Results for category "Working for an Airline"

Airplane Boneyards: Creepy or Cool?

I was walking down an old residential part of Vegas a few days ago, when lo and behold!  I spotted the gutted out remnants of an old TWA airplane in someone’s backyard.

TWA Plane

My first thought was “Wicked!” followed shortly thereafter by “Where can I get me one?”

I’ve always had a thing for airplanes.  I’d imagine that every travelholic does.  It’s encoded in our DNA to develop life-long obsessions with any and all forms of transportation:  planes, trains and automobiles, sail boats and steamboats, covered wagons, donkeys, you name it.

After google searching “how to buy an old plane” and coming up with nothing, I stumbled across photos of an airplane boneyard in Arizona, just a few hour drive from where I live in Las Vegas.  Apparently, part of an old but still operating airport in the Mojave desert has become a dumping ground for planes that have been put out to pasture.  Some of the planes are still flyable, others are damaged beyond repair and still others have been stripped of their parts; their stomachs ripped open and their skelitle remains left to rot under the desert sun.

What’s left of the former fighter planes and commercial jets make for an unsettling scene:  Hundreds of plane carcases, in various degrees of decay, parked haphazardly behind a barb-wired fence; as if a mysterious plague  suddenly swept through the fleet, permantly grounding them all.  From the photos, the boneyard looks very reminiscent of both Lost and every doomsday science fiction movie I watched on TV as a kid.

It’s totally creepy and I want to go there!


“Convair 240 in Arizona Boneyard” by Phillip C

Aircraft Boneyard by SearchNet Media

“Oxygen Masks Deploy Automatically” by Telstar Logistics


It’s too bad that part of the airport isn’t open to the public.  The only way I’d ever be able to tour the boneyard is if I find a way to sneak onto the tarmac or else bribe or befriend someone who works there.

For more photos and to read an explanation on how one photographer managed to talk his way in, check out this site:

Travel Videos from Around the Web

The following are some of my favorite travel-inspired video clips.   I’m sorry they’re so small! I have no idea how to make them bigger… Enjoy.  : )

The English Teachers Series

This is the first episode in a series that centers around English teachers in Japan.

I love the Neville character. He reminds me a lot of someone I used to work with in Tokyo who belonged to this weird, cult-like sect of Buddhism and who would spend part of each of class teaching his students karate moves.

You can visit the show’s website for future episodes or for character sketches and a plot synopsis.  I can’t wait to see where they go with this.

Where the Hell is Matt?

Matt was once just another unemployed backpacker in SE Asia until one day…Well, I’ll let him tell you.

Here’s an exert from the ‘About Matt’ page on his blog,  Where The Hell is Matt?

“A few months into his trip, a travel buddy gave Matt an idea. They were standing around taking pictures in Hanoi, and his friend said “Hey, why don’t you stand over there and do that dance. I’ll record it.” He was referring to a particular dance Matt does. It’s actually the only dance Matt does. He does it badly. Anyway, this turned out to be a very good idea.

A couple years later, someone found the video online and passed it to someone else, who passed it to someone else, and so on. Now Matt is quasi-famous as “That guy who dances on the internet. No, not that guy. The other one. No, not him either. I’ll send you the link. It’s funny.”

The response to the first video brought Matt to the attention of the nice people at Stride gum. They asked Matt if he’d be interested in taking another trip around the world to make a new video. Matt asked if they’d be paying for it. They said yes. Matt thought this sounded like another very good idea.”

Pretty awesome story, huh?

“Life on a Cruise Ship” – A Rap

You probably won’t appreciate this video if you haven’t worked for a cruise line before.  But if you’re interested in giving ship-life a shot, this will give you a good idea of how small the crew cabins are and what it looks like below deck.

A Comedian Jokes about the Hazards of Air Travel

You can tell this video is pre-911 because he jokes about an era when there were still curtains separating coach from first class and there was still free in-flight food services.

Prague’s Kafka International Named Most Alienating Airport

Favorite line from a customer service agent:   “If there is a problem, fill out complaint form and put it in an envelope addressed to the hospital…in which you were born.”

One-Year-Old Snow-Boarder

Okay, so this one doesn’t have much to do with travel, other than it relates the theory that the way to raise brave, risk-taking children is to start ’em while they’re young.

