Well y’all, it has been a while! I don’t know if you all remember me but my name is Meghan, you may know me from my Instagram handle @flywithmeghan. I used to be a regular contributor to this site, but then life caught up with me, and I took a little time off from writing. But, I’m back and ready to share some commercial flight attendant life insight.
Since I’ve been gone, I have moved from Charlotte to New York City— thus ending my commuter life and as of two months ago. I transferred (and moved) to Los Angeles with my significant other for our big West Coast (best coast!) adventure.
All of this change leads me to my next point. I’ve been meeting a lot of new people, and they have a lot of flight attendant life questions for me. (As per usual).
Trust me, I totally get it.
It’s a cool job, and it’s not every day that you meet a flight attendant. How glamorous, right? Well, for us commercial airline folks, not exactly. The flight attendant life is very complicated and answering the same questions over and over and over again is tiring. So, I decided to put together a quick piece about the common questions us flight attendants get on a daily basis.
Ten questions you shouldn’t ask your flight attendant:
- What is your normal route?
- Flight attendants don’t have ‘normal routes.’ Unless we are senior, we don’t get our exact choice in the flights we work. But we do have the flexibility to move and swap our schedules around! Which brings me to my next question…
- Kara’s note: I didn’t have flexibility. Some companies just don’t. There was nothing really normal about my last airline schedule, except that there was a routine to it. You knew you could find me in one of the lovely Scandinavian cities or a hotel in a large United States metropolis. There’s a rhythm to the life, but never a normal route.
- “What is seniority?”
- Seniority is the length of time that a flight attendant has spent with their airline. In the commercial airline industry, seniority is everything. It determines if you’re on reserve, your routes, your pay, the days you work, when you have vacation and it even effects your everyday life on the job such as picking positions and duties while working. For my major airline, the median seniority is 20 years. Let that sink in for a minute. 20 consecutive YEARS is the average length of time that flight attendants at my airline have spent with my company and are “on-call.” In my base (LAX), the median number of years is 26. 26 YEARS Y’ALL! Most flight attendants at my base have been flying longer than I’ve been alive (Which means LAX is a very senior base!). Needless to say, my 3-years of seniority doesn’t get me very far.
- Kara’s Note: For insight into how seniority affects scheduling, watch the video on YouTube of, “How A Mainline Flight Attendant Chooses A Schedule.” Also, many European companies do NOT have seniority. So, my commercial airline friends in the United States were shocked when I told them this very common system didn’t exist. I was flying with super young crews and really young pilots. In foreign countries and for foreign companies, especially in Asia, it’s about languages, experience, age (be young), and looks. So, for all the flight attendants employed with American companies and you think that all cabin crew have the same benefits and disadvantages as you, that is entirely UNTRUE.
- “What is your schedule like?”
- Seniority is the major driver of my schedule. Every airline has a version of what we call “reserve” which is being on-call and at the will of the scheduling department. Being on reserve means you have very little say in what you will be flying and if you are called into work, you have to do what they say. Reserve depends on seniority as well. My airline has a hybrid mix of reserve days and trip days. I do have a little bit of flexibility with swapping the trips that I get each month. I can either swap with other flight attendants or into a system called Open-Time (that I will cover in the next question). I personally like to work several days in a row and then have several days off. Some flight attendants prefer to work a trip and then have a couple of days off before starting another trip. The length of trips that you hold depend on seniority, too. For most airlines, one-day trips are more senior because it allows you to be home every day (if you live in base).
- Kara’s Note: This is just a difficult question to answer. My previous company also didn’t have a “typical” reserve system.
- “What is Open Time?”
- Open-time is a system where all of the trips missing a flight attendant get placed. Open-time is treated differently by every airline but for my airline it is first come, first served. Open-time allows me to swap out the trips I hold, for open time ones as long as the days are fairly equal in staffing. For example: I cannot easily swap a ‘Friday-Saturday-Sunday’ trip for a ‘Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday’ trip because staffing is typically better Tuesday-Thursday and worse Friday-Sunday. This is also where flight attendants sitting reserve can see the trips that they will potentially be working.
