated from initial training.
“I’ll try it for a year”
If you’re wondering why my initial reaction to an exciting job offer was tepid, let me introduce you to my dear friend, Commitment Phobia.
I had been working in the service sector, slinging drinks over a bar, for years before becoming a flight attendant. I was ready to move away from hospitality, away from serving, and into some new arena—hopefully one where I’d gain external validation and people would stop asking me when I was getting a “real job.”
The truth is, I was at a moment of existential dread (which I often am, if you know me well enough.) I felt like my brain was getting mushy, like the sparkly potential I’d seen in myself was fading. Like I had to get myself out and salvage what I had left, to correct course before it was too late! This job—a flight attendant—seemed to be a side-step. Sure, it was different, but was it better? Was it progress?
I allowed myself to give it a chance only after presenting the caveat above. “I’ll try it for a year, until I figure out what’s next.”
You know how that story ended, but only kind of.
Sure, I’m still here ten years later; immersed in service, undeniably. But this job is so much more than I expected. This lifestyle is so well suited to my personality, it’s amazing I didn’t consider it earlier. I go to work and largely enjoy myself. I have nearly as much fun at work as I do in my time off. (I’m not sure if this is a testament to how great my job is or how boring my life is, you can be the judge of that.)
Despite it being service based, despite this being a job that does not require advanced degrees, or climbing a corporate ladder, it has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. A catalyst for beautiful adventures and growth. I have written more in the last five years than I did for the entirety of my twenties, including college papers! I have studied new languages, through immersion, in their countries of origin. I have traveled to places that I didn’t know existed, couldn’t have picked out on a map, as a child. I’ve learned tough lessons about Corporate America, and other ones about not judging a book by its cover—mainly by being around my brilliant, often underestimated, co-workers.
Just a baby, certified to fly.
A few years later my mom joined me in the skies
“Do you love it?”
When people find out I’m a flight attendant, their eyes sparkle, their ears perk up. They have questions. Some recoil at the thought, “I could never do what you do.” But perhaps more common, is the Big Question: “Do you love it?”
For the first two years working as a flight attendant, I had a well-rehearsed, if flippant answer.
“I love it when I’m not working.”
I was alluding to the travel benefits, the flexible schedule, the perks. But the actual job part of my job felt boring, brain-mushing, like a waste of potential.
I was still holding onto the idea that my job should fulfil me, be a part of my greater purpose, challenge and stretch my mind. This job might be that for someone, but it’s never been that for me. It bummed me out if I thought about it for too long. Four years of making the Dean’s List, double majoring, and two internships to collect trash in a pressurized tube? Shouldn’t I be doing something more… impressive… by now?
Around year three, when I started having more fun at work, making great friends, and feeling a sense of belonging, it’s like a switch was flipped. Suddenly, I loved my job.
I have had to think long and hard about what it is I really want out of life, what things are important to me, and whether it’s important that I get them all in the same place. How much of my job satisfaction is based on my experience at work, and how much is based on what other people find impressive?
I’ve reached conclusions.
In thinking about being a flight attendant, this job of mine, I have decided I don’t need it to be everything. I’ve decided to take the best things about this job—the flexibility, the variety, the travel perks—and leave the rest. You’ll rarely see me getting heated on the airplane over customer issues; In the best way possible, I just don’t care very much. Doing a “mindless” job has allowed me the freedom to use my brain cells to do other things, like learn languages, and read books, and write blog posts, essays, novels, and songs.
My job isn’t my everything. I show up, I do a good job, maybe have some fun along the way. And that’s all it is, and it’s all it has to be. And now, a decade later, I think that’s kind of beautiful.
For more on the beginning, and why I decided to become a flight attendant, click here to read My Flight Attendant Origin Story.
When work looks like this,
how could I not love it?
Ten years is a long time, so what’s changed since I became a flight attendant?