The 6 Best Travel-Themed Tattoos

Maybe you consider yourself a life-long travel-enthusiast because you have a passport stamp collection and an active Couchsurfing profile.  But until you’ve taken your love for the road to the next level and gotten a travel tat, you can’t truly consider yourself a lifer.  Because nothing says ‘travel addict’ like scarring a treasure map onto your bicep or permanently inking an aircraft emergency evacuation pamplet onto your calf.  Or you could be like this dude and get a tattoo of a United Airlines Boeing 727.  Everyone might think your plane crazy, but they won’t be laughing when your travel tat scores you a free upgrade on your next United flight.

Here’s a collection of some of the best travel-inspired tattoos the world wide web has to offer.  What do you think?  Would you get one of these?

The World Map

Sam’s World by Thomas Hawk

The Paper Plane

Adventureland by Beast Love


Photo by Neon Buggle

The Sailboat

Photo by Timoni

The Pirate Ship

Photo by Hustle Roses

The Compass

Photo by Sheriff Mitchell

My personal favorite is the world map tatoo.  ‘Course I’m kinda biased being that I have a similar one on my ankle and all…

I’m not a Pilot Either

I used to find pilots intimidating.  I think that has to do with the fact that prior to working for an airline, I’d never actually met a pilot before.  Sure, I’d seen pilots, but only brief glimpses as they marched through the concourse or in the rare moments that they peeked their heads out of the cockpit to say hello. And I’d never actually spoken with one.

Most of the time, pilots were just a faceless voice over the airplane’s intercom that would intone about wind speed and altitude and then periodically order us all to remain seated with our seat belts fastened. They were like airline royalty.  They were powerful and mysterious and what they did all day in the cockpit was anyone’s guess.  But dare to even think about congregating near that locked, cockpit door with the hope of catching one of them in action and you could wind up with a hefty fine or a bed in a jail cell.

So when I landed a job as an airline customer service agent, it was unnerving to find myself promoted from lowly, peasant passenger to one of their top advisers.  A member of their inner circle.  All of a sudden not only were the pilots talking to me but they’re asking me things, too.  Important things.

“What’s the fuel load?” they’d ask, for example, as they swept up to the gate podium.  “How many specials do we have?” they’d question as they peered over my shoulder at the passenger manifest.  And each time, before answering, I’d have to take a moment to just get over the fact that a real, live pilot was talking to me.  To me.

In those first few days on the job, I’d be too nervous to speak and so I’d just wordlessly hand them over the flight paperwork and watch as they flipped through a twenty pages of coded script.  “Huh.” they’d murmur as they studied what looked like the world’s most intricate word search puzzle.  “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”  How they got “turbulence” from 07098731274poo7051hop0960159 was (and still is), completely beyond me.

I’m not the only one who finds pilots to be intimidating, either.  Many of the passengers do as well, which is a fact that comes in handy when there’s a flight delay or cancellation and things start to get ugly at the gate.

“What do you mean DELAYED?”  The passengers will shout in a panic as they swarm the gate podium.  “Why is the flight delayed?”

“It’s the weather,” I’ll offer, which often is the truth but sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes the reason a flight is delayed is because of a maintenance problem with the aircraft  And usually it’s something as small as a light bulb that needs to be replaced or a bit of a seat armrest that’s broken off or a tray table that won’t fold up properly.  But so much as breathe the words “mechanical issue” to a few hundred people about to board a 150 ton flying machine, and you’ve got a crowd of hysterical passengers on your hands.  So we blame it on the weather instead.

“But the weather here is fine,” they’ll point out, indicating the sunny, cloudless sky outside.

“Yeah!” Another will chime in.  “And I just talked to my cousin’s neighbor’s dentist, who’s in (insert random destination) and she said that it’s sunny and 50 degrees there right now.”

Crap. I’ll think, as they all look at me accusingly.

“Well, you know…there’s a storm somewhere…somewhere over the continent….somewhere.” I’ll stammer vaguely.  “And the pilots have to fly to Canada in order to avoid it.”  I heard my supervisor tell a passenger this once, and it seemed to make a lot of sense at the time.  Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know but I use it all the time now.  “The plane had to divert to Canada” I’ll soberly inform the passengers whom are awaiting their flight that’s arriving from New York, Chicago or…Hawaii.

