Being a flight attendant is not as glamorous or peachy as you may think. Sure, it has its moments, amazing benefits and perks, but it takes a lot out of you. But the more I think about being on reserve and being at the bottom of the FA chain (I am second to last in my base, so it cannot get any worse than that), I realize how much it has taught me about myself. There are a lot of life lessons and like any job it has its highs and lows.
What Are the Levels of A Flight Attendant?
There are different levels of being a flight attendant (FA). First there is a lineholder. He/she receives their line in advance with the ability to bid a schedule they want, trade trips with other FA’s, and have the option of not working a trip if they just don’t want to. They know all of their trips in advance, which days they have off, and where they are going each trip. Then there’s a reserve (me) who spends a month wondering where each day will take me. Reserves are used when a lineholder calls out sick, or there are new trips on aircrafts that were not initially scheduled at the beginning when schedules came out.
So, the difference between being a reserve and being a lineholder contrasts BIG in a way that affects lifestyle, money, and relationships. I have a reserve line – a set amount of hours per month even if I do not fly that many hours – and a set amount of days off. However, I have no idea where I will be going until four hours before a flight takes off. So, reserves get the stick end of trips OR we can land a six-day Hawaii and Guam trip because the company needed an extra stew last minute.
Being a reserve sounds good right? Getting paid to sit at home even if you do not fly. But you’re on call so you end up spending the full day glued to your phone, lazing around watching Hulu and Netflix because you didn’t want to risk leaving the apartment in case you got a call. It can also start to take a toll on those who actually WANT to fly, but cannot because us reserves cannot pick up a trip if we just “want” a trip. When you are on reserve, you ARE just a number to the company, a.k.a a backup FA when they need you.
The Life A Reserve Flight Attendant
On your days on, you become available at 0500, which means crew scheduling can call you anytime during the night. If you miss their call four times within 45 minutes, you automatically get a DNF (did not fly) on your record, which is no bueno.
The early 2 am or 4 am calls are the killers. This has been one of my biggest challenges. I have always slept with my phone on silent, so adjusting to this has been harsh. I do not like my beauty sleep to be disturbed okay. Is that too much to ask for? I sometimes do not sleep at all knowing I may get a call if I am at the top of the list of reserves. I toss and turn just waiting for the fire alarm ringtone to blare through my earbuds.
On a good day, you will get a call after 10 am for a check-in later in the evening. They assign you your trip ID assignment and you are given four hours to get to your base location. You can be assigned a trip ID anywhere between 1 to 6 days depending on how many days you are “on call”.
You are given a certain amount of days off a month; and you worship every hour, minute, and second of those days off. My company offers a guaranteed 12 days off a month, which seems a lot, but kind-of-not-really. The amount of strain your body takes being in the air, dealing with unforeseen circumstances, and not getting enough sleep can begin to wear you down.
You may be on an assignment with the same crew for several days, or you may be on a single ID bouncing around from crew to crew. But whether you are solo, or with the same crew, it is important to get to know your crew. You have to incorporate teamwork skills and get along with them even if you just do not click with their personalities. You will work with SO many different personalities that it is important to be able to adapt to everyone’s style even if you do not agree with their personal ways. You already have to be super extroverted on the job, might as well get to know a co-worker and find one itty bitty thing to bond over.
A lot of people think we only serve drinks and wear a pretty smile. We went through five weeks of training to learn how to basically save lives if a plane crashes, attend medical emergencies and safety related issues on board. So please, watch that safety demonstration because I do not get up there just for the fun of it.
The Un-Glamourous Side of Being A Flight Attendant
Bloating and Panty Hose
There is no consistency in the life of a reserve; you have little control of your life. I am no expert flight attendant, but I can probably speak for other reserves in the industry. Reserve life is not easy so let me tell it to you straight…
My anxiety levels rise the second I am back on call. You are always slightly fatigued and bloated. Being in the air makes your body dehydrated, so I try to chug a 1.5 liters of water every leg. I get pantyhose marks all over my belly from being swollen. Well, from being inflight swollen and then not being able to resist the best first-class chocolate chip cookies in the world. I feel as if my belly circulation is literally being cut off by panty hose. My feet also tend to slightly swell like a pregnant woman…just throwing that out there. Your body no longer really knows what jet lag is until you go into your days off and BAM your tiredness sets in. So on days off, I am not ashamed to be super introverted, lay around in pajamas, no makeup, and watch Netflix all day. It usually takes about 2-3 days to reincarnate back into my own body.
Airplane Food and Finding Time to Go to the Gym
Diet and exercise play a huge role in being a flight attendant. Okay, I am probably not the best person on this topic, because I love food and desserts and I have slacked on exercise lately, but diet and exercise is SO important when it comes to this job. No doubt, you will gain some weight throughout your career as a flight attendant. It’s mainly happy pounds, or “eating out of boredom” pounds, but it’s natural that you might unfortunately tack on just a few lbs, especially in the beginning. But, once you learn how to pack your food, then you are already on the verge of saying no to airplane food.
Yes, we all know airplane food is not good for you. It is loaded with preservatives and some expiration dates are questionable. We know it’s bad for us, but you can’t help but at least try some of it. My company truly does have some of the best airplane food out of all airlines, which makes it difficult to resist. Like most FA’s say, you will either become really skinny, or add a lil more cushion than you need with this job. And it’s impossible to not try new cuisines when you go to new destinations. It is my weakness.
