Escaping to Work: Best Fringe Benefit of Flight Attendant Life?
Have you ever wanted to pack your bags and just run away from it all?
Become a flight attendant and you get to!
If that sounds toxic, it can be. But it can also be fun, and really healthy, and a total fucking blessing.
Today we’re talking about one of my favorite perks of being a flight attendant: Escaping to work.
Don't mind me, just escaping to work.
Sometimes love is hard and sometimes life is mundane. And I’ve never been good at dealing with either.
One of the best things about being a flight attendant is that I get to use work as a refuge. It’s a place to go when I’m crawling out of my skin. When I’m sad or mad or full of fear. When I’m bored or in a rut. When I’m stressed, anxious about what to do next. When real life is hard, I get to go somewhere else—to my work life.
This little fringe benefit of being a flight attendant is one that isn’t discussed often enough. Maybe no one has mastered avoiding their life quite as nicely as I have, and so I guess it’s my duty to lay out the case.
There is not a single flight attendant that hasn’t used work as a means to escape their real life at some point. Whether it is missing out on a party we’d rather not attend (Oh, shucks, I have to work that weekend), bidding a long layover to bask in 24 full hours without little feet following you into the bathroom, or needing to snap yourself out of a funk and thinking that brunch in New York, or champagne in Paris, or a beach day on Coronado might just do the trick.
We crave escape for all kinds of reasons—little and big. And lucky for us, as flight attendants, we have access to that escape.
Our job is not always like a vacation. In fact, usually it is far from it. There is the vomit, the crying, the entitlement, the delays, the repeating the same thing over and over hundreds of times in a day. But still, the getting on a plane and going somewhere far away can give you a taste of what vacation gives. You might not be “living your best life” while picking up garbage in the aisle, but my, oh my, look how far your problems are when you’ve finished flying for the day and arrive at your hotel. The distance between you and what ails you is widened, and perspectives can shift with this space.
They say that time heals, and I think passing time zones can hasten the process.
(But sometimes our job is JUST like a vacation.)
Pack Your Bags & Go To Work
Relationships are one of the big reasons I’ve found to escape to work. And others do, too. Fighting with your spouse? Go to work to clear your head. Unsure about whether to stay or leave? Think about it on the road. A little time apart can do wonders for a relationship. Time away with a crew can do wonders to stave off loneliness. And fresh air in a fresh city might just be the cure you need post-breakup.
If you’re here often, you probably know me as a single, fun-loving flight attendant. And that’s mostly true; I am perpetually single because I haven’t been in a long-term serious relationship in years. My close friends would call me out on this “ever- single” talk, though, because I’m also perpetually dating. Three months alone, and BOOM, another romance I’m falling into. Another group of friends to meet. Places to explore together. Inside jokes to form and overuse. Bodies to discover, and please, and claim as mine. There are plans to make, hypothetical children to discuss, and homes and locations, too. Compatibility and communication styles. The whole thing, top to bottom, and then, seemingly as quickly as it started, it’s over.
I’m stuck, I’m bored, it’s not working. They’re not for me, we want different things. We’re just two different people. The distance, the age gaps, the vasectomies, and the latent biases. The ineptitude at traveling. The neediness, or on the other end, the not giving enough.
(Whew, didn’t realize where that paragraph would go when I started typing.)
To sum it up, I date.
I’m single, I’m alone, and then I’m not. And then I am again.
If this sounds exhausting, it can be. But it’s not so bad. I crave excitement, and I guess you get what you pay for. I’ve had a lot of practice with this dating as a flight attendant jig. And when things get sad, or difficult, or too much, or very annoying, I don’t drink to drown my sorrows. I pack my bags and go to work.
I show up at the airport and meet a crew of (very likely) awesome people who I’ll be working with. I get to interact with 100-200 strangers on a flight. In the best of times, they’re wonderful, too—kind, interesting—and it affirms my decision to come to work, to keep committing to this one thing. In the worst of times they’re savage, entitled jerks, and this keeps me busy, and mad, at something that has nothing to do with my real life. Then I get to vent with my crew and bond over the woes of working with the public. It’s all a win.
‘Get your f*cking ass up and work.’
-Kim Kardashian ( a woman who gets it)
Reading up on How To Avoid Problems...
What’s Love Got To Do With It?
“Where is this all coming from?” you might be wondering. And since you’re all my closest confidantes, I’ll tell you.
This topic came to me in March, after my two-week vacation in Mexico.
The trip was wonderful; I spent time in Tulum getting scuba certified, seeing ancient ruins, riding a quad around town, and paying bribes to local police. Afterward, I ate and drank and museum-hopped around one of my favorite places, Mexico City. It was a good time. And it was tough.
