Working for an Airline

I’m not a Flight Attendant

I’m not a flight attendant. But ask most everyone that knows me and they’ll say that I am. And that’s because whenever I start to tell people about my job, they don’t get much past the “I work for an airline…” bit before their minds are conjuring up images of this:

airline stewardessses
Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as Flight Attendants

Paris and Nicole as Flight Attendants.  Photo courtesy of Jaunted

But I’m not a flight attendant. I’m a customer service agent. Which in the airline world is the equivalent of being the flight attendant’s ugly stepsister.  Or to put it another way:  If the airline world were a high school, the pilot would be the class president, the flight attendant would be the head cheerleader and the customer service agent would be the cheerleader’s nerdy, half-cousin from Omaha.  We’re really only popular by association and even that’s debatable.

Tell people you’re a flight attendant and they assume your job to be glamorous, exciting and adventurous, but tell people that you’re an airline customer service agent and they just look at you in confusion.

“I work at the check-in counter and at the gates,” is the usual explanation I give.  Sometimes they then nod their heads in recognition, but more often than not they just stare at me blankly. I then put on my best announcer voice: “We’d like to begin our general boarding process for flight XYZ to LAX.  We ask that all ticketed passengers please proceed immediately to gate 5 for an on-time departure.”

Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.

“Sooo wait, you mean you don’t fly in the plane?” is what usually follows next.

“No,” I answer, sighing inwardly. “I’m not a flight attendant.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a flight attendant. I like flight attendants. My own mother was one once. But like the shy nerd who grows weary of constantly being out-shined by her more outgoing, popular older sister, the flight attendant favoritism gets old. Flight attendants get all the fame and glory.  They get the book deals, they get fired and then become weblebrity bloggers and they even inspire screen plays, reality television series, variety shows and a slew of pornographic films.

It’s not fair, really. Because a flight attendant’s job isn’t glamorous or sexy.  They’re glorified waitresses who happen to be cross-trained in emergency evacuation procedures. Their chief responsibilities involve the safety of a plane full of people…so what’s so sexy about that?

Sometimes though, when I watch them prance by in their perfectly-pressed uniforms and unchipped manicures, I can’t help feeling a little jealous. Especially since I usually greet them at the gate, with my hair windswept from running back and forth between the aircrafts and smelling like I bathed in Purell. Which most days is what I use to cover up the smell of Eau de Aircraft Lavatory Trash Can.  And even if I was the type to spend money on manicures, between lifting luggage onto the ticket counter bag belt and scratching dried bubble gum off of the aircraft carpet, nail polish wouldn’t last an hour on my nails.

But even though our jobs functions are similar (safety and service with a smile!) there’s definitely an unspoken hierarchy among airline employees which has caused some flight attendants to develop an attitude. There are some I’ve met who’ve obviously bought into the “I have Barbie dolls created in my vision, so now you must worship the ground I walk on” mystique and are incredibly demanding.

“I need more water,” they’ll snap the second I open the aircraft door. Or some will wait until twelve minutes before departure to check their supplies and then will demand more hot towels or cans of Coke. I’ve actually had to delay a flight because the flight attendants insisted that the plane could not depart until it was fully loaded with enough bags of trail mix.

But I suppose everyone has to have someone to feel superior to. The pilots feel superior to the flight attendants and the flight attendants feel superior to the customer service agents and the customer service agents feel superior to the baggage handlers. And we all feel superior to the passengers, which I suppose is the one common bond that we all can share.

Sometimes I even think that it’d be easier to be a flight attendant. I mean sure, they’re on call a lot, away from home most weekends and until they’ve worked their way up the seniority list (which takes years, by the way) they’re often relegated to shuttling back and forth between not-so-exciting cities like Pittsburgh and Buffalo. But at least they don’t have to pick up puke or get screamed at by irate customer’s all day long.

But then there are other times, when I’m standing on the jet bridge watching the plane pull away and the captain smiles and salutes me or when an old woman hugs me for helping find her missing luggage or when I’m running across the tarmac dodging luggage carts and aircraft tugs and I look up to see an airplane roaring overhead…That’s when I think that my job is pretty, damn cool.

…Even if I’m not a flight attendant.

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21 thoughts on “I’m not a Flight Attendant

  1. see how much you know about your job if you do indeed work for an airline. glorified waitress. you know jack shit. sounds like your just jealous

  2. @ Joe….dude. That’s harsh. Are you a flight attendant? You know I’m just kidding around with this post, right? It’s completely, 100 percent in good fun. I didn’t mean to offend anyone…

  3. I COULD NEVER be a flight attendant. One reason being I’m a guy & although I see a lot of guy flight attendants..I’m sure most passengers prefer young, beautiful women in spiffy uniforms. The other reason is..being a limited traveler at the moment I was bored to death just on 3 hour plane rides, so it would be hell on Earth being in a plane dealing w/ hundres of passengers for hours at a time, then on another plane just a day or few hours later (especially if it’s an international fiight).