- Kara’s Note: There wasn’t really a system at my previous company, when I was there, to trade, drop, swap, or pick-up open time. Flight attendant’s employed with American companies have extreme flexibility (even juniors when compared to foreign employers), but really terrible trips. With my last company, there was no flexibility, but I was always in London; for sometimes six nights in a row.
- “Do you really have to work every holiday and weekend?”
- This is mostly determined by seniority and base but the answer is typically, yes. It takes most flight attendants in most bases a long time to accrue enough seniority to hold weekends and holidays off. Side note for FA hopefuls: You WILL be flying weekends and holidays while junior.
- Kara’s Note: I never had more weekends off in my flight attendant career until I started flying international. Trips generally started on Thursday nights or Sunday nights for me. That meant weekends “off” in Copenhagen or back at my Ft Lauderdale base. It was more just the luck of the draw (or an unlucky draw sometimes). If you are asking a flight attendant if she has weekends off because you are hoping to go on a date with her, just ask her on the date. She might be able to drop or trade with open time.
- “Are you an international flight attendant or do you just fly domestically?”
- I am qualified to work every single aircraft in our fleet and as long as my passport and visas are valid, I fly wherever the operation takes me. When I was a single, junior, flight attendant based in New York, I was able to pick up a lot of internationals on my days off as New York is the gateway to Europe. Now, as a Los Angeles based flight attendant in a committed relationship, I do not fly internationals. This is mostly because I am in a base with only two international trips originating each day. The opportunity to pick up these trips now is few and far between.
- Kara’s Note— For the last three years of being a commercial flight attendant, I ONLY flew internationally. So, I was ONLY an international flight attendant, but I also did NOT work for an American company. This question relates more to European and Asian Airlines as International and Domestic is often separate. If you ask this question, what you are really saying is, “Do you fly short haul or long haul?
- “What is training like?”
- I have been through two flight attendant trainings in my short four years as a flight attendant. I worked for a regional airline prior to jumping over to my major. My regional airline training was one intense month of training. I was trained to fly only the CRJ-200 aircraft. When I left for my major training, it was an even more intense two months of training. Ten hours a day. Tests every other day. Six days a week. Only Sundays off. I learned where every single piece of emergency equipment was on our fleet of almost 20 different types of aircraft, I learned how to fight fires, evacuate every aircraft, basic medical and survival skills, and so much more.
- Kara’s Note: Flight attendant training is intense.
- “Do you like flying?”
- Yes, of course, I like it. If I didn’t, I would quit. IT IS extremely hard and tiring on relationships and yourself to be away from home half or sometimes more than half of the month, though. It is also hard to miss the holidays and major events with your family because of your job but, with seniority comes the ability to get those days off.
- Kara’s note: There’s nothing like it, and now that I know what it’s like to be grounded, I want all the jet lag, difficult relationship issues, and forced schedules back.
- “What is the craziest flying story you have?”
- None of my stories stand out as the “craziest.” But I have had my fair share of bizarre encounters on airplanes. I’ve had puppies poop inflight, ladies change outfits in their seats, wanna be mile-high-club joiners, more rude passengers than I can count, misbehaving children, fights amongst passengers and a slew of drunk passengers we have had to excuse. But, those are all just regular days as a crew member!
- Kara’s note: If one more journalist asks me this, I swear to God…
- And last but not least, “Is your job fun?”
- Overall, yes, it is. But it is so much more than just “fun.” Being a flight attendant is exhausting, exhilarating, interesting, challenging, frustrating and yes, fun.
The flight attendant life is ever changing and forever interesting, but the questions are constant and very normal. When you see a flight attendant, ask him or her questions, but see if you can find something original.