During the trip I went through (yet another) breakup. I know, I know, color you surprised.
Well, don’t cry for me, Argentina, I’ve passed through the time and time zones and I’m fine today. But it did put a damper on my vacation. Towards the end of the trip, I caught myself daydreaming about going back to work. It struck me as funny, to be on vacation and fantasizing about work. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
It’s not that I was excited to leave, I wasn’t. I wanted to squeeze out every moment I could, would have taken another week to steep in the last tepid waters of something wonderful if time permitted. It didn’t, though, and we had to leave Mexico, and each other, and go back to our real lives, slimmer by the absence of what we had.
I ached. It was sad. But through the gloom, a shiny silver lining lay before me. I get to go to work.
Work meant four days on the road. Time to write. Time to run. To get back to myself. I’d be so busy I wouldn’t have time to be sad. Or I’d have plenty of time, but to spend usefully, like getting 12 hours of sleep in LA, or having a beach day during my 24 hours in Fort Lauderdale. If I did feel down, or want to vent, or—more up my alley—to use humor to deflect from actual emotion, I could do that with my crew. Crews can tell each other anything.
All it takes is one decent co-worker and you find yourself opening up like a Walmart on black Friday.
It’s cathartic. It’s therapy. It’s vacation. It’s rest and self-care. It’s distraction in its finest form.
Daydreaming about diving back into work.
This One Thing
I’ve been at my airline for more than nine years. In that time, I’ve become so comfortable that the airplane feels like a kind of second home. Being in uniform, on a plane feels similar to how being behind the bar felt to me in my late twenties. I bartended at the same place for five years, knew all the regulars and their orders, which bottles not to recommend because they’d been sitting, collecting dust since I started. I knew the point of sale computer system by heart, who might be underage and trying to use a fake ID, who may have been to another bar before, had one too many, and shouldn’t be served. All the things you’re taught, and all the little nuances you pick up through years worth of moments spent in one place.
It was a comforting feeling, the knowing of a place inside and out. I knew it so well, it rivaled the knowledge of my own apartment that I lived in. And with this knowledge, formed over years of meeting the people, pouring the drinks, doing the job, I gained a sort of authority. Unshakeable confidence in myself, in this one place. If I’m good at nothing else, I’m good at this. If I’m nervous in the world, I’m not here. If all else fails, I have this one thing.
Today, when I put on my uniform and go to the airport, I’m not just Toni, with all her doubt and indecision and shaky romantic ventures. In this place, at work, I get to wear my confident skin, and scarf to match. I’m more comfortable on the airplane than in any other public place. It’s grounding, oddly enough, and I feel settled and soothed knowing that whatever curveball life is currently throwing my way, I have this one thing that I love, that I’m good at, that’s not going anywhere.
Who wouldn’t want to escape to that?
Who wouldn't want to escape to this?
I mentioned in my opening monologue that escaping to work is one of the best things about being a flight attendant and also one of the most dangerous.
People use work to avoid their problems in the same way they use alcohol, and drugs, and sex, and gambling, and sleeping all day. When there are problems at home, it is really, really easy to avoid it. Just be home less.
We might find ourselves frustrated in a relationship, romantic, family or otherwise, and instead of staying home to figure it out, we pick up a four-day trip. “I have to work,” we’ll say. “We need the money,” we’ll say. And we’ll turn it around on our partners for being upset with our sudden increase in hours. Controlling, we might call them. Too much, we might say. Knowing deep down that we’re leaving them for sunnier, unquestioning skies, for greener, unspoilt pastures, for people who won’t ask or expect too much.
Even the passengers demanding I control the weather won’t ask me to commit to forever.
It’s dangerous to avoid your problems by escaping to work. Especially if the problems are within a relationship you’d like to hold onto. The more you leave and the more fun you have, the more you convince yourself you’d be better off alone, without the saddling weight of another human or humans.
And sometimes we are better off alone. But when you’re running away, escaping to work, you might forget some things: The long stretches of touchless existence you’ll face. That cycling between living alone at home and sleeping alone in hotels can get lonely. That good, solid things will always take work. That the next one won’t be any easier. That your coworkers can soothe and settle, distract and comfort you, but they won’t be your cheerleaders, or your solid walls, or the voice at the end saying “I knew you could do it.” They won’t tuck you in and they won’t hold your worries. And though you can vent, and you can tell them anything, you probably won’t show them your full, naked, humanity. The dark and ugly parts, along with the bright and shiny, the light and funny. You know, the parts of ourselves that even we don’t like looking at. The parts we reserve for only our closest circle, for the ones who love us.