But sometimes blaming delays or cancellations on weather doesn’t work.

“I’m going to miss my cruise / job interview / uncle’s funeral / wedding!”  The passengers will holler, as they glare and stomp and point their boarding passes towards my chest; poised to hurl them like pitchforks and stab me through my lying little heart.  That’s usually the signal that it’s time call for reinforcement.

“Captain, sir…”  I’ll yell as I race down the jetbridge towards where the captain is briefing with the flight attendants.  “Sir,” I’ll say breathless as I reach them.  “We have a problem.”

He’ll then take in my pale, panicked face.  “What’s wrong? What is it?”

“It’s the passengers, sir.”  I’ll inform him, miserably.  “They’ve been waiting for so long now…and they’re hungry.  Starving, in fact.  And…and we’ve run out of food vouchers.”

He’ll then nod, expecting as much.  “What about water?”

“We’re all out of that, too.  We’re expecting a new shipment next week…But right now we don’t have anything to give them.  And I’m afraid that they’re going to storm the gate soon…You must say something to them.”  I imagine that they’re already starting a fire with their boarding passes and carry-on luggage…preparing to burn us all alive.

“Very well then.  I”ll talk to them.”  He’ll say, his face set with grim determination.  By this point, the scene outside the gate has typically escalated into a war zone.  One of the gate agents will be trying to hold off the surge of people that are charging the gate door, while the other is frantically shouting into the microphone:  “Ladies and gentlemen, please back away from the gate. Back away from the podium!”  as the crowd waives their flight itineraries in the air like war flags.  And it’s obvious to anyone watching that we’re losing the battle.

But then something magical will happen.  The captain will strode over to the podium, pick up the microphone and say say six little magic words that  work like a charm every time:  “Folks, this is your captain speaking…”

And I swear, it’s as if a King or God himself has spoken.  A hush will fall over the crowd and the passengers will stop flinging salted cashews at the gate agent long enough to listen to what the pilot has to say.  And it won’t even matter what he says.  He could blame the delay on a snow storm in Antarctica or a mysterious wind pattern in the Bermuda circle and they’d just nod their heads in awed silence.  Hell, he could even tell them something to the effect of:  “Folks, I’m sorry but the engine…fell off.  But we’ll have it screwed back on and running in no time.  So just sit back and relax and we’ll give you another update in a little while…mmmkay?” and they’d probably just wander back to their seats, feeling completely reassured.

Occasionally you meet a pilot who’s let this go to his head.  One of my coworkers has a theory that the size of the aircraft a pilot flies is directly proportional to the size of his…ego.  As in, the bigger the plane, the bigger the attitude.  This has some merit to it, I suppose, in that the bigger planes require more experience and more time in flight school.  If one of the agents sulks into the break room muttering about “that jerk pilot”, the first question asked is usually:  “What type of aircraft was it?”

Which isn’t fair, really.  I’d say that 99 percent of pilots are just nice, normal men (and women too!) who are just trying to do their jobs.

And now that I’ve been on the job for six months, I can say that I no longer find them as intimidating.  The star-struck feeling I experienced in the beginning has worn off and it’s become easier to talk to them.

Well, some of them anyway.  I’ve never had a thing for pilots exactly, but every once in a while a cute one will come a long and I’ll find myself suddenly shy.

“Thanks,” I’ll mumble, pretending to be absorbed in studying the passenger loads, as the cute pilot hands me a cup of coffee or bar of chocolate.  “That was nice of you…” I’ll manage to get out, completely embarrassed by the attention and unsure of what to say.  And then I’ll quickly revert my attention back to business and fill them in on the pet in 4C or the lap child seated in 22D.

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.

16 Signs You’re a Frequent Flier

16. You refer to cities by their airport codes. As in, “I went to IAD last weekend and next Tuesday I’ll be flying to ORD.”

15. You’ve had your baggage lost, damaged and pilfered through so many times that you now avoid checking a bag at all costs.

14. You know the difference between a through flight and a direct flight.

13. You’ve memorized various aircraft seat maps and know which seats don’t recline and which offer extra leg room. You know what the word ‘bulkhead’ means and you avoid sitting there.

12. When shopping for toiletries, you subconsciously purchase all of your shampoo and toothpastes travel sized.

10. Whenever it snows or there’s a thunder storm, you feel a sense of foreboding and automatically think of flight delays and cancellations, even if you aren’t flying anywhere that day.

9. You can actually sleep on a plane (even if your seat doesn’t recline or you’re seated next to an infant or the aft lav).

8. You can never remember where you parked your car at the airport.

7. You carry your passport in your wallet at all times…just in case.

6. The customer service agents at the ticket counter begin to recognize you.  Some see you so often they begin to wonder if you work there.

5. You have multiple wireless hotspot accounts and know where all of the electrical outlets are at multiple gates, in multiple airport terminals.

4. You have a favorite airport, a favorite airport bar, restaurant, shop, chair.

3. You can give directions to the nearest airport restroom or coffee shop, and not just in your home city airport either.

2. You’ve filled out so many immigration forms that you know your passport number by heart.

1. Checking the time on your watch always involves a quick calculation, because it’s never set in the right time zone.

Thanks to John’s Blog, and Valley of the Geeks for providing inspiration for a few of these!

Got any to add?

The Dirty Side of Airline Work

airline jobs

TAM Flight Attendant

A couple of weeks ago, while I was emptying the airplane trash bins, one of the bags split open and spilled a brown, milky liquid down the front of my skirt.

“Ewww…” I shrieked. “Garbage juice!”  That’s what’s I call the rancid liquid that pools at the bottom of the airplane trash bins. The airplane galleys aren’t equipped with sinks and so every half drunk cup of coffee or can of beer gets emptied into the trash, which, after an eight hour flight, can make for a rotten combination. From the smell and consistency of that flight’s garbage juice, I figured it to be a blend of coffee, cranberry cocktail and spoiled milk.  And it was now running down my stockinged feet and forming a puddle at the bottom of my 150-dollar heels.  Niiice.

“Now don’t you have a fun job.”  This came from the pilot, who was observing my work from his post outside the cockpit door.  He was being sarcastic of course, but I knew from the sympathetic look he gave me that he didn’t meant any harm by his comment.  He was giving me the same pitying look I used to reserve for bathroom attendants and garbage collectors.  That “Dude-your-job-sucks-and-I’m-so-glad-that’s-not-me” look.  Which is funny that I used to think that because now, well, that IS me. Garbage collection and toilet cleaning are two of my job duties as a customer service agent.

What?  Did you think that a customer service agents only responsibility was tagging bags and scanning boarding passes?  Nope, when I’m not checking people in or boarding the plane, I’m actually cleaning it.  I vacuum up cracker crumbs, restock tissues, pull bubble gum out of the seat pockets and yes, even empty the garbages and wipe down the lavatory toilets.

In fact, since I started back in August, I’ve picked up chunks of vomit off the airplane carpet, scrubbed blood off an airplane seat and mopped up crap (yes, real CRAP) off of the bathroom floor. Just last week, I was emptying the lavatory trash when a diaper tumbled out of the bag and onto my arm.

It’s been a humbling experience, that’s for sure. And I’m not going to lie and tell you that the indignant thought, ‘But I have a college degree!  What am I doing here!?’ hasn’t wormed it’s way into my head on more than a few occasions.  Because it has.

It’s tough trying to maintain some measure of modesty and dignity when you’re on all fours, wearing a dress, and trying to wedge yourself under an airplane seat so that you can vacuum up someone’s forgotten Chinese Chow Fun.

But it’s been educational, too.  In the same way that working in a restaurant sheds a whole new perspective on your dining experience (as in don’t anger the waitress or she’ll spit in your food!), working in the airline industry has permanently changed the way I view flying.

I will never, for example, step foot into an airplane bathroom without my shoes on ever again.  Prior to working for an airline, I optimistically assumed that because because the airplane floor looks clean that it is clean. The truth is that if the airplane lavatory is cleaned at all (because sometimes in the rush to get the flight out in time, that part is skipped), it’s only given the cursory 10 second wipe down. In fact, although the planes are technically cleaned each and every time they’re parked overnight at an airport, they’re only THOROUGHLY cleaned about once a year.