  4. I’m not sure I could handle being a flight attendant. The passengers would likely drive me insane. Just being in an airport gives me a rush, I love the atmosphere. So even with all of the bs, it’s cool that you’re in that environment everyday. BTW, I love your header and blog name. Were you inspired by “Let the Wind Carry Me”?

  5. @ Nicy – Thanks! : )

    @ Sarah – I’ll try to write more about the airline world. I’ve just gotta be careful because I’m under contract with the airline not to reveal too much. Thanks to flight attendants (ha!) in the past who’ve overshared on their blogs, our airline now has a strict anti-blogging policy.

    @ Ed – Nah, you don’t have to be young or beautiful or “look spiffy in a uniform” at least not if you work for an American carrier. If you were looking to work for Singapore Airlines or ANA, then yes, that might apply. But not American airlines, United or Delta (at least in the States). And there are plenty of men who are flight attendants!

    But yeah, I would imagine that if you’re working for an airline because you love to travel, then a flight attendant job would be tough. I can’t imagine where I’d find the motivation to get on a plane to travel somewhere on my days off…It’d feel too much like I was at work. I’d imagine it’d be sorta like going to the movies if you work at a movie theater…it’s the last place you want to go when you have time off.

    @Ekua – I used to love airports, too. But now that I work on, I’ve gotta say that the magic has been ruined for me somewhat. I know too much now about all of the crap that goes on behind the scenes…I’ll never be able to look at it the same way again. I’ll certainly NEVER check a bag in ever again….the amount of stuff that get’s stolen from people’s luggage…it’s unbelievable.

    The title of this blog was inspired by the song that I’m named after…”Rhiannon”, by Fleetwood Mac. The lyrics are “All your life, you’ve never seen a woman taken by the wind…” I’m glad you like it!

  6. Hi! I used to be a flight attendant… and I picked up puke, dealt with heart attacks on the plane, screaming children, screaming passengers, etc. You try to be 30000 feet in the air with no way out and a large man screaming at you because you are circling near LaGuardia and waiting for permission to land or held on the runway to an hour and he needs to make his business meeting. Ugh. Regardless, I always respected the hard work of the gate agents and customer service reps. Without them we would get nowhere. I miss the free flights!

  7. SO glad i found your blog via 20sb!! great, entertaining (funny) writing and i currently live in asia as a (fairly) newbie traveler. my cousin is a flight attendant and i think she’s pretty cool. but you’re right, there isn’t really anything sexy about the job and most flights i’ve been in, the flight attendants aren’t even super slim or cute. so i don’t think looks are necessarily a prereq anymore. hahaha and i never even thought about the people who announce the boarding as an actual job. you’re right, i’ve never heard of the title but the flight attendant is pretty much well known.

  8. Hey, you’re as crucial to the flying experience as they are. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. : )

    Glad you’re still loving your job! I always thought being head cheerleader was over-hyped, anyways. 😛

  9. ohh, i just found your blog through 20sb…so glad I did!! I think working in an airport in any capacity would be really cool. and free flights don’t hurt either. i would probably make the worst flight attendant though as I have little to no patience with most people.

  10. @ Alice…Although sometimes I envy flight attendants, I’m definitely glad that I’m not one. As horrible as some of the passenger are sometimes, at least we only have to deal with them until the flight leaves! I can’t imagine being stuck in a little flying tube for eight hours with them and with no where to escape and / or hide. That is seriously my worst nightmare. : )

    @ Chase…Glad your back to blogging! Your new site looks spiffy. Where are you drifting to these days?

  11. You guys would be surprised at the amount of patience you can muster when you have free flights dangled before your eyes. Flying for free is horribly addicting!

    Thanks for all the comments guys…I hope you continue reading! : )

  12. I’m a CSA too and I just find it easier to tell people I meet that I am a flight attendant. At work I am often mistaken for a flight attendant. I have even had people try to place beverage orders with me when I walk through the cabin to get a passenger count.

  13. I would really love a good comeback for that stupid question. I usually tell them I enjoy being home every night and using my brain not my waitressing skills. I agree with Stephen, sometimes I say yes if I don’t know them.

  14. Im a well paid flight attendant and you have such a biased take on our job ! ! Try 60 bucks an hour – call me what you want ! There is a big difference in our jobs but what do I really know after 27 years ! It appears you do not work for a big airline but I could be wrong ! Btw .. It doesnt take 27 years to make that kind of money – try topping out at 13 years! Yes … I do believe there is a jealousy issue here !

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