I’m not advocating anyone stay in a bad situation, or even a “meh” situation. What I am saying is that running is easier than problem solving, compromise, or deciding to leave. Trust me, I have been there.
I'm not avoidant, you're avoidant.
A Warning Signal
Escape isn’t always the answer, and running away to work isn’t a catch-all cure. Sometimes the issues you face, or the anxiety surrounding them, can be exacerbated by being far from home, unable to do anything about it. It hurts to want to be there for your people when you are away.
I learned this lesson by witnessing a close friend and co-worker find out that her dad was having emergency surgery while we were on a layover. We were on the complete opposite side of the country, and the helplessness that she felt was palpable. Worse was the guilt over feeling that she’d prioritized the wrong thing—work over family. (She didn’t do this, by the way. She just made the best call she could with the information she had.) But even so, it felt so wrong to be where we were.
“I shouldn’t have come,” she said. And though she couldn’t possibly have known what would happen, it has stuck with me as a blaring warning signal.
When I am concerned about a family member or someone I love, including myself, I will not show up to work. I will call out, accept my disciplinary points and the loss to my Paid Time Off bank. The perk of being a cog in a wheel is that the machine goes on turning, with or without me. And with this new perspective, some gambles just aren’t worth taking.
Some problems—and celebrations, let’s not be all doom and gloom!—require our presence. Escape just won’t cut it for these.
A nice layover hotel can't solve EvErYtHiNG...
Now that I seem to have disproven my thesis in the last two sections, let me reiterate how good it feels, how freeing and light and wonderful, to have a backup plan. To be able to slip away, into the jet-fueled aluminum abyss of a work trip. To leave my worries, my heartache, the feeling that I must be doing it all wrong behind. To let the warmth of the waves lap my feet in Miami, and hike Potato Chip mountain in San Diego, taking in the sunbaked landscape below. To walk the streets of Seattle, hands in pockets, looking for the best local coffee shop. To sit around the dinner table at El Alambique in San Juan, Puerto Rico, plate piled high with veggie mofongo, eight other crews stuck there, too, due to a late spring blizzard at home.
There are lots of reasons to pack your bags and run away to work. Whether it’s a breakup or a rough patch, avoiding plans or sneaking in some solo self-care time, or fleeing winter in New England, it’s all valid. We call vacations “getaways” and, happily, that’s what work can provide for flight attendants—the means to get away, for a spell, when we need to. It’s a colossal mental health boost, and it’s become one of my favorite perks of the job.
My heart’s not broken. It’s all in one piece, beating as ever; zig-zags and swirled scars from decades of beautiful, difficult love stories. But even in the healthiest place there’s reason to go. A boring work schedule. House projects stealing all your money. I’m on hiatus from vacation while my bank accounts recover from the big adventures of last fall (and winter and spring.) I decided, in the meantime, that work could be my outlet. Next month, I’ll layover in Aruba and Portland and Salt Lake, New York City and San Diego. If I can’t afford to travel, then work will pay my fare. Great escapes, all lined up, and full of great crews, too.
And when work gets hard, because let’s not be too romantic here, it always does, I’ll plan another kind of escape. I’ll stay home for days—sweats, pajamas, yoga pants my new uniform. I’ll be curled up on a rocking chair, sipping iced coffee, listening to wind chimes and watching the soft green of pine trees sway. I’ll take in some of my favorite New England hikes or beaches. I’ll spend time with family and I’ll snuggle cats and dogs, feeling, if not understood, then wholly accepted. I’ll enjoy it just as much.
I never said one life was better, I’m just lucky to have them both.
It's a good life. (Both of them.)
I’d love to hear from the non-aviation folks out there. What is your great escape when you need to get away? When life is hard, or boring, or you just need a break? Do you work longer hours when things are tough at home? Mosey down the aisles of Target, sniffing candles and considering this year’s swimsuit selection? Have you built little escapes into your routine—an in-person book club, a monthly outing with friends—something you can rely on to take you to a new place, mentally, if not physically?
I’d also love to hear from other flight attendants. Tell us about how you’ve used work as an escape. DEEPLY PERSONAL STORIES ONLY! Jk, whatever you’re comfy telling we’d love to hear. I really just want my own conjecture backed up by other anecdotes.
Thanks in advance to anyone who leaves comments below. It quite literally makes my day to see them, and this escape business is something I’m super interested in. If you’re shy, that’s okay, thanks for stopping by anyway. I hope you’ll come back.
I hope you’ll all come back. Use this blog as an escape from productivity, if you’d be so inclined. Your bosses won’t mind, or won’t know, and we can feel even more like besties than we already do.
For now I’ll bid you adieu. With warm wishes for the kind of week no one would ever want to escape.