That means that the seat you rest your head on during that red eye probably has remnants of a previous passenger’s pink eye.  Or drool. Or head lice.  I’ve heard horror stories from customer service agents from other airlines (not my airline, mind you), who reuse the blankets without first sending them out to be washed, or flight attendants who use the ice trays (the same ice they put in your Pepsi cup), to store their food. And I’ve been told to never drink coffee on an airplane, because the coffee pots never get properly washed with anything other than the lav sink water.

Although I’ve never been a germ-a-phobe, whenever I’m flying and I see a passenger tip-toeing into the lav in their socks or eating off the tray table as if it’s a sterilized, freshly-washed plate, I want to shake them.

Because if I’ve learned one thing from cleaning planes for a living, it’s that airplanes are dirtier than a locker room. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

The Mini-Vaca

mini vaca
Minature New York by Moon Pie

I used to be anti the mini-vaca. A long weekend in Aruba? No thanks. Five days in Athens? Naw, I’d rather stay home. A few days out of a lifetime to be thrown away at a seaside resort wasn’t giving the city or country the respect it deserved. What could one possibly hope to absorb of a country’s culture, history or language in such a short time frame?

But then I started working for an airline and now I have a dilemma. Because in the aviation industry the Mini-vaca is king. In fact, when you can fly anywhere you want for free and only have a limited number of days off, it’s really all you have.

Rome may’ve not been built in a day but if you work for an airline, visiting it for the day isn’t uncommon. I’ve talked to co-workers who’ve taken the red-eye to Paris or Hong Kong, sight-seed during the day, partied all night and then hopped back on a flight home the following morning.

It’s also not unheard of for airline employees to live lives that span multiple states, or even countries, for that matter. A flight attendant might, for example, live in Texas and commute to Los Angeles for work. Her boyfriend may live in Chicago, her hairstylist in New York and her dentist in Seattle. For the average person, this is might be mind-boggling. Because to the average person, a ride in an airplane is a special treat; a once or twice a year event that’s exciting and perhaps a little fear-inducing. To an airline employee though, an airplane is seen as nothing more than an employee shuttle bus or air taxi service.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with a customer service agent in New York who regularly uses the few hours he has in between work shifts to head to the beach to sunbathe…in Puerto Rico. Another one of my co-workers frequently flies to Las Vegas from where we’re stationed in San Francisco for dinner. It sounds crazy but it actually makes sense when you consider that it only takes an hour to fly to Vegas and another ten minutes to take the employee shuttle from the airport to the strip of casinos. And if you factor in California rush hour traffic and the fact that he lives two hours from the airport, it’s actually faster (not to mention cheaper), for him to grab a bite at an all-you-can-eat casino buffet in Vegas than for him to drive to his neighborhood Wendy’s.

What this all amounts to is an industry of workers accustomed to warp-speed, wam-bam travel. It’s ADD, Tasmanian Devil, whirlwind travel and it’s bizarre…and it makes me wonder: What’s the point? It’s like, “Well, I guess I can squeeze in a trip to Barbados in between my orthodontist appointment in Tuscon and my cousin’s bachelorette party in Boston. Might as well cross that one of the list while I’ve got the time.” In fact, some of my co-workers could list you off a list a mile long of cities or country’s they’ve visited over the years. But does 24 hours in Honolulu count as a visit to Hawaii, if you never ventured away from Waikiki beach? And does 30 hours at an airport hotel in Sydney constitute stepping foot in Australia?

Two months ago, I met a grounds crew member who claimed to have visited all 50 states in the United States. An impressive feat for anyone, sure..that is until he revealed that he’d knocked all 50 off his list in a span of a few days. The icing on the cake was that he never as much as stepped foot outside a single one of the airports and only stayed in each state long enough to chat with the gate agents and buy a souvenir magnet from one of airport gift shops.

In traveling this way, yes we see the world, but is it worth it when our only view is a jet-lagged, blurry one from the airport freeway? If we’re not gaining some insight or perspective from the experience or learning something new, then aren’t we missing the point the point of travel entirely?

That said, it’s cold enough in San Francisco right now to make a field trip to Florida look pretty damn appealing….Who knows, maybe I’ll hop down to Miami for a few hours on my day off next week?

