Being a flight attendant (FA), I get a series of mostly repetitive questions thrown my way, and they sail out at me in many forms – genuinely curious, positively asinine or just out right tasteless.
How much do you usually fly? Real answer: Usually about 80-90 hours a month.
Have you ever had to throw anyone off a flight? Have you seen me on youtube? Real answer: *fake laugh* No, not yet, but I got my eyes on you.
Have you joined the mile high club, yet? Shut up. Just shut up. Real answer: *fake laugh* *fake laugh* *fake laugh*
Of all the questions I receive, there is one I hear at least twice every time I work, and I have to suppress a deep sigh as I get so tired of answering it and trying to explain it.
So what’s your normal route?
First off… normal? I can assure you I do not know what you mean by normal. Nothing about my chosen career is normal besides the uniform I wear, and that’s what I adore about it! Everyday I go into work it’s different. There’s no normal routine. As these thoughts ramble through my mind, I control my lips to say something else.
Keeping my response professional, I usually flash a charming smile and say “I don’t have one, sir.” Then I see this look of befuddlement plant itself on my interviewer’s face as if everything in which he ever believed has betrayed him. Okay…. how do I explain… “I’m too junior to hold a specific line that flies the same route.” His eyebrows inadvertently crinkle together. Shit. I seem to have exacerbated the situation. Now I have to further explain myself to this poor, confused person. If I’m lucky, he’ll actually understand what I’m saying and leave it be, and if I’m luckier, he will act like he understands and leave it be, but he will never see that I’m irritated at being asked that question for the 759th time.
Shall we delve into some airline lingo? Yes. Let’s shall.
One crucial aspect to the world of airline crew members, is seniority. It means EVERYTHING – which lines you hold, how often you hold them, how much money you make, how much or little you want to work. I might as well be crawling through the airport with a binky in my mouth for how junior I am. I’ve been an FA for a smidge over a year, and my ability to hold what I want is slim to none. This is why whenever we hire new FAs, I get almost as excited as I do for brunch. Bring me seniority!
Another query I incessantly hear is “How long are usually away from home?” Sequences –trips – can last anywhere from from 4 hours to 6 days; however, I generally work 3-days – working 3 days, laying over for 2 nights. These are my preference because I’m not too exhausted by the end, and I have the opportunity to play in two different cities in one sequence (usually, because some trips will have each of the two layovers in the same city). Even if I wanted to work turns – when we fly out to a city and fly right on back, bada bing bada boom – I couldn’t due to my lack of seniority because typically only the senior mamas and papas want those, so they can be home by dindin.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, my lines – monthly schedules – consist of 3-days with various layover locations. At the moment, I only have an actual line every other month for in between each beautiful line month of knowing when and where I’m going, there exists a thing that is only spoken of in snarls and disdain – Reserve. From here on out, whenever you see ‘reserve‘ just picture me rolling my eyes. Alrighty.
The two previous questions are what I hear most from passengers, but when it comes to my friends and family, reserve remains forever an enigma to them (I’m sorry you guys, I love you more than eggs, but it’s true). They’re always asking me, “So do you work today?” To which I respond “I don’t know. I’m on call.” Being ‘on call’ is a better way of explaining what reserve is. In a reserve month, I have designated days off when I will not be called in, but the rest of the month I am at beck and call. Being at the will of the company means the following:
- Being within 2 hours of the airport at every moment
- Having my back packed with all necessities
- Being sober as I am not allowed to have an alcoholic beverage 8 hours before a flight – so I basically just don’t drink when on reserve which sucks celery, but hey, my liver appreciates it (you’re welcome buddy, I love ya).
- Sitting pretty while waiting to hear that heart stopping ring tone (the one you hear in your nightmares) that you’ve assigned to Crew Scheduling (CS) – the most amiable, agreeable and warm people on earth that tell you oh so kindly where to go. My old ringtone used to be Skinny Love by Birdy for CS. I can no longer enjoy that song.
- Calling Crew Scheduling back within 15 minutes if I miss the call – or I gets in big twubble
All of that can get to you at times, but I have only two years to go until my life gets a little easier. Two more years until I finally go from being on reserve every other month to being on reserve every 3 months, and it can’t get here soon enough!
Until that time, every other month, I will continue to ensure that whatever I have in my suitcase incorporates clothing items for all climates, because reserve is like a box of chocolates, except you don’t know when the hell you get to eat them, and sometimes they’re just a nasty nougat chucked at your face at 3 AM. I could end up in Santiago, Chile looking for the perfect Carménère or in Tulsa, Oklahoma hoping your hotel is near a restaurant that’s still open; both places have extremely different climates right now in this month of December hence the need for a variety of clothing.
There is an exception to packing for both warm and cold. If one is being lazy, running late or feeling hermit-like, a pair of cozy pajamas may be the only clothes one may take, but I am not one like that. My newby, gregarious self does not desire to take on the role of a slam-clicker – the term used to describe FAs who you won’t see until pick-up (the time we meet the van taking us to the airport for our next flight) once their door slams and their lock clicks. I am sure at some point I will grow tired of seeing these cities to which we fly, but for now I’m having way too much fun eating my way through the United States and various other countries to stay inside my hotel room watching Netflix. Exploring is the best, and I love flying with crew members that agree with me!
There’s much to learn about what I do; I’m still learning myself. Hopefully this has cleared at least a thimble full of the confusion. Now that you all have a basic understanding, stay tuned for more posts to come regarding my layover shenanigans! Until then… read more responses to questions I’ve received:
- No. We don’t pay for our hotel rooms. We don’t get to choose the hotel either, and we don’t have to share rooms – this ain’t college!
- We only get paid for the time the aircraft door is closed. That’s right. Boarding doesn’t count, so please make it easy on us 🙂
- I can work more than the scheduled hours I receive.
- I get paid while on reserve, even if I don’t fly anywhere, but I always go somewhere!
- Layover lengths, for me, can last from 9 to 30 hours, obviously I try for the longer ones.
- Yes. I fly for free, domestically.
- Who are you? What? No. You cannot have a buddy pass.
- I do spend a lot of money on food while I’m on a sequence, so sometimes I try to bring my own meals, although this is a lot more difficult when on reserve.
- No. I do not have to have every airport code in existence memorized, but you do start to know a bunch after a while.
- Once we finish the service on a flight, and when I’m not checking on you peeps, I usually read to entertain myself. I love to read!
- We don’t have to live at our base – where we fly out for each trip, but it sure as hell makes it easier.
- Yes. We accept gifts 😉 as long as they’re sealed. Don’t come up to give me a box of donuts, but I will take that bag of Gardetto’s.
- When we fly international, we do get a break – thank you sweet baby Jesus.
Thanks for reading, y’all! I hope you come back for more.
*Read about how my appreciation for my own country’s beauty has grown in my article “Flying Domestic“!*