You are on a metal tube all day, eating at irregular hours of the day/night, working with passengers, and standing on your poor feet. So, the last thing you probably want to do on a layover is workout. Sometimes your layovers are not even long enough to workout and it is hard to maintain an exercise routine since you are all over the place and in different time zones. So you have to be mentally strong and not eat like a cow. But exercise is important for this job because we are lifting, standing, bending, and moving in positions you would not think of until you’re questioning the next day why a certain muscle hurts.
It takes commitment and dedication to stay fit and healthy with being a flight attendant. The important thing to keep in mind is to not only love your body, but also know when to give yourself a break. This job has many obstacles that you will have to overcome, but remember that sleep, diet, and exercise will be the foundation of how to survive being a flight attendant.
Job Roles and Destinations
As a reserve, we rarely get to pick our positions on board an aircraft, kind of like the last kid to be picked in dodgeball. You go where no one else wants to go, or you get lucky with a crew who will help and teach you new ways of service. You must always be open to learn from the senior mommas and dads.
International trips can be super exhausting. Say you work 7-12 hours going to a destination, a day layover to recover, then work that flight back the following day. European time changes can be strenuous on your body and you find yourself eating breakfast at 2 am.
“I just do not know if I should leave my corporate job because I make really good money and I hear flight attendants do not make that much.” And you are absolutely right. We do not make that much money starting off, as with every job. Do not leave that 9-5 office desk corporate job if you are only getting into this career for the money. Money is obviously a bonus, but with everything else, if you are miserable doing what you are doing, then you will not be happy.
Let me get to the layovers…
A flight attendant does not pay for layover hotels, and they do not worry about transportation to and from the airport. Yes, we do pay for our food and any other additional activities we do on our free time aka shopping. But, you will receive “per diem” in your paycheck. Meaning, you are paid a certain amount every hour you are away from your base. Layovers can be anywhere from 10-50+ hours of sacred time you get to recover, prepare, or go out and explore a new city.
Layovers can also be very lonely. You have to be okay spending time with yourself when you are spending time away from your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, family, or beloved dog. That is your time to go on an adventure, or shun yourself from the world and crawl back into your shell.
Have I scared you yet? I hope not.
The Glamorous Side of Being A Flight Attendant
I live for layovers; Especially international layovers. The hotels and accommodation are always so lovely. International layovers are probably some of the most glamorous hotels in our system. I hear Brussels has heated floors and Geneva has every type of updated technology you could ask for in the hotel rooms; Lisbon has all around glass windows from the bedroom to the bathroom and Greece, well it is Greece. I am so happy to hear we are adding this back to our routes this summer!
For me, international trips make you feel as if you have hit the lottery and you are just fancy shmancy. Stupid I know, but like come on you know you want to go, too! I feel special and such a classy woman serving drinks in first class en route to Germany. Or, I may get stuck in galley to London and you are running around like a chicken with your head chopped off because you are just not cut out for the kitchen.
I also have discovered I am THE queen of “on standby”. This means you are required to report to the airport, and sit for four hours in the hopes you get an assignment. I get these maybe three or four times a month. It is crazy how you can sit at the airport for four hours watching six episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and still not get a call. But, I have gotten an international trip off standby, so I always cross my fingers, toes, and eyeballs every time I check-in for standby.
I knew coming into this I would not get paid a lot and be stuck at the bottom of seniority. I also came into this job really germaphobic. No lie, I see people with their nasty feet up on the arm rests and people changing their babies diapers on the tray tables. You can only imagine how my OCD has kicked in.
Note: Always carry wet-wipes, Febreeze, and wash your hands!
But think about it…. you get to travel freely on your companies dime. We have the luxury of staying at some of the top five-star hotels in the world. Our Vegas hotel even gives you a complimentary amount of money to spend on games at the casino… if you are into that gambling sort of thing. You should never have to worry about sharing a room with another employee because that king size bed and air conditioning control unit is all yours. And then you get to meet some of the most interesting people you will come across. You get to share stories with people from around the world and maybe, but maybe not see them again. Your day is never the same as far as the people or routine. Flexibility and being open to change comes with the job so be prepared to basically be up for anything depending where they send you in this world. Take in every moment and be thankful.
Really, I got into this job to explore this beautiful world. I have always been curious about what I do not know and intrigued by cultures and people different then what I was brought up around. I cannot exactly explain my desire for traveling, I just know it is a freeing experience. It makes me into a birdie fluttering around to the unknown. I am almost 25 years old and all I know is I do not want to live a life of “what-ifs” and the ordinary. I die a little bit inside at the thought of being tied down and held back from what I want to pursue.
This is why I became a flight attendant while being young and unattached. I do not really understand what I was getting myself into and still kind of do not being this fresh in the game, but I was hoping it would create more opportunities and life experiences. I have met some great people and been to incredible places I never dreamt I would visit.
Apply to Become a Flight Attendant
If this sounds like something you would be interested in doing, then apply to be a flight attendant. You never know until you try, right? If it turns out that it is not for you, onto the next plan.
The more flight attendants the company hires, the higher the likelihood is of getting off reserve and becoming a lineholder. So apply for my sake please. 🙂 Not all airlines have this reserve system, so I suggest you reach out to other FA’s on how their reserve system works, or if they have a reserve system. All airlines have their weaknesses, so find which company you think will suit you. A great tool for reaching out to FA’s is LinkedIn.
Remember, for those aspiring to be a flight attendant, doctor, accountant, painter, singer, engineer, or whoever you want to be in life, “The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.” – Fabienne Fredrickson
Follow her adventures as a Flight Attendant on Instagram: @rachael_mayse