How far would you go to be able to fly for free?

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve disappeared to these past few weeks, you can look no further than the International terminal at the airport in San Franicsco. It seems that lately I’ve been working so many 17 hour shifts (yes, that’s 17 hours straight), that I’ve practically taken up permanent residence in the airport. I’m like Tom Hanks in the movie Terminal, only instead of camping out in some, cozy, abandoned concourse, I sleep on a make-shift bed (made out of two plastic chairs), in the employee break-room.

And if that sounds a bit extreme to you, well it’s all par for the course when you work for an airline. Back when I first started, I used to think that my co-workers were crazy when they told me that they regularly did this. No way was a job worth sleeping on a pile of abandoned airplane magazines with the “Attention in the concourse. The airport is now at threat level orange…” announcement ringing in your ears all night. Free, unlimited air travel or not, my downtime was too important to give up for a job that barely pays over minimum wage.

But it’s amazing how quickly your priorities change when a week-long trip to Colombia is dangled in front of your eyes. A chance to explore South America with one of my best friend’s from Germany? Sure, I’ll sign my life away. And then before I knew it, I was shivering in a sleeping bag in my car in the airport employee parking lot, trying to block out the smell of jet fuel and ignore the roar of the plane engines overhead that were so loud, they made the entire car vibrate.

Because when you only have four hours between when one shift ends and the other begins, wasting precious sleep time on the drive to and from work just seems silly. And sleeping on the carpeted floor in the supervisor’s office and then paying $10 to use the airport shower starts to seem like a perfectly rational solution.

But as I found out the hard way, three hours of sleep is not enough to get you through a shift of canceled flights and irate passengers. And caffeinated beverages only get you so far…In the middle of my 10th work day in a row, I had a melt down.

At least that’s the only way I can explain why I started crying at the ticket counter. Yes, I actually burst into tears, and right in the middle of checking in a passenger. I was so mortified, I just mumbled something about the bag tag printer being jammed and then ducked behind the counter to try to pull myself together. Unfortunately the problem with pep talks that begin with “Stop crying!” is that they just make you cry even harder.

Thankfully the man I was checking in pretended not to notice. He just smiled and looked sort of confused as I explained to him in a shaky voice, my eyes brimming with tears, that his flight would be departing at gate A12.

Afterwards, I excused myself, walked outside and sat on the long-term parking bus stop in a complete daze. I felt like I was 80 years old and suffering from arthritis. My bones and joints ached and my head was pounding. I had a chest cold and a fever and the only thing I’d consumed all day was three red bulls and a hand-full of raisins.

What the Hell was I doing to myself? I felt like I’d thrown myself into a war zone. I was a prisoner of war, held hostage by my job and subjected to mind games and deprived of sleep and adequate food (I’m sorry but stale sandwiches from the airport food court do not count). This was torture. And the most insane part of it was, was that I’d volunteered for it. I was driving myself crazy and all so that I’d be able to a week off and go to Colombia, of all places.

Sometimes I wonder if all the stress and insomnia is worth it. Perhaps it would be better if I just got a real job that paid more so that I could afford to purchase airfare like a normal person. Because with every airline competing so fiercely for business right now, flights are fairly inexpensive these days. Just last weekend, for example, I checked-in passengers who’d bought their tickets from San Francisco to New York online for only US $29.00.

The irony of the job is that while I have these wonderful travel benefits, I get paid too little to be able to enjoy them. Sure our flights are free, but that’s only a small portion of the total cost of travel. When you factor in the added expense of hotels, dining out and sight-seeing, a weekend trip to anywhere can cost hundreds of dollars.

Furthermore, when you live in a city as expensive as San Francisco, the cost of living is so high that it takes nearly all of your pay-check just to be able to make rent. Most of my co-workers either live with their parents or else rely on a spouse or significant other’s source of income to make ends meet.

It’s for reasons like these that there are days when I fantasize about quitting; about trading in the free flights for a desk job somewhere. But then days like tomorrow stop me…because tomorrow I’m flying to Los Angeles for the day so that I can get a haircut…for no other reason because I can.

It’s for reasons like this one that I love working for an airline.