My company has grown at a rapid pace since I started back in 2014. The positive side of growth is that my seniority skyrocketed in a short time, making my quality of life better. That, and more destinations. The downside of growth is that, as my airline has stretched itself into more markets, hired more staff, and become a bigger player in the field, the business has undergone changes that don’t always benefit frontline staff. Our first contract was a flop, with very few wins for labor. Responsibilities have been added to my job description, and so has the amount of free labor I’m expected to donate. Five minutes of extra boarding time here, a sit built in between flights there, it all adds up. Between work rules, unionizing, pay changes, and uniforms, there are a million little changes that have happened since I started in 2014.
Here are some notable ones:
In 2018, the flight attendants at my airline voted to unionize, a move that was both polarizing and a long time coming. We did not ratify our first contract until 2021, after a brutal round of negotiations amidst the pandemic.
In 2014, when I started, I carried around a three-inch thick paper binder containing my Flight Attendant Manual. We charged customers for movies on the plane. Purchases were conducted on a clunky black “EPOS” machine whose receipt paper was constantly malfunctioning.
Now, everything from our Flight Attendant Manual to our point of sale software is in our iPad minis.
In 2014, half of our fleet was equipped with Wi-Fi, and the other planes were not. Now all of our planes have Wi-Fi, and better versions of it that work in longer range. This helps to pass the time when you work long flights, though admittedly I read less at work than I used to.
The COVID Pandemic rocked the aviation industry like few other calamities have. It was during this time I saw the volatility inherent in my industry, something senior flight attendants had spoken of for years, something hard to believe until I saw it myself. I wondered if I’d have a job by the end of it. If my airline would survive. If every move I’d ever made was wrong.
I did, they did, and it wasn’t.
Everything turned out fine—as it usually does. I didn’t get furloughed or have to polish my resume and hunt for a new job. I did, however, get the gift of four months off of work, PAID. For someone who has worked since she was 15 years old, this was truly a gift. When I did go back to work, flying transitioned from easy and hands-off to very challenging. Everyone had something to say, something to prove, it seemed, and they chose the airplane as the outlet for their opinions and personal gripes. My coworkers and I did the best we could to manage the ever-changing policies, customer compliance, and our own health and safety. I hope flying never again feels like it did in 2021.
(Pay me for Boarding)
Many of you know that flight attendants are not paid for boarding. That’s right, Free.99.
The Pay Me For Boarding campaign was created in 2021 by a Flight Attendant who saw something seriously wrong with this practice. Since then, the Change.org petition has gained more than 200,000 signatures, and awareness of this issue has been heightened, even in the general population. In 2022, Delta Airlines became the first carrier to begin paying flight attendants for boarding. They pay only 50% of flight time pay, exactly half of what their workers should be paid, but at least it’s a start. We flight attendants continue to push for this free labor “industry standard” to be abolished. Being paid for your time at work should not be a privilege or a competitive “perk”.
Click here to sign the petition, help flight attendants get paid for boarding.
Becoming a Princess
In ten years as a flight attendant, I have become a princess. I don’t work more than two legs per day. I don’t touch Florida if I can help it. I don’t work on certain airplanes. It’s something that happens with seniority. Where, in the beginning, I was happy to just have the days off I wanted, now I am extremely picky about what I work. You’ll mostly catch me flying coast-to-coast across the US, often in the middle of the night, so be sure to say hi on your next transcon redeye.
Our uniforms changed, and I'd say for the better.
One big change- we don't serve drinks from trays anymore!
The Good, The Bad, The Disgusting
We’ve established that I love my job, but as with all relationships, there are ups and downs and some things I love less. Rapid fire, here are the best and worst things about being a flight attendant.
Best Things about Being a Flight Attendant:
- Traveling for free. (And passing my travel benefits on to friends and family <3)
- My amazing co-workers
- A flexible schedule (and working 15 days per month!)
- Nothing sticks. Even on the worst day at my job, when I walk off the airplane, I know it’s over. I don’t come back to the same problem tomorrow, every flight is a fresh start.
- Being a cog in a wheel. I’m one of thousands at my company. It can be depressing to think of yourself as “just a number”, or it can be liberating. When I need to call out, I call out. When I don’t want to extend my duty, I don’t. I’m replaceable and have almost no bearing on how this massive operation runs. Delightful!
- My 401k and stock purchase program
- Fun Layovers
- All the free time I have to write
- Meeting people I wouldn’t otherwise. Being exposed to different cultures and customs. Our workforce is so diverse, and I have had the opportunity to work with, hang out with, and learn from people of all different ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It rules.
Worst things about being a flight attendant:
- All the Free Labor.
- Delays (especially when you have plans)
- A$$hole customers (Most people do not fall into this category. The jerks just stand out more.)
- Missing sleep
- Eating cold food next to a bathroom while people bend over to stretch mere inches from your face.
- Gross things. Vomit, urine, and other bodily fluid on planes. (Do not walk barefoot. Do not have your bare skin on those seats!) Wildlife (like rodents or roaches), toe nail clippings, and a whole host of other nastiness in hotels. It can be a dirty job.
Fun layover, anybody?
Let's hear it for THE PEOPLE!
Simply the Best
I talk often about how the people are the best part of flight attendant life. I work with some SUPERSTAR humans.
It behooves me that in celebrating my ten-year anniversary as a flight attendant, I can’t not mention the other milestone: The relationship with my classmates. “The Classmates” are a group of friends, five of us in total, who met on the first day of flight attendant training and have remained friends ever since. Despite living in five different states, having worked in different bases, we have maintained this cluster of relationships really well. We travel together at least once per year, often twice. We have a group chat that is moving constantly and so quickly I often miss things. And we have supported one another through milestone after milestone, celebration after celebration, and also, importantly, through the tragedies. These are people I treasure, I cherish. And my gratitude flows over for having found, and kept, them all.
Guys, you know who you are. I love you, I love you, I love you. <3
I just love these guys
10 More Years?
Flight attendant life is not for everyone. Some people would hate this job. Some of my coworkers do. But I’m lucky to have found, in this longest relationship, a fit so air-tight it seems meant to be. I love my job. There have been changes in the industry since I started in 2014, and changes in my ever-growing company that have made my head spin. But even with all the changes, both good and bad, the suitability of this lifestyle remains. If aviation is peanut butter, call me jelly.
I feel really blessed to have landed in this gig. Becoming a flight attendant has opened so many doors—to new friendships, adventures, destinations and cultures, to romances, and binders full of good stories.
The question of whether I’ll stay another ten years is a lark. I’ve never been this type of planner; I can’t say what I’ll be doing a year from now. What I will say is that I would only leave this job, voluntarily, to dedicate myself to passion projects. I don’t plan to ever work for someone else, another company, or brand, within our outside of the industry. If do I leave, it will be to be my own boss or because I’m an old cranky flight attendant, ready to retire. Otherwise, I’ll be up in the air for the foreseeable future.
Does she have another 10 years left in her? Verdict's still out.
Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me. I can hardly believe ten years have gone by or that I’m old enough to have worked somewhere for a full decade. I guess time really does FLY when you’re having fun. Happy, happy Anniversary to all my classmates, and to all the other Flight Attendants celebrating big milestones.
Fun fact: This blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary next month. FIVE years of sharing all things travel, #flightattendantlife, and what’s up in Toni-World. It’s been a fun ride and there are so many good nuggets and hidden gems (if I do say so myself) sprinkled throughout the years. I’ve linked some of my most popular flight attendant content below, so if you haven’t already, stick around and give them a read. If you like what I’m doing here and want to support this blog, you can buy me a coffee at buymeacoffee.com/awheelinthesky. A gift is never expected but oh-so appreciated. And consider subscribing to stay up to date with all the latest.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
Check out some of my other Flight Attendant content: