In this chapter, I will discuss the downside of a flight attendant career. Including some of the difficult aspects, of the day to day life of an airline flight attendant.
I also invite you to view my YouTube video entitled, “Why People Quit”. https://youtu.be/KGax70W5Uo8
While working as an airline flight attendant, was the best job I ever had, there were times when it was difficult. Here are some of the “cons” of working as an airline flight attendant:
1. Being away from home for 4-6 weeks during initial flight attendant training. Then, possibly relocating to a city at my expense.
While the 4-8 weeks of initial flight attendant training is challenging, the difficult part is, being away from family, friends, etc..
If a person is married, has a girlfriend, boyfriend, etc…you will have to sacrifice time away from that person, in order to focus on the task of successfully passing the initial flight attendant training. This is especially difficult for anyone with children.
If you are not able or willing to commute to your new crew base, most airlines will give you 3-5 days to move, once you have successfully passed the initial flight attendant training. However, your crew base may not be assigned to you, until the end of the flight attendant training. Leaving you very little time finding a place to live.
In addition, most airlines will not pay for your relocation expenses. This means you will have to find a place on your own, at your own expense. I have provided a list of long term hotels which may be a temporary solution until you can find a place to live.
2. Being away from home for several days at a time.
When I became a line holder, the best possible schedule I could work was 4, four-day trips. Each of the four-day trips worth between 22-28 flight hours. The first day of each trip beginning early in the day.
On the last day of the trip, ending in mid afternoon. Since the first day of my four-day trip began early (usually working the 6:00 AM departure), I would always fly in the day before the first day of my trip.
When I put in my bids for my work schedule, I would always look for four-day trips, which gave me the opportunity to get home on the last day of the trip. That was my top priority. However, depending on the available trips, and what my seniority was, this determined whether or not, I would be able to work, four, 4-day trips each month.
Sometimes, I had to work two, three-day trips back to back. Which meant, working six days in a row. Or, sometimes I had to work a two-day trip, followed by a four-day trip. Which again, meant working six days in a row. By that sixth day, I was more than ready to get home.
During a “good” month, I would be away from home 16 nights, and at home, 14-15 nights per month. That was the best possible working schedule. However, sometimes it would not work out. Flight delays or cancellations might mean I would have to work longer hours.
It seemed like on the last day of our four-day trip, that is when we would have delays or cancellations. If we got back to our base after the last possible “commuting” flight had left, I would have to spend another night in a hotel (at my expense). So, this was one of the downsides of commuting.
Being away from home for several days at a time can cause issues with marriages, and relationships. I have known many flight attendants and pilots, who became separated or divorced. Mostly due to being away from home on a consistent basis. For flight attendants and pilots who have young children, it can be even more difficult not being home every night.
I can speak from personal experience. Due to weather delays in Milwaukee, I was unable to get home in time to take my fiance’ out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. She was so upset, we eventually broke up.
3. Crew bases closing.
Throughout my 17 1/2 year airline flight attendant career, I have experienced numerous crew base closings. Crew bases open and close based on the airline’s operational needs. For flight attendants and pilots, when a crew base closes, it can be very upsetting, and unsettling. When a crew base has closed, I have seen many long time flight attendants quit, instead of commuting or moving to a new base. For more on this, please read the chapter on “Crew Bases”.
4. Delays or cancellations.
For most flight attendants and pilots, the most difficult aspects of working in the airline industry are delays and cancellations.
Depending on your flight attendant contract, you may or may not receive “cancellation” pay should a flight you are scheduled to work, is canceled. With Comair, we received “half” cancellation pay.
So, for example, let’s say I was scheduled to work
a flight worth two flight hours. If that flight was canceled, I would receive one hour of flight hour pay. Or, “half” pay. Which was better than nothing.
While I worked with Chautauqua Airlines, in our contract, we did not receive any flight cancellation pay. So, if I was scheduled to work a two-hour flight, if that flight was canceled, I would not receive any flight hour pay.
So, if my four-day trip was worth 22 flight hours, and one of the two-hour flights is canceled, I would only receive 20 flight hour pay. If I was scheduled to work flights during days of bad weather, if those flights were canceled, I would lose several hours of flight hour pay.
Dealing with delays is difficult for everyone. More so, if you are on board working a flight, and dealing with a delay. There can be delays leaving the gate. Usually, this is due to waiting for ground personnel to “push back” the aircraft from the gate. However, there can be delays waiting to take off.
During the winter months, there can be delays waiting for the aircraft to be “deiced”.
In some of the busier airports such as Atlanta, all New York area airports, Philadelphia, Washington-Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc…..there can be a long line of air crafts waiting their turn to take off.
Depending on the situation, passengers can become agitated or upset if their flight is late.
Unfortunately, once the aircraft has left the gate, and in line to take off, there is not much the pilots can do to speed up the process. Air Traffic Control and weather conditions are two of the top reasons flights are delayed in departing, or arriving.
In the busy airports, airlines have scheduled too many departures at about the same time. Plus, if there is any type of weather issue (fog, snow, thunderstorms, etc..), this can also cause flight departures to be very slow. ATC (Air Traffic Control), determine when (and how often), planes arrive and depart.
As a flight attendant, there is very little we can do to help passengers who are already on board when the flight is slow in departing.
Once in a while, the captain will allow passengers to use their cell phones, even while we are waiting to take off. But that is at the discretion of the captain. We as flight attendants cannot ask the captain to allow cell phone use, once the aircraft has left the departure gate.
However, I would call the flight deck and ask what “number” we are for taking off. If we were number 10 or higher, I would ask the captain if passengers could be allowed to use their cell phones until such time as we are very close to taking off. Usually, the captain would allow cell phone use, and make an announcement. This did help ease some of the passengers’ concerns.
Flight delays and cancellations can also become an issue if you are a “commuter”. Working a flight which has been delayed, or canceled, could result in your flight home also being delayed or canceled.
Many times, on the last day of a four-day trip, one of the flights I worked, was either delayed or canceled. Which meant, by the time we finally got back to our crew base, my flight home had already left. A few times, I had a seat on a non-stop flight home to Tampa, only to learn the flight had been canceled. These cancellations usually happened during the winter months.
5. Sitting/Waiting In Airports.
It is inevitable, as a flight attendant, you can expect to spend countless hours sitting or waiting in airports.
While working a four-day trip, we might have several “breaks” between flights. Sometimes these breaks were two hours or more. This meant, sitting or waiting in an airport, before working your next flight.
Some of these breaks were due to changing air crafts. Or, the breaks were due to weather issues, or mechanical issues. Most of the breaks between flights were already “built” into our work schedule.
As an example, if I worked the 6:00 AM Grand Rapids-Chicago flight, usually we would arrive into Chicago-O’Hare by 6:50 AM. Then, if we were scheduled to work the Chicago-Cedar Rapids flight at 9:00 AM, this meant we would have a two hour “sit”, or break between flights.
I would always have two good books with me at all times. In addition, sometimes passengers would leave behind copies of the local newspaper. This would give me something to read, during long sits at the airport. I also brought my laptop computer with me on trips. Now, of course, many people use tablets, smartphones, I Phones, etc…. to access the internet.
If possible, during long breaks, I would try to find the quietest area of the airport to sit and read. If we had a break where we had access to a flight crew lounge, sometimes I would go there. However, most of the time, I would try to find a quiet area, often at an unused gate.
Near the time I had to report to work my next flight, I would try to get on the plane as soon as possible. This was important, especially to put away all the catering supplies before passengers began to board the flight.
Unless you are working overseas flights, such as to Europe, Asia, or Australia, long sits, or long breaks, are part of the life of most airline flight attendants and pilots. Try to use this time to unwind, and relax before resuming the rest of your work day.
As an airline flight crew, we stayed at some nice hotels. However, living out of a suitcase can get old. It is not easy having to repack every day, re arrange your suitcase and make sure your uniform is clean and neat.
Everyone has their favorite (or non-favorite) airline crew hotels. My main consideration was, the room had to be clean, and did not contain an adjoining door to a guest room next door.
Anytime I was assigned a room with an adjoining door, I would try to change rooms. Rooms with an adjoining door are less secure. Plus, anytime I was in a room with an adjoining door, the guests next door, were always noisy. Which meant, I would not receive a good nights rest. That was until I finally invested in a pair of “Bose Noise Reduction Headsets”. Yes, the Bose Noise Reduction Headsets really does eliminate all the noise. I found earplugs did not really help too much.
I found the noisiest nights in hotels were often on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Often, there would be large groups staying at the hotel. On Saturdays, sometimes there would be a wedding reception taking place.
I liked hotels which offered a refrigerator and/or a microwave in the guest rooms. This would allow me to save money by heating up some soup or chili in the microwave oven.
If there was a grocery store or convenience store close to the hotel, I would walk over and get some fruit, or juice to put in the refrigerator. Sometimes I would purchase a small bottle of milk and a box of cereal. This way, I knew I would have breakfast before we took the van to the airport.
Most hotel restaurants are expensive. While most hotel restaurants gave airline flight crews a 20%-50% discount, often this was still too expensive. Plus, some of the hotel restaurant food choices were limited. For these reasons, whenever possible, the pilots and I would walk to a restaurant, to eat lunch or dinner.
While many people enjoy eating at restaurants, as an airline flight attendant, eating out will become a way of life. While there were restaurants I enjoyed more than others, I was always glad to get home and cook my own meals.
Most hotels offer free internet access to hotel guests. However, the television channel selection can be limited. For this reason, I always had movies ready to view on my laptop computer. If we had an overnight stay on a Sunday during the NFL Football season, sometimes the pilots and I would go to a sports bar, such as a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, Hooters Restaurant, or to watch the games.
As you gain seniority and become a line holder, you will be able to select trips (and overnight stays) you prefer most. Once I became a line holder, there were certain hotels I tried to avoid. But again, everyone has their hotel preferences.
For more on hotels, please read the chapter on Hotels.
7. Airport Food.
It will not take long to learn what food or restaurants are available, in all the airports you fly into on a regular basis.
Having flown into Atlanta, Boston, Chicago O’Hare, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York-JFK/LGA, Newark, Philadelphia, Phoenix San Francisco, etc…..I quickly learned what food options were available. Some people can eat fast food on a regular basis. However, I tried to avoid any airport fast food restaurant as often as possible. Usually, the prices at airport fast food restaurants, are much higher as compared to fast food restaurants in a town or city.
Before I left for a trip, I would bring nonperishable snacks, to help me get through each day. Some of the hotels would have their free breakfast out before we took the hotel van to the airport. If so, I would take some fruit with me. I tried to avoid buying any airport food as often as possible.
On long days, with very few (if any) breaks, sometimes one of the pilots would run inside the airport, to get each of us something to eat.
8. Dealing with irate, or unhappy passengers.
Unfortunately, flying can be challenging, difficult, expensive, and frustrating. The time just to get onto the aircraft can be extensive.
The delays or cancellations can ruin a passenger’s day. Not all passengers are going on a vacation. Many passengers are going to/from a business meeting, visiting an ill family member, or attending a funeral.
For more, please view my YouTube Video entitled: “Working A Flight Common Passenger Issues”: https://youtu.be/ARPvuPb6uVU.
While I enjoyed working as a flight attendant, commuting was the most stressful aspect. Even though I was always able to get to work, getting back home, was a challenge.
For more information, please view my YouTube Video entitled: “Flight Attendant My Experience With Commuting: https://youtu.be/MCeIXtzIbzI.
10. Working on holidays, and weekends.
When you begin your career as an airline flight attendant, you can expect to work all holidays and most weekends. The airline industry operates 365 days a year, including all major holidays.
Having to work major holidays, can create issues with airline employee families. However, while I flew with Comair, and then Chautauqua Airlines, we received “double” pay for working any major holiday.
As an example, if your flight hour wage is $20.00 if you are scheduled to work on New Year’s Day, you would receive $40 per flight hour, for any flight(s) you work on New Year’s Day. So, this did help ease the pain of having to work on a major holiday.
The major holidays included: New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
Once you gain enough seniority to become a “line holder”, to select the trips (and days off) you prefer, then you may be able to have some weekends off and avoid working on major holidays.
Depending on how long it takes for you to gain seniority, it can take months, or even years, to be able to receive your preferred days off.
If your airline is conducting new initial flight attendant classes on a regular basis, this will allow you to gain seniority, much quicker as compared to airlines which are not hiring new flight attendants on a regular basis.
When I was hired by Chautauqua Airlines, in early 2007, Chautauqua Airlines was conducting initial flight attendant classes every month. Within a few months, over 200 new flight attendants were already below me in seniority. When I left Chautauqua Airlines, I was in the upper third of all Chautauqua Airlines flight attendants.
One thing I will say is, once you get past the first few months or so, you may discover what a lifestyle change it is, to work as an airline flight attendant.
I have known many flight attendants, who left the airline industry. They would tell me, working in the airline industry “gets in your blood”. Meaning, when a flight attendant leaves the airline industry, for any length of time, many times that person realizes how great it was to work as a flight attendant.
I can say, from personal experience, I left the airline industry for a few years, to start my own retail map business.
As much as I enjoyed owning my own business, I sincerely missed working in the airline industry. In early 2000, I made the decision to close my map business. I also made the decision to return to the airline industry. Specifically, to work as an Airline Flight Attendant.
From 2000-2014, I worked full time, as an airline flight attendant.
Unfortunately, due to a permanent disability to my right leg, I can no longer work as an airline flight attendant.
In 2015, I decided to start a new business (Flightattendantconsultant.com). I assist prospective airline flight attendant candidates, in achieving their dream, to work as an Airline Flight Attendant! It